The temperature on the street had dropped to minus three and the homeless stood in knots of two or three, blowing on their hands to relieve the bitter cold, as plastic bowls of steaming soupe au cochon were prepared.
“Hot wine?” asked the elegant blonde woman behind the table. But before anything could be served, the police arrived flourishing an order from the local authorities in Strasbourg to shut down the mobile soup kitchen.
The scene has been repeated all over France in recent weeks after complaints that extreme Right-wing groups have been serving “racist” food.
As a result of the closures, hundreds of homeless people will go hungry. The groups giving out the soup say it is nothing more than traditional French cuisine.
Angry protesters retort, however, that they are deliberately offering ham sandwiches and soup made of pork to discriminate against Muslims and Jews who cannot eat the meat for religious reasons. The groups behind the soup kitchens are not formally linked, but they are associated with an ultra Right-wing organisation called Bloc Identitaire.
Officials say the groups are not breaking the law. In Strasbourg and Nice, however, food handouts have been banned on the grounds that they could lead to “public disorder”.
In Paris, police have stopped the serving of pork soup at major stations on “administrative grounds”—because the soup kitchens have not got the correct papers—to avoid racial tensions. Fabienne Keller, the Mayor of Strasbourg, said: “Schemes with racial subtexts must be denounced.”
Chantal Spieler, the blonde serving soup in Strasbourg as president of the charity Solidarité Alsacienne, was defiant.
“For as long as there are people who are hungry and cold I will disobey this unfair decision,” she said.
Even Lhaj Thanmi Breze, president of the Union of Islamic Organisations in France, disagreed with closing the soup kitchens, although he regretted that they were serving pork.