Denmark’s New Front in Debate Over Immigrants: Children’s Lunches

Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, January 20, 2016

It is being called the “meatball war.”

To be precise, pork meatballs and other pork dishes such as roasts have become the latest weapons in the culture wars playing out in Europe over immigration after a Danish town voted this week to require public day care centers and kindergartens to include the meat on their lunch menus.


Supporters of the proposal, which was passed late Monday by the council of Randers, a former industrial town of about 60,000 in central Denmark, said that serving traditional Danish food such as pork was essential to help preserve national identity.

Critics of the requirement, including members of the Muslim population and migration advocates, said it effectively created a problem that did not exist for the purpose of stigmatizing Muslims. There has never been an attempt to ban pork from any public lunch menu in Randers, they said, describing the latest initiative as a polarizing and barely veiled attempt to target Muslims.

“Danish food culture” must be a “central part of the offering–including serving pork on an equal footing with other foods,” the proposal says, adding that its intention was not to force anyone to eat something that “goes against one’s belief or religion.” {snip}

But Martin Henriksen, a spokesman for the Danish People’s Party, a far-right anti-immigrant party that backed the measure, framed the move on his Facebook page as necessary to uphold Danish culture in the face of potential threats from Islam.

“It is unacceptable to ban Danish food culture, including dishes with pork, in Danish child care institutions. What will be next?!” he wrote. “The Danish People’s Party is working nationally and locally for Danish culture, including Danish food culture, and that means we are also fighting against Islamic rules and misguided considerations dictating what Danish children should eat.”


Denmark is not alone in viewing culture, including food, as a bulwark to protect national identity. In food-obsessed France, where calls to uphold the country’s vaunted secular liberal values have become all the more urgent after two separate terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, pork has become a sometimes emotive issue in debates over integration.

Several towns run by rightist mayors have tried to remove nonpork options from school cafeterias in a professed effort to preserve French identity, even as members of the Muslim and Jewish populations have protested that such policies risk alienating minorities. In Chalon-sur-Saône, in the French region of Burgundy, elementary school students who do not eat pork have to content themselves with vegetables after the City Council voted in September to stop offering substitutions like fish on their menus on days when pork is served.


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