In what seems to be a Marie Antoinette, food edict moment, the leader of the French far-right National Front has annouced that her party will prevent schools from offering non-pork alternatives on religious grounds.”We will not accept any religious demands in school menus,’ Marine Le Pen said during a radio interview, “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere, that’s the law.” Quite what Le Pen thinks this will achieve has not really been explained.
There are, however, two rather grave errors about the supposedly Marie Antoinette quote, ‘Let them eat cake’. The first is that Marie Antoinette didn’t say anything of the sort. We know because biographer, Lady Antonia Fraser, spoke at length about this at the 2002 Edinburgh Book Fair, declaring that “It was said 100 years before her by Marie-Therese, the wife of Louis XIV,” Fraser explains. “It was a callous and ignorant statement and she [Marie Antoinette] was neither.” As I said, the attribution is doubly erroneous in English, because the word ‘cake’ is a mistranslation. In the original French the alleged quote reads, ‘Qu’ils mangent de la brioche‘, which is not cake but a kind of sweet loaf or bun.
Le Pen might have had a stronger argument to expound had she argued the cruelty of hallal meat, rather than focus solely on the Islamic viewpoint on pork. It may be, however, that I am looking at the matter from a British perspective and that the French might be more indifferent to animal cruelty. Ironic too that the words ‘pig’ and ‘Pen’ are a natural couple for our culture.