I Suppose ‘Let Them Eat Cake!’ Would Be Wrong..?

When Aïcha Tabbakhe, a French nurse, went to fill out the forms for her children’s school dinners in her small town outside Paris, she was puzzled. The box she would usually tick to say that her Muslim children didn’t eat pork wasn’t there.

“Confused, I called the town hall and I was bluntly told: ‘From now on, that’s the way it is,’” she said. “Pork or nothing.”

And I suppose ‘nothing’ is an OUTRAGE…?

For 30 years, Chilly-Mazarin has provided non-pork alternatives to Muslim and Jewish children. But from November, that will stop.

On days when the menu features dishes such as roast pork with mustard and courgette gratin, or Strasbourg sausage and organic lentils, or ham pasta bake, children whose families don’t eat pork for religious reasons will be offered nothing but the side dishes.

So it isn’t ‘nothing’, then?

“It’s the impact on the children that has been the hardest,” says Tabbakhe. “My four-year-old daughter is too young to understand that she doesn’t eat pork. It’s not something she’s aware of and it’s not something we talk about. What am I supposed to tell her now? We tried to subtly tell her we didn’t eat pork at home. But she thought ‘pork’ was a type of dessert. She said, ‘Yes, I do eat it, it’s delicious.’ That would be funny if it wasn’t such an awful situation.

If she’s too young to understand the tenets of a religion, then just maybe she’s too young for that religion. Ever think of that?

She is totally confused and has picked up on the atmosphere. She’s crying at school and says she doesn’t want to eat at the canteen. My nine-year-old son went door to door with a parents’ association petition against this and got lots of signatures from non-Muslim parents who were upset. He said to me, ‘Don’t worry, Mum, I won’t eat it.’ He shouldn’t have to be worrying about this. School is supposed to be about learning and living together, not about this. Now my nine-year-old is starting to ask, ‘Why am I different?’

I’d love to be a fly on the wall for that discussion!

Once a rallying cry of the left, secularism has now been appropriated by the right, and even the far-right Front National, as part of a debate on national identity – used to rail against anything seen as not French, and particularly to target and exclude Islam from the public sphere.

Good. It’s about time this tawdy & dangerous faith was treated the way it treats other faiths when it’s in the driving seat.

Earlier this year, when another Sarkozy-backed mayor, Gilles Platret, scrapped pork-free options in the Burgundy town of Chalon-sur-Saône, the Muslim Judicial Defence League took him to court.

And lost.

The group’s lawyer, Karim Achoui, says: “A child would be extremely traumatised if a pork cutlet was served to him and he was obliged to eat it after he has been repeatedly told from a young age that it is forbidden food.”

If that’s the worst trauma of his life, he’s doing fine.

6 comments for “I Suppose ‘Let Them Eat Cake!’ Would Be Wrong..?

  1. john in cheshire
    October 20, 2015 at 10:38 am

    I suppose it’s too much to expect that these muslims might consider if they’re living in the wrong country? I also wonder whether this muslim family have working parents or are they living on the generosity (which is misplaced in my opinion) of the French people.

  2. Henry Kaye
    October 20, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    I’m Jewish. In Sept 1939, at the age of 8, I was evacuated., I came from a fairly traditional Jewish home and went to live with some Christian people. I ate what was put in front of me; never noticed the difference and never thought about it. Clearly my parents were not bothered either! Since then I have more or less abandoned any Jewish food considerations. My wife is a Christian and I suppose I have just about given up on religion of any sort. A lot of Jewish people may be critical of my position but I honestly believe that we can do without religion. All we need is an honest moral philosophy and I think the Judeo/Christian example of that is just about right.

    • Daedalus
      October 21, 2015 at 6:42 am

      and I think the Judeo/Christian example of that is just about right.

      Correct? I am not religious in any way but I do think that our “Christian” way of trying to live together has much to recommend it.


  3. Errol
    October 20, 2015 at 8:42 pm

    No one is making them eat pork. The mother could make them a packed lunch. However, what about vegetarian choices?

    It’s an odd one, as while the school has a right to choose what it serves, it is also clearly upsetting the children. The mother is reinforcing the ‘you’re different’ line which these children will remember. Worse, they’ll remember being excluded.

    Frankly this is a bad mother and the school seems to be a bit odd.

    • wiggia
      October 21, 2015 at 12:13 pm

      Not that odd at all, when I went to school in what was then a Jewish area of East London there was no provision for Kosher meals at lunchtime, no one from that community protested and all the kids sat down and ate together.

      Those to whom it did matter went to the orthodox schools that catered for them.

  4. Ed P
    October 21, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    What about the source of other meats which are acceptable to Muslims? Are they Halal?
    As a non-Muslim I object strongly to eating meat from an animal killed in this barbaric, terrifying and painful way. I hope the non-Muslims in Chilly-Mazarin voice their protests too.

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