Back in the day, I told my year ten social studies students that democracy was not a system of government but rather an ideology, a goal. Systems (parliaments, constitutions, judiciaries, presidents, etc.) where set up with the goal of democracy in mind.

And so are school canteens, it turns out. There are a few things I quite like about France and the food (well, duh) is one of them. I’ve been reading ‘French Kids Eat Everything’ and while I don’t believe that premise for a moment, the writer does have a few good pointers. And she also has a few insights into French food culture that are very interesting.

One of these is that the French have democratized good food. A well balanced diet is available to all. Rich and poor alike, food education is a part of public school education and is available to all kids. They are introduced to a very wide variety of healthy and flavourful foods from a very young age. AT SCHOOL.

menu at maternelleThis is particular maternelle (ages 3-6) menus is not for Louis’ school – their link was broken when I posted…

I suppose one of the not-so-nice trends of many countries’ food cultures is that the wealthy eat healthy and the poor eat poorly. This is not because healthy food is expensive, but because turning inexpensive vegetables (and meats) into delicious food requires a certain amount of nous – a bit of education, meal-planning, budgeting. Forward thinking, yes, but also a food-confidence that results in interesting meals. And in many countries these attributes trend toward the higher socio-economic realms… or something like that.

In France they’re doing something right. A variety of healthy and interesting food is available for good prices (as is true in many places), AND the people know what to do with it. They have the palate and the confidence to buy aubergines or courgettes or endives or whatever’s in season…

So that’s cool. But that’s not the only cool example of democracy in action here in stinky-cheese land. They also have free museum entry on the first Sunday of every month. This is true of nearly all the museums and galleries in Paris. So no matter where you fall in the weekly-earnings-ranks you get to see Monet’s Water Lilies if you like.

I mean, sure, you have to get to Paris first, but once you’re here, even if you’re sleeping ‘under the eaves’ in a windowless garret, with a chain-smoker who doesn’t like to waste money on hot water or toothpaste, you can still spend one day a month in the Louvre. Most of the ‘high’ culture of Paris is available to you, as readily as it is to anyone.

And if you were lucky enough (debatable, no doubt) to attend public school here, then you can probably appreciate all manner of seasonal fruits and vegetables, the meat and entrails of most farmed animals (yes, horses are farmed), cheeses that would bring tears to my eyes (tears of joy, in some cases), and all the fruits of the sea. You might even like foie gras (non, merci).

On Sunday we discovered another free-entry sight, almost by accident: Maison de Chateaubriand

valee aux loupsWe didn’t discover the house by accident, but that it was free entry.

maison de chateaubriand

Unfortunately, the ‘salon de thé’ had many reservations (but no customers), and could not seat us. We were all starving and sort of banking on the café solving that problem, so we saved the mansion for another day and enjoyed our walk/bike in the grounds and the surrounding valley – vallée aux loups. If I were a wolf, I’d live there. Very nice.

springtime at maison de chateaubriandAnd it didn’t hurt at all that the weather was delightful.
Spring sprung, ever so briefly.

White MagnoliasThe creamy magnolias were, I thought, spectacular.
I’m assuming I’ve got that right – they’re magnolias?

We went back to our bikes and hunted for lunch – easier said than done on a Sunday afternoon. Eventually found a bakery and took our spoils (deux quiches, deux croissants et un chausson aux pommes) to the nearest park for a bit of a picnic.

lunch, found at last

Elena was very very ready for her croissant.

And today the temperature dialled back to the near-winter we’ve been having. Rather than brave it, the weather or my new, pinching (not quite broken in yet) shoes, we stayed at our friend’s place well after French class finished. We walked home for dinner, despite the temptation/probable invitation to stay put, because I had an aubergine and courgettes going south in the fridge.

taking a load off

So we walked home. And I mean WE. With a little cajoling and singing (quite a few passers-by enjoyed my rendition of ‘don’t worry, be happy’, I’m sure) Louis walked nearly all the way (over half an hour at his pace). But he did want to stop for a little rest here, by the tulips. Ah, fair enough.

‘scuse the tangent there… back to egalitarian food. Us parents do have the liberté to opt our kids out of school lunches, but the alternative is to pick the children up and take them home for lunch. School meals are cheaper the less you earn and the more children you have… which works out really very well for those who need it the most. As to fraternité, a whole crowd eating together is the best recipe I’ve ever seen for a kid to try new food.

Louis’ eating habits are on the gradual improve anyway, but come September his food education is going to sky-rocket. His intake of ‘high’ culture is pretty good for his age, I think. Then again, with all our expat-perks, we’re hardly great examples of the poorer classes gaining access, are we? But hurrah for democracy, nonetheless, I say.