Staring next school year, children in municipal daycare centers and elementary schools in the German city of Freiburg will only be able to eat vegetarian food and also have to pay more for school meals, but not everyone is happy about the change.
The decision to enforce a strictly vegetarian diet on schoolchildren came after a vote by the municipal council of the southern Baden city on Tuesday evening.
Instead of two menus, there will only be one in the future and it will be vegetarian, despite a price increase of 90 cents, prompting clashes between parents and politicians.
In addition, the prices for school meals will gradually increase from the 2023/24 school year, reports Germany’s Tagesspiegel newspaper. The proposal received some heavy criticism, including from parents’ councils. Nevertheless, it was approved with 27 votes in favor to 14 against.
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So far, there have been two meal options with meat and fish also being included in the mix. The city is restricting the choice of warm lunches, mainly for cost reasons. The proportion of organic products in school and daycare catering is to rise to 30 percent, up from 20 percent.
The Freiburg initiative is unusual in the southwest: The Stuttgart Ministry of Agriculture and Food said it was not aware of any other city or municipality offering completely meat-free food in daycare centers and schools. More than 500,000 lunches are served in the canteens of Freiburg schools every year.
The Stuttgart Ministry of Agriculture and Food distanced itself from the decision, saying that meat is also part of a balanced diet. The ministry, led by department head Peter Hauk of the Christian Democrats (CDU), therefore, does not support an exclusively vegetarian diet as a requirement.
“Children should have the opportunity during their development to develop their taste and try things out. This also includes eating meat,” said the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Agriculture and Food. While it accepted that reduced quantities may be appropriate, the ministry argued that no other German city or municipality was insisting on a completely meat-free diet in its educational facilities.
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“The students are told what they have to eat,” criticized Gerlinde Schrempp from the Free Voters at the debate in the Freiburg municipal council. City councilor Franco Orlando from the parliamentary group of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) and Citizens for Freiburg (BFF) had previously stated that the city leaders under the non-party mayor Martin Horn saw “meat consumption as a thorn in their side.” The Green-Red coalition has a majority in the municipal council.
As inflation wreaks havoc on German pocketbooks, Freiburg is not only dropping meat, but also increasing the costs of school meals by 90 cents.
Freiburg education head, Christine Buchheit (Greens), said: “We want to keep the cost increases under control,” adding that good meat is a price driver.
The Baden-Württemberg State Parents’ Advisory Council also raised clear objections. Parents would already have to pay for the children’s transport to school, said its chairman, Michael Mittelstaedt, to the German Press Agency, arguing there should not be any new costs for parents.
“What justification is there for vegetarian food to cost more than meat-based food? Organic seal? Ridiculous,” said Mittelstaedt. He added that it is the task of society to change eating habits, “so, subsidies would be more than appropriate here.”
Vice-chairman of the Freiburg Parents’ Council, Sebastian Kölsch, criticized the idea that parents’ contribution for school lunch, currently €3.90, should rise to €4.80 by next September.
“According to our research, Freiburg is already at the top with its prices for large cities in the southwest,” he told the German Press Agency.
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The push by the left-wing government in Freiburg to adopt a “meatless” school meal program for children is a part of a general push to reduce or completely eliminate meat from the diet of European citizens.
Germany’s Green Party agricultural minister, Cem Özdemir, has also promoted a meat tax at the federal level.
“We should eat less meat overall and make sure it comes from animals that are kept in a species-appropriate manner,” he told t-online. He advises “adapting meat consumption to planetary boundaries and for the sake of our health.”
Other countries, such as the Netherlands, are also pushing forward with a program to introduce children to insects in their meals in an effort to reduce meat consumption and provide a cheaper food alternative to the populace.