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In 2011, media outfits from the LA Times to Gawker began reporting the curious case of the French war on ketchup. In fact, Gawker chose this as the headline, “France Wages War on Ketchup.” According to these stories, France, in an effort to protect the integrity of its traditional cuisine and to combat the influence of Americanisms, decided that ketchup should be banned from school cafeterias.
Einstein’s Beets, “a book about food and food aversions throughout history” provides a typical explanation:
“In October 2011, the use of ketchup was banned in France—except, strangely enough, for use on French fries (variously called there patates, frites, or pommes frites)—in all school and college cafeterias in order to protect the integrity of the traditional Gallic cuisine…”
We should be left scratching our heads over a ban on ketchup with an allowance for French fries. If you wanted to combat American influence, you certainly wouldn’t give French fries a free pass. But as similar to many such “strange but true” food laws are, it is less strange when you actually learn the details.
Ketchup Banned in French Schools: An Urban Myth
Look no further than a random French guy on Quora to put the ketchup back in the bottle:
“…ketchup is not and was never banned in France!…The goal of this text [Arrêté du 30 septembre 2011 relatif à la qualité nutritionnelle des repas servis dans le cadre de la restauration scolaire] was as to improve the dietary quality of the meals served in French schools. In article 2 it is stated that all sauces (mayonnaise, ketchup and vinaigrette) must not be in free access but served according to the dish. The idea was to prevent kids from smothering their plate with fat sauces.”
The idea of this decree was not to quash the encroaching influence on American tastes and food values but to protect the health of school-children. Mayonnaise and vinaigrette, both of which are an important part of French cuisine, were also targeted. The idea was to now allow these sauces to be served out of self-serve dispensers so that children would be able to cover their food with fatty sauces. However, these sauces were not banned outright. They were to be allowed on a per-dish basis, as appropriate.
The order on the nutritional quality of meals served as part of school meals was not only concerned with sauces. It laid other rules concerning the composition of meals.
Article 2 of the order states that salt and sauces (mayonnaise, vinaigrette, ketchup) are not freely available and are served according to the dishes. Bread and water, however, must be freely available.
So, what was actually banned was not ketchup, but freely available ketchup as might be found in pump-type condiment dispensers or plastic pouches.