Organic, local, short or less meaty. As food insecurity continues to rise, collective nutrition is seen as a means of providing healthy food while respecting the environment and biodiversity and providing a decent income for farmers. As soon as this is not the custom, presidential candidates agree with this theme, who all promise more, even 100%, organic and local products in canteens. While the generation of the ’90s was raised on tomatoes in the winter, served on a menu handed over to private companies, changes have begun to take place in school cafeterias in recent years.
“Fair Price for Farmers”
The pioneer in this field, the municipality of Mouans Sartoux in the Alpes-Maritimes, was the first to offer its students 100% organic and local food. The vegetables that are supplied to the canteen are even grown by gardeners hired by the municipality. And the initiative is spreading. Today, there are countless territorial food plans aimed at producing better quality food for residents, or exemplary canteens that have been praised by some municipalities.
The funds to be implemented differ depending on the applicants. On the left, we focus on organic, and on the right, local. Thus, among the ecologists on the left, we promise from the outset “100% organic and local food”. Rebel leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon adds measure “daily vegetarian option and weekly vegetarian menu” for everyone, and Yannick Jadot specifies that the food will be “less meat, better quality, respectful of animal welfare and sourced from farmers at the right price.” Fabien Roussel, a communist who currently loves to treat ulcers and instead relies on a one euro meal, however plans for it to be done “from organic and local products”.
On the right, Valerie Pekress, who doesn’t make food boxes, is very precise about this because she wants to “update public order rules to establish preference and greater use of locals in school, hospital and administrative meals”. Far right, Marine Le Pen counts “Forcing canteens to use 80% French agricultural products”, Eric Zemmour wants to “encourage short circuits in collective power” and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan will be satisfied “instigate” communities “get supplies from local producers and give preference to French organic products.”
Such a consensus among all candidates is quite remarkable. “That the subject integrates programs in such a transversal way is a complete novelty.“, welcomes Stefan Veira, director of the association Un plus bio, which positions itself as “The first national chain of organic canteens“. The organization did note the shaking during the 2014 municipal elections, which was a little stronger in 2020, but nevertheless the topic remained limited to local elections. Let us remind you that municipalities are responsible for canteens in kindergartens and schools. For colleges, these are departments, for universities – regions. “This shows that [le sujet de l’alimentation] is no longer a joke after a pandemic that highlighted the food gap among the population.”he analyzes.
But consensus can also be a tree hiding a forest. Three years after its promulgation, an evaluation of the Egalim law makes it clear that there is a high march between promise and reality. Although the text planned to reach 50% “quality and sustainable” products, including 20% organic, by January 1, 2022, we are still far from it. According to the latest data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Collective Nutrition offered 10% organic food at the end of 2021. However, the firm notes that this figure has more than tripled in four years. As for products “under the quality mark” (for example, with a red label), their share is from 11 to 15% for all collective food taken together. In the restaurants of administrations run by the state, we go to 22%. “For comparison: in 2009, the Grenelle law already set a goal by 2012 to achieve 20% organic nutrition in the collective nutrition of public services. In 2017, this figure was only 3.4%,” do we study on the way to the ministry contacted Release.
Lack of ambition
To justify this delay, the Department of Agriculture cites the Covid crisis, which has turned the priorities of the players in this sector on its head. However, he commends the progress made in recent months on this matter as the Climate and Sustainability Act passed this summer adds to products “under the mark of quality” those of short or fair chains. In addition, since March 1, the labeling of the origin of meat has become mandatory, both in collective meals and in restaurants. Finally, the state undertakes to offer in its canteens “100% quality meat and fish” by 2024. However, some of these labels, such as the high environmental value, are widely criticized for their lack of ambition.
A point of vigilance also, the use of local ingredients is not necessarily a guarantee of quality and sustainability. “If local is the result of intensive production that has little beneficial effect on biodiversity or water resources, its interest is limited,” Stefan Weira insists. Thus meat can be called “local” but fed on imported food or from very intensive farming. Official insists on the need to accompany campaign promises “specific measures” so they have a chance to lead to a mandate. According to Stefan Weir, the challenge goes beyond “that just cook a meal.” “We need social support, we train cooks in vegetable proteins and raw products, we violate agricultural education”, he points.
While the cost of such measures is regularly cited, the association highlights the key lessons of its Organic and Sustainable Collective Nutrition Observatory. Based on a survey conducted in November 2021 among 461 communities representing almost 7,000 eateries, the association concluded that organic food is not more expensive. Thus, on a menu containing less than 20% organic products, the average cost of products (which is a quarter of the total cost of a meal) is 2.06 euros per meal, while for menus with organic products from 20% to 40% is 2.02 euros. “Since the transition to organic is accompanied by measures to combat waste, less meat dishes and more processed raw products, these dishes are affordable.” Stefan Weira insists.
There remains one great difficulty, which only Valerie Pecresse seems to have foreseen. Today, government orders for the supply of canteens must comply with international rules and competition law. This prevents local authorities from considering the geographic location of candidates during tenders, making it difficult for local manufacturers to submit bids. Even if some communities manage to circumvent these rules, it deserves many adjustments. An obstacle already indicated by the Accounts Chamber in 2020. In a column published in Release and signed by more than 80 elected officials, the network thus calls for a “food exclusion” in the public procurement code. Thanks to this exemption, local authorities “there would be more strength to play on qualityusing farm-based, labeled, organic production, supporting the creation of new virtuous farmers around their perimeter, even reviving countless wastelands left abandoned for lack of profitable outlets.” the signatories object.