PARIS — Gastronomic delights are tickling taste buds in this city's schools--as part of the curriculum.
Children in some primary classes have started a course designed to encourage a taste for home-grown haute cuisine rather than American-style fast food.
"France has developed an art of living that we all need to rediscover and to safeguard," said Culture Minister Jack Lang, who is fiercely opposed to the American attack on traditional French eating habits.
He laughs off suggestions that the 10-part "Awakening of Taste" course is just a patriotic ploy. "We aim to develop desire and passion for good food. Whether or not the hamburger can be considered good food is a personal matter," he said.
"Hamburgers can be excellent. It depends on the restaurateur. But then, of course, I'm no fan of the hamburger."
Lang looked on, beaming with pleasure, as one class of 10-year-olds learned to distinguish among four basic food flavors--sweet, salt, bitter and acid.
They tested salt-free diet bread against a regular loaf and compared the bitter taste of coffee with the acidic flavor of lemon juice.
"Bit too sweet for me," Lang said as one child handed him a glass of lemon syrup with sugar lumps.
Next, the children were to explore the touch, smell and feel of food, and there would also be classes on how to put together a mouth-watering balanced meal in addition to classes on French regional delicacies and the finer points of gastronomy.
Some 6,000 primary school children across Paris are taking part in the pilot program this year. Lang hopes the idea will soon spread across the country. It was conceived by the National Council of Culinary Arts, an institute he founded in 1989 to promote French cuisine.
Teachers say the 90-minute lessons are encouraging children to take a healthy interest in the food they eat at home.
The result? "One child said he no longer went to dinner with his Walkman on," one teacher said.
But teaching children to appreciate gourmet delicacies may still prove an uphill struggle.
"Chips and lollies are my favorites," a youngster named Julien said. Another, Emilie, professed a taste for pasta and hamburgers.