MUNICH, Germany -- With six campaign weeks left until national elections, one issue is dominating political debate: Germany’s meat-heavy diet, including the country’s most famous dish, the sausage.
The Green Party prompted uproar with an election pledge to introduce a weekly vegetarian day.
One day each week, workplace cafeterias at federal government institutions would be banned from serving any meat dishes or products, which the Greens hope would become a model for corporate and school canteens.
The Green Party – which polls suggest will receive about 15 percent of votes and could become a coalition partner with the opposition Social Democrats - says lower meat consumption would reduce the impact of farming on the environment and improve dietary health.
"A veggie day is a wonderful day to try out how to nourish oneself without meat and sausage for once," Green Party leader Renate Kuenast told the mass-market daily newspaper Bild on Monday.
But that has prompted a backlash from many Germans, famous for their love of sausages and meat-based dishes.
More than 85 percent of Germans eat meat daily or almost daily, according to a report by environmental campaign group, BUND.
Comments flooded social media, including Twitter where the hashtag #veggieday was trending at one stage.
Rainer Bruederle, leader of the Free Democrats, who are a coalition partner with Chancellor Angela Merkel, told Bild: "People are smart enough to decide on their own when they eat meat and vegetables and when they don't."
Members of the Free Democrats' youth association staged a demonstration, holding signs that proclaimed "Hands off my sausage!" or "Barbecue? Like.”
Nicole Maisch, a Green Party member of parliament, said the backlash had taken her by surprise, adding that the idea was not particularly new.
In fact, she said some German cities and companies had already successfully instituted a weekly vegetarian day in their canteens.
"It's not about dictating people what they should eat," Maisch said. "Instead, we want to start a discussion about what high meat consumption means. It is not sustainable."