Veg in France – progress amid resistance

ONA is the first vegan restaurant in France to earn a prestigious Michelin star/ Cécile Labonne

Lyonnaise cuisine is world renowned, with a particular emphasis on meat. When in 2019 France introduced an experiment (which ends in October 2021) to offer children a vegetarian option at all school cafeterias, there was an outcry of resistance which has recently focused Lyons. In February, Grégory Doucet, the mayor of Lyon, announced that the city’s school cafeterias would temporarily stop serving meat every day, initially to make it easier to comply with pandemic regulations, but also due to the mayor’s own environmental leanings.

The mayors edict sparked a local backlash. Farmers rolled out tractors to occupy city hall, and government ministers accused the mayor of harming children. Parents signed petitions and sued the city. The minister of the interior called the decision “an unacceptable insult to French farmers.”

Yet while meat is part of traditional French Cuisine, change is coming to France. For instance, a vegan restaurant, ONA, based in the south western town of Arès, near Bordeaux, recently made history in France by winning a coveted Michelin star. Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, one of the most famous cooking schools in France and in the world, now has a program called Cordon Vert to train chefs in vegetarian cuisine.

Brigitte Bardo in 1960s

It’s important to note that there has always been a vegetarian element in France. For instance Jean Jacques Rousseau, a political philosopher famous in French history and a vegetarian himself, advocated for a vegetarian diet for children. I think it would fair to say that if Rousseau were in Lyons today he would be siding with those enacting vegetarian meals for the school children in Lyons.

Today, the famous actress and animal rights activist, Brigitte Bardo carries a movement started long ago. Bardo has acted in 47 movies, performed in several musicals and recorded more than 60 songs. In 1986, she established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals and became a vegetarian. Even to this day, at the age of 86, she continues to advocate for animals.