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Pity the French children: the government has banned school and college cafeterias from serving ketchup on the nation's traditional dishes.

The prohibition is ostensibly a health initiative. Ketchup, the French will have you know, is not actually part of the vegetable food group and is loaded with corn syrup-based sweeteners.

Upon closer inspection, though, the ban is less about health and more about protecting French culture, this time its heavy Gallic cuisine of all things.

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"We have to ensure that children become familiar with French recipes so that they can hand them down to the following generation," Christophe Hebert, chairman of the National Association of Directors of Collective Restaurants, told Fox.

Beyond its sugariness, the French see ketchup as a much larger social ill, writes Kim Willsher in the Los Angeles Times: "Gallic gastronomes view it with the same disdain as American television series, English words and McDonald's restaurants: unwelcome cultural impostors."

Or, as Jim White of the Telegraph somewhat zanily put it, "Americanism incarnate, as if it were manufactured from crushed Justin Timberlake with a sprinkling of caramelised Snoop Dogg."

While traditional dishes must now remain free of the tomato-condiment, the government will permit ketchup on all-American French fries, which will be served no more than once a week.

Over at foodie blog Grub Street, Hadley Tomicki acknowledged the long-standing strain in the cross-cultural exchange: "You sent such delightful innovations as haute cuisine, Champagne, and foie gras (thanks again for that one), and we, er, sent you our fried-chicken chains and sauces made from corn syrup."

That said, the Yanks are still hurt: "We know you're not banning it for taste reasons. Everyone agrees the stuff tastes so, so good. So is it us, France? Is the whole thing just too American?"

Mr. Hebert not so tacitly suggested so, bemoaning the way ketchup overwhelms all other delicacies with its saccharine flavour. (Kind of like Justin Timberlake, one might argue.)

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"We absolutely have to stop children from being able to serve those sorts of sauces to themselves with every meal. Children have a tendency to use them to mask the taste of whatever they are eating," Mr. Hebert said.

There, Mr. White was again in disagreement, suggesting ketchup – "a work of genius, a smile on the plate" – eases kids onto culinary adventures: "Far from acting as a barrier to making their child's palate more sophisticated, ketchup serves as the bait. A little smudge of the child-friendly red goo on an unfamiliar dish quickly wins any infant round to the more subtle, worthwhile flavours within," he wrote.

Tell us: Does ketchup ruin or enhance? Where's the line: Is it strictly for fries or does it belong on mac n'cheese, meatloaf and eggs?

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