Politicians and policy buffs were forced to do a double take when they stormed the buffet at the German government's symposium on "exporting green technology" in Berlin this month.
Instead of the salami rolls, cocktail sausages or goulash soups one would ordinarily expect at similar functions in the German capital, the lunchtime menu offered Belgian endives with caramelised apple, celery escalope with honeyed carrots and a soya vegetable lasagne.
The vegetarian spread was a manifestation of the German environment ministry’s decision this month to become the first government agency to take meat and fish off the menu at official functions, citing a need to lead by example when it comes to environmentally sustainable consumption and the “consequences of consuming meat”.
"We decided to take the symbolic step to ban meat and fish at external events because we want to practise what we preach," environment ministry spokesperson Michael Schroeren told the Guardian.
“For us it was a matter of credibility.”
In a country where meat is often an emotive matter and your preferred choice of sausage can be more revealing of your origins than your accent, it was nothing less than a quiet revolution.
With a general election looming in September, some politicians decided to interpret the initiative as a coup against carnivores, a politicised attempt to introduce a vegetarian nanny state by stealth.
Christian Schmidt, Germany's food minister and a member of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), immediately hit back at the environment minister, Barbara Hendricks, an MP for the centre-left Social Democratic party.
He said: “With us there won’t be a veggie day through the back door. Instead of paternalism and ideology I stand for variety and freedom of choice.”
Before the last German elections in 2013, during a campaign in which parties struggled to set themselves apart on weightier political issues, the Green party had proposed a weekly “veggie day” on which canteens across the country would not be serving meat.
The policy proposal backfired spectacularly and was blamed by many for
the party gaining only 8.5 per cent at the election.
Whether the German public remains similarly concerned about its lunchtime currywurst in the age of Brexit and Trump remains unclear, but so far Hendricks has been waiting in vain for an emphatic endorsement of her initiative from other government departments.
Out of the 14 other ministries that make up the German government, 12, including Angela Merkel’s chancellery, confirmed on Friday that they were not planning on cutting meat and fish from their menu.
Only the country’s development ministry stated that it had asked its catering team to “significantly reduce the amount of meat and fish in their menus”.
Even the Green party has been lukewarm about the environment ministry’s plans.
"I think it's right to regulate the production, not the consumption of meat," said Anton Hofreiter, a former co-chair of the German Greens.
In his recently published book Fleischfabrik Deutschland ("Meat Factory Germany"), Hofreiter argues that since the 1990s Germany has started to produce more and more meat, even though people in the country have started to consume less.
To make up the difference, he says, farmers have started exporting abroad en masse and pushing down on workers’ pay and standards.
“No one would have problems with with stricter regulations around mass livestock farming, but we shouldn’t make the mistake to prescribe a lifestyle to people,” he said.