A decision by the city of Lyon to temporarily serve only vegetarian meals in school cafeterias has provoked a backlash from the highest levels of the national government and protests by farmers who see it as a threat to their way of life.

The Green Party, which won the municipal elections last summer in Lyon, announced late last week that instead of having 2 menu options, one meat and one vegetarian, schools would only offer the vegetarian option to make foodservice more efficient. Fish and eggs will continue to be served, making it something less than a strictly vegetarian menu.

With Covid still forcing limitations on eating at schools, officials believe having a single menu would ensure that staff could quickly prepare and serve food to thousands of students while still respecting health rules such as social distancing.

The decision is in force just until the next vacation period in April and didn’t appear to be driven by environmental concerns. Activists more broadly have advocated for vegetarianism because raising animals for meat can have a greater environmental impact.

Despite the temporary nature of the order, right-wing politicians and members of President Macron’s government seized on the decision to criticize the Green Party for being undemocratic and elitist.

“This way of making a choice, without any possible alternative, is absolutely inadmissible,” wrote failed conservative Lyon mayoral candidate Étienne Blanc in a press release.

France’s agriculture minister Julien Denormandie tweeted that such a menu would not give students what they need to grow, and that he intended to complain to a local legal official. “Stop putting ideology on the plates of our children!” he wrote.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said it was an “unacceptable insult” for French farmers and butchers. He also wrote: “We can see that the moralizing and elitist policy of the Greens excludes the popular classes. Many children often only get to eat meat at the school canteen.”

Earlier this week, local farmers staged a protest in Lyon, driving their tractors through the city streets and parading animals in order to express their anger over any attempt to implement a vegetarian menu. Farmers remain a powerful lobby, and with presidential elections approaching in the Spring of 2022, their precarious economic situation will likely remain an important political issue.

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