On elementary-school programs & wine culture
I recently found another old school textbook in a flea market where wine and winemaking were casually highlighted as part of the ordinary landscape, which led me to do some research, and I found out that until 1956 children in the elementary schools had some [diluted] wine served at the school cafeteria with their lunch, while older students in highschool kept having the option to have a glass of wine for decades, which was kind of news for me.
Now, this said, remember that the table wine of that time, which was bottled in the now-iconic one-liter (and returnable) bouteilles étoilées (named so because of the stars around the bottle neck), this table wine had usually a mere 9 % or 10 % alcohol content and when diluted it was probably far from what we call wine today. Plus, we should keep in mind that for centuries, most of the water being unsafe or unreliable, everyone including children and parents would drink diluted wine or cider instead of water, and the country didn't fare that bad for centuries as a result...
Thank you to Jean-Nicolas for allowing me to use the picture above for this story. Read his humoristic and informative 1st-of-april post on the issue.
If you watch this 1956 news report (video) on the school lunches at that time, it is said that a new law [edicted by leftist Président du Conseil Pierre Mendes-France] orders that children under 14 will not anymore be served wine with their lunch in the cantines scolaires (school cafeterias). It adds that in the countryside where the norm was that pupils would bring a sandwich or other food from home, the instituteurs (teachers) had instructions to check that no alcoholic beverage (even diluted wine or cider) be brought by these pupils for their lunch break. But that left all the other pupils (those above 14) with their wine portion, be it served by the cafeteria or given along by their parents with their lunchbox. This harmless glass of wine (sporting maybe 4 % or less with the dilution) was nothing to make a fuss of, at that time there was no politically-correct thought police and hygienists looking for the slightest opportunity to be offended and sue, and apart from the administration no one really felt this was urgent matter (especially that not all schools served it).
But the termination of this somehow homeopathic familiarization with wine may have had unwanted consequences, beyond the short-term gratifying announcement of fighting alcoholism. We all know that the very-balanced relation the French and other southern Europeans have with wine comes precisely from this early exposure at low doses [which happily certainly kept taking place at home].
For the older teenagers, those over 14, they could keep enjoying their glass of "wine" after 1956 and almost for 3 more decades, until President François Mitterrand scrapped the diluted-wine allowance as soon as elected, this was in september 1981. Not that this is necessarily related but years later the phenomenon of binge drinking (which is pretty spread in cultures with strict alcohol restrictions) took root in France as well, pushing our enlightened politicians for more repressive laws... It'll sure work!!
There were a couple of reports about the issue on the French TV and radios a year ago or more, but the situation before the new rules was often pretty caricatured due to shabby work of journalists looking for sensationalism, like for example on the State network France Info : Listen here, where someone says that to go around the new rules, some children were given the booze by their parents before leaving home, thus arriving sweating and red-faced at the school gate... The provocative title "Quand les parents exigeaient à la cantine des menus avec...alcool ! ("When parents asked forcefully that alcohol be served in the school cafeteria") is by itself just ridiculously misleading, no serious historian can back that this isolated case was the norm throughout France [and we're supposed to get our day news from these guys...]. In reality when you call a few seniors (like I did for this story) who were of elementary-school age in the countryside at that time, they don't recall anything like being served wine at school before 1956, even diluted, not to speak about "alcohol"....
Wine may indeed still have been served in lots of school cafeterias along the 20th century before 1956, but again with wine that was certainly much diluted. Plus, the rules at that time weren't applied uniformly all over the country like they are today [with the totalitarian enforcement style that comes with national & EU norms] and schools had the latitude to do it their way, depending of the local culture or the mood of the principal. One thing is sure, wine or not wine, children at that time would master writing & spelling skills ;-) but that's another story...
If you want to immerse yourself in a country school of that time (here in Alsace), read this page with pictures (in well-written French), there's a lovely paragraph about the school lunch (titled La cantine). We should all write journals about our school experience when it's still fresh, look at how things changed in about 50 years, it would help correct what "journalists" of the 22nd century will write about the early 21st century, which should be off the mark just the same. This first-hand account can't be further from the mainstream narrative read or heard nowadays, fake news !.
Here's also the chapter one (related with the elementary school).
I found this informative page about school lunches and menus in the early 20th century. I reproduce here the list & volume of foods for 100 children, which gives you the picture of a typical menu for the Paris elementary schools as published in 1906. Children would attend school from monday to saturday back then, thursday being off but some children being still watched over there that day.
Picture on right : the cafeteria at the Ecole Condorcet in Angers
QUANTITES POUR 100 ENFANTS, GARCONS ET FILLES (Ecoles primaires.)
Lundi. – 10 litres lentilles, 3 kilos. Chipolatas, 250 grammes saindoux.
Mardi. – 7 kg 500 mouton, 35 litres pommes de terre, 250 grammes saindoux.
Mercredi. – 6 kilos. macaroni, 1 kg. 250 gruyère, 750 grammes beurre.
Vendredi. – 7 kg. 500 mouton, 10 litres haricots blancs, 250 grammes saindoux.
Samedi. – 8 kilo. Bœuf, 0 kg. 600 légumes frais, 2 kilos. de riz.
Le menu de la classe de garde du jeudi est le même que celui du samedi.
ECOLES MATERNELLES. (Même groupe scolaire.)
Lundi.- 6 kg. 500 bœuf, 0 kg. 500 légumes frais, 1 kg. 200 riz.
Mardi. – 5 kilos. macaroni, 1 kilogr. Gruyère, 0 kg. 600 beurre.
Mercredi. – 8 litres lentilles. 2 kg. 500 chipolatas, 0 kg. 200 saindoux.
Jeudi. – 6 kg. 500 boeuf, 0 kg. 500 légumes frais, 1 kg. 200 riz.
Vendredi. – 8 litres haricots blancs, 250 grammes chipolatas, 0 kg. 200 saindoux.
Samedi. – 6 kg. 500 mouton (désossé par le boucher), 30 litres pommes de terre, 250 grammes saindoux.
Children in many cases (especially in the countryside or in poor districts with no formal cafeteria) would bring a basket from home containing their lunch, and it would include the bottle for the drink, which would often be, that's right, wine or beer, like this picture above illustrates it.
And here is (from the same informative page) the rules regarding drinks for the children at school in 1927, this would make scream everyone today :
Qu'ils prennent ou non le repas de midi à l'école, il est interdit de leur donner d'autres boissons que de l'eau, du lait, de la bière, du vin ou du cidre étendus d'eau, des infusions hygiéniques sans aucune addition de spiritueux. (Code Soleil, 1927)
Translation : Whether they take lunch at school or not, it is forbidden to give them any other drink than water, milk, beer, wine or cider diluted with water [for the three latter I guess], hygienic infusions without spirit addition.
Yes, you read it right, forbidden to serve any other beverage than (beyond water & milk) wine, beer or cider ! ! !
Now here is about this 1967 elementary-school book which caught my attention when I spotted it among a heap of paper on a flea market, it is appropriately named De l'Image à la Phrase (from image to sentence). The educational focus of this manual was to have young children associates images or scenes with words, and even sentences, and begin to build their own when describing what they see. Very common sense and I guess it’s working [or at least it worked, as I’m not sure these teaching ways still prevail nowadays] to have young minds integrate words, sentence construction and spelling. Leafing through this type of book is also provoquatively refreshing because they’re devoid from the ubiquitous political correctness found nowadays in such books in the western hemisphere, and scenes like the ones above would seem blasphemous today for its gender sterotypes…
It worked like follows for the young students : They had to pick among a list of words printed at the bottom to fill the blanks under the characters, all the 30 pages of the manual is to be filled up, the last pages being more about whole sentences than individual words. You’re free to try yourself and check your French skills…
Here is the page I loved, the one oddly titled « La Vendange although there’s no vineyard featured and half of the drawings depict objects or scenes not particularly related to the picking. What looks like at first glance an innocent illustrations would be pretty hard to find in the schoolbooks today, as it goes against all the modern ideological fundamentals, like having the wine culture considered as part of the landscape, and not to mention the fear of offending cultures for which this beverage is unholy… I’m sure nobody at the time would have thought about suing the school system for that kind of page (or other pages like the other one above), identity politics and the victimhood culture were not yet born and people weren't looking for the slightest pretext to start a civil rights case. We might find here matter for meditation.
Now there’s a second aspect to think about here, it’s about how words change in just a few decades, just think of the names of these vessels, in particular for the barrique, the tonneau and the baril which I’m not sure would be named always this way today (the foudre and the cuve or fermenter remain more stable as words). I didn’t even know there was a wooden vessel named baril (I guess they mean the small cask on the right), and the difference between a tonneau (the large capacity barrel in the middle which we now routinely call a demi-muid) and a barrique is maybe not fully grasped today, even by educated and wine-wise adults. Could be another sign that the wine culture dims, folks, and it’s a good thing that there’s been a revival of this culture through the real wine we all love…
Here is a rearranged version of this barrel/vats, whatever, chapter for you to fill the blanks and check again if you can honorably do a cellar visit in a French domaine…
And to complete this French lesson, I rearranged also the utmost interesting chapter depicting the healthy pleasure of opening a bottle, filling a glass and drinking, be it from the glass or straight from the wineskin, a vessel that was certainly still in use in the mid-20th century (beginning with boyscouts, goat keepers and other herdsmen) and that has been around since the Antiquity in the wine-drinking regions beginning with Greece and the Caucasus (it was used for all types of liquid including olive oil). The word for wineskin in French is outre à vin (from Uter in Latin), but here it’s not mentioned because the focus in on the action, which in this case is boire à la régalade, meaning drink from the spout without touching the vessel with the lips. Régalade carries more emotion in French actually as it means at the same time delicious, feast and treat. I can understand.
Here is the full school book (pdf file) if you want to leaf the other pages (a real travel in time).
Here is another version (Pdf file) of this De L'Image à la Phrase also printed in 1967, this time in color and with different scenes.