Fact Check: French Children Were Served Wine on School Lunch Breaks Until 1956?

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Facebook profile The Vintage News

Claim:

Until 1956, French children attending school were served wine on their lunch breaks.

Rating:

Rating: True
Rating: True

Context:

In 1956 drinking alcohol was banned in French schools, though that ban only applied to children under 14. Alcoholic beverages were definitively banned from schools in 1981.

 

In mid-November 2023, a rumor went viral on social media claiming that "until 1956, French children attending school were served wine on their lunch breaks." It was shared together with a picture of a young girl sitting next to the wine bottle and holding what looked to be a glass of wine.

"That would certainly make the school day pass quicker," a post with over 42 thousand reactions on Facebook read. The claim was also shared with another photograph attached, as it can be seen the Reddit post below.

"Each pupil was entitled to 4 glasses (125ml) a day," one post on Instagram read. Another post, which at the moment of this writing had reached over 10 million views, underscored that "wine, beer, and cider used to be sold in school cafeterias, although it was up to each school's discretion whether to allow it or not."

One X (formerly Twitter) user commented on the matter:

In 1956, it was not uncommon for children in France to be exposed to small sips of wine during family meals as part of their cultural upbringing.

Wine was traditionally regarded as an integral part of French culture, and parents often believed that introducing children to wine in moderation would teach them responsible drinking habits and an appreciation for their country’s wine heritage.

These early exposures were typically diluted with water and given in limited quantities, with a focus on the sensory experience rather than intoxication.

According to various reliable sources the rumor was true and until 1956 French children attending school could be served wine on their lunch breaks. For instance, France 3, a French public television channel shared a video on its Facebook profile with a caption "After the Second World War and until 1956, red wine was served in school canteens! And that surprised no one!"

A Public Sénat article on the topic informed that "at that time, it was a common practice to see children consuming wine" (we translated it using Google Translate):

1956, the fight against drunkenness in school canteens

In 1956, the government took up the issue of alcohol in school canteens. For the first time, a significant measure is adopted. Now no child under 14 is allowed to drink wine at the table. A real revolution is underway in the fight against drunkenness in schools. Nothing surprising for vine and wine historian Stéphane Le Bras, who recalls “at that time, it was a common practice to see children consuming wine. Parents usually give a flask of wine mixed with water to their children when they go to school. Moreover, in the 1930s, a national propaganda committee in favor of wine was created and one of their first demands was to encourage this practice by accustoming children to the taste of wine. Behind this ban, there is the desire, for the former Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine: to protect children. For her, “particular attention is paid at this time to children, adolescents, young people as they enter life and start to drive”.

The information was also confirmed by the French newspaper Le Parisien, although the article informed that alcohol was completely banned from schools in 1981 (we used Google Translate for translation):

As surprising as it may seem, it was not until September 1981, shortly after the election of François Mitterrand, that alcoholic beverages were definitively banned from high schools. According to the terms of the circular of September 3, “water is the only hygienic drink recommended at the table”. “In school canteens and restaurants, no alcoholic beverages are served, even mixed with water,” clarified the Minister of National Education at the time, Alain Savary, in response to a question from the MP opposition Antoine Gissinger on his policy to combat alcoholism among young people. This text therefore completes the 1956 circular, which only prohibited the serving of alcohol in a school to those under 14 years of age.

Moreover, French National Audiovisual Institute published a video from 1956, when the ban on alcohol in school canteens for children under 14 was introduced.

The Guardian article from 2019 informed that French health officials launched a campaign "seeking to persuade the public to drink no more than two glasses of wine per day":

According to Santé Publique France, almost a quarter of French adults are regularly drinking too much alcohol, and this level of drinking is killing 41,000 people a year, making it the second biggest cause of avoidable deaths in the country after smoking.

“It’s about 10.5 million adults who drink too much. In any case they drink in proportions that increase the risks to their health, including cancers, high blood pressure, cerebral haemorrhage and cardiovascular diseases,” Viet Nguyen-Thanh, head of Santé Publique France, said.

With relation to that social campaign, France24 published an article in March 2019 with the title "‘Quoi, just two glasses?’ French urged to cut down on their drinking," underscoring that France had one of the highest alcohol consumption rates in Europe and its relationship with alcohol had complicated historical roots:

France’s historic relationship with alcohol is a complicated one. The first-ever campaign to try to get the French to reduce their alcohol consumption was orchestrated by then-prime minister Pierre Mendès France in the mid-1950s. That campaign encouraged the French to “drink less than a litre of alcohol per meal”.

In 1956, France also banned the serving of alcohol to children under the age of 14 in the school canteens. Prior to that, school children had the right to drink half a litre of wine, cider or beer with their meals. It was only in 1981 that France implemented a total alcohol ban in the country’s schools.

All in all, given that until 1956 serving alcohol to children under 14 years old in French schools was legal, we have rated this claim as True.

It's not the first time we fact-checked rumors regarding alcoholic beverages. For instance, in April 2022 we investigated whether Benjamin Franklin once said: "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy." It turned out that, according to records of a letter penned by Franklin in 1779, he once wrote something similar to this, but it was specifically about wine, not beer.

Sources:

“VIDEO. Education : il y a 60 ans, à l’école, fini l’alcool !” leparisien.fr, 27 Feb. 2016, https://www.leparisien.fr/archives/a-l-ecole-fini-l-alcool-27-02-2016-5580577.php.

“Dans les cantines, servait-on vraiment du vin aux écoliers français avant 1956 ?” TF1 INFO, 30 Oct. 2023, https://www.tf1info.fr/societe/dans-les-cantines-scolaire-a-ecole-servait-on-vraiment-du-vin-alcool-aux-ecoliers-francais-avant-1956-2274650.html.

“‘Quoi, Just Two Glasses?’ French Urged to Cut down on Their Drinking.” France 24, 26 Mar. 2019, https://www.france24.com/en/20190326-france-alcohol-recommendation-campaign-daily-intake-wine-french-culture-drinking.

Sénat, Public. “De la suppression du vin dans les cantines, à la loi Evin : la lutte contre l’alcool en 5 dates.” Public Sénat, 13 Oct. 2017, https://www.publicsenat.fr/actualites/non-classe/de-la-suppression-du-vin-dans-les-cantines-a-la-loi-evin-la-lutte-contre-l-alcool-en.