Turkey twizzlers not so awful with French dressing

24th December 2010 at 00:00
France Forget lumpy mash - the school-canteen menus printed in these local papers really do sound good enough to eat

Even fierce critics of school meals would surely agree that the vilest culinary creation, like a lot else in life, from dodgy films to the glossary of love, sounds better in French.

If only the manufacturers of the much-derided turkey twizzler had thought of calling it a baton de dinde entortille they might have escaped Jamie Oliver's outrage when he began his crusade to rid school canteens of unhealthy food.

In the part of southern France where I spend a lot of my time, the local newspaper, Var-Matin, publishes the lunch menu for state schools as conscientiously as the paper on which I began my career printed details of the chemists on late or Sunday duty.

The practice is followed in other parts of France, with the information also appearing on municipal websites. I suspect I am far from being the only British reader who finds himself licking his lips at what the menu des cantines holds in store for little Sebastien or Amelie.

In Tournan-en-Brie, 10 miles or so from Disneyland Paris, a recent menu offered a three-course meal: a starter of saucisson a l'ail et cornichons, oeufs durs mayonnaise, (which could almost be a choice of entrees but, I think, was just one), followed by medaillon merlu normand haricots beurre et ble with mousse au chocolat au lait for dessert.

Hands up anyone who does not find that more appetising than garlic sausage with hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise and gherkins, Normandy-style medallion of hake and frothy chocolate dessert.

Actually, typing out the rough translation convinced me that the meal would hardly appear unattractive in any language. A lot of grown-ups would happily settle for such a set menu for lunch in town.

The spreadsheets I saw for schools in Tournan even mentioned a helping of pain, fromage fondu President banane (banana-flavoured melted cheese with bread) for the quatre heure, or 4pm snack, which French children traditionally enjoy.

When I was at school in County Durham, I would approach midday with an element of dread. We would be served, and also told quite sharply we must finish every scrap of, snagger (a frightful puree of turnip), lumpy mashed potatoes and stringy meat of uncertain provenance. If it was deepest winter, we would already have endured the horror of iced-up milk thawed on radiator pipes.

Indeed, a couple of turkey twizzlers would have seemed a scrumptious treat.

In my own experience, French children, until recent years, generally ate much better - or at least more interestingly - than their British contemporaries. It was rare for them to enter their teenage years without having eaten snails or dismantled shellfish at the table; lettuce, often served as a separate course, was a routine component of any main meal.

But even in France, fast food has taken a grip. The McDo culture is well established and nutritionists voice concern about the future health of children snacking on junk food.

How disappointing, certainly to the Francophiles among us, if France is now witnessing the gradual disappearance of the last generation of parents to worry enough about what their children eat at school to make these mouth-watering menus seem worthwhile.

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