Food Service woes

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Holy cow.

I was doing a little bit of research to see what types of food some of the local public schools make available for students. After reading the article about the school in Atlanta with the amazing veggie-friendly lunch line, I had high hopes for Northern Virginia. Alas, what I came across was quite disappointing. Case in point, this document (PDF), a newsletter titled Nutrifax published by the Fairfax County Public Schools.

Being that it implies there are “fax” about nutrition, you might think that the document included helpful tips about vegetarian diets. Instead, in one page we get loads of half-truths, misinformation, and an undertone of anti-vegetarianism. If I didn’t know better, I’d think someone from the meat industry penned this, but there’s even a phone number to call a “registered dietician” for more information. Here’s a quick look at some of the main problems with this newsletter:

  • It’s titled “The Vegetarian Agenda.” Right off the bat, it’s antagonistic.
  • Incorrect definition of terms. Here, a semi-vegetarian = pescatarian. Semi-vegetarians just eat “less” meat, which can include any and all meat, poultry, etc. Pescatarians don’t eat beef or poultry, but will eat fish. They also refer to “lacto-ova” vegetarian. As far as I know, this is not an accepted alternate spelling for “lacto-ovo,” though it may be technically acceptable.
  • False information about the “risks” of vegetarianism. They have a section about the health benefits of vegetarianism, but it’s half the length of the “risks” section. A blatant falsehood crops up here: “Animal protein is the only source of complete protein with all the essential amino acids present.” One word: quinoa. Also, the soybean has what’s considered a complete protein, though it doesn’t have all of the essential amino acids.

    The risks section continues with more subtle errors, like stating “The more restrictive the diet is
    about eating animal protein, the greater the health risks become.” They mention B12 (which actually only occurs naturally in plant sources but for humans comes primarily from animals that have ingested B12 in their feed) and that “animal protein is the major source for calcium, Vitamin D, and iron.” Remember that most of the best sources of calcium are from plant sources.

    The worst of all the errors, though comes in this paragraph:

    Many grains, legumes and seeds are good sources of protein but need to be combined with one another to become complete proteins. A grain product, another vegetable or an animal derived protein can provide amino acids that are missing in a vegetable. Examples of complementary combinations are beans and rice, peanut butter and bread, macaroni and cheese.

    This section implies that protein-combining in the same meal is required, a belief that was disproven a couple of decades ago. The current school of thought says that a.) most people get too much protein, b.) plant proteins generally don’t have the health risks associated with animal proteins, and c.) as long as you eat a decent variety of foods over the course of a day, your proteins will be plenty well combined.

There’s still a lot of work to be done in the food service industry. While a lot of the statements above may on the surface have a layer of truth, there’s a sense of “vegetarianism is bad and hard to do, so if you have to deal with it, here are some things to tell those annoying people.” We are pests, aren’t we?

4 Responses to “Food Service woes”

  1. John

    I think a valid argument could be made for the relevance of protein combining for school lunches. School food services are required to meet specific requirements. The thinking is, this could be the only meal that the child gets each day, so it’s got to count. You can’t rely on a child eating foods with complimentary amino acids at other meals.

    Now, if we can only get them to be as concerned about other nutrients besides protein.

  2. Ryan

    Good point, John, I hadn’t thought of it that way.

  3. Gary

    “The Vegetarian Agenda?” What a transparent piece of pro-animal agriculture propaganda. It would be far more accurate to have a “meat and dairy agenda” article. Sub-sections could include: political influence, false advertising, industry-funded faux-scientific studies, animal cruelty exemptions, and the cheese buyout, er, school lunch program.

    Shameless promotion: I was thinking approximately the same thing as you here: http://www.animalwritings.com/2005/12/our-kids-are-drowning-in-cheese.asp

  4. Kate

    I believe that hemp protein is also a complete protein. I’m so glad to see it’s becoming easier to find.

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