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?

Food labeling in 2006

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2006 Food Forecast

The good news:

More allergy information will be included on labels, which is not only good for people with severe food allergies, but for vegans since dairy and eggs are common allergens. The best parts:

  • “If there are any egg, peanut, nut, fish, shellfish, wheat or soy in a product, the label will have to say so.”
  • ” Goodbye to non-descriptive words such as “artificial” or “natural” flavors, colors or additives. Labels with those ingredients also will have to specify which allergens they contain.” Whether this means that any animal-derived products in the natural flavoring will need to be labeled is not clear.
  • “If “casein” is included, “milk” would be listed after it.”

Also good: trans-fat will appear on labels. As a result of having to add this to the label, many food companies have cut back significantly or eliminated trans-fat from their products.

The bad news:

There’s still no universally accepted “Vegan” symbol on food packages. This may actually be a good thing, because really there hasn’t been enough discussion on the issue. For instance, if something is produced on equipment that is also used for dairy, should it be labeled vegan? If a product is made by a company that also makes meat products, is that product vegan? There are some tricky issues.

Also bad/stupid: well, I’ll let the article do the talking:

[F]ood forecasters are predicting some provocative trends, including such possibilities as Christian-raised chicken…

Trend expert Faith Popcorn, keynote speaker at the Future of Food conference last month in Washington, and the person who predicted the “cocooning” craze of the 1990s, sees faith-friendly food showing up in the marketplace, an outgrowth of what her company calls “clanning,” or the desire to belong to groups with common ideas.

Tyson Foods, which makes chicken, beef and pork products, already has begun offering free downloadable prayer booklets on its Web site. The booklets provide mealtime prayers in a variety of faiths.

Before I comment, I love the fact that the food trend expert’s name is “Faith Popcorn.” I would have killed to be born with that name.

I hadn’t heard of the idea of “Christian-raised chicken” before, and predictably, it strikes me as pretty stupid. If you’re that concerned about how your religious beliefs coincide with how your food is raised, shouldn’t you consider just, you know, not eating meat? I suspect that this kind of falls into the same category as halal meats, but without the long-standing tradition.

And does anyone else find it hilarious — and at the same time, deeply troubling — that Tyson Foods is producing prayer booklets?

Feel free to suggest prayers in the comments that Tyson could include on their web site.

More Poor Reporting

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While I keep hearing that annoying phrase “liberal media bias,” I think we need to be more concerned with lazy reporting, lack of research, and general disinterest in anything beyond shock value.

Paul mentioned a story that aired on the WGN news in Chicago last night, summarized here (scroll to “Vegetarians”). The summary reads:

Vegetarians may be in danger of serious bone loss. Those who eat only raw plant-derived foods have abnormally low bone mass, an early sign of the bone thinning disease osteoporosis. In a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found the extreme raw food vegetarian diet does not provide enough calcium or Vitamin D, both crucial for bone strength. The study looked at people who ate a vegetarian diet for three years.

In this summary, and according to Paul, even more so in the broadcast, it makes it seem that the raw diet = the vegetarian diet. Look at the opening and closing sentences: “Vegetarians may be in danger of serious bone loss.” and “The study looked at people who ate a vegetarian diet for three years.” That’s just wrong.

This shock value piece makes misleading connections that many people will walk away from thinking, “Vegetarianism isn’t healthy.” Do you have any idea how infinitesimally small the number of pure raw foodists there are in this country? I don’t know the exact number, but I’m willing to bet that not a single one was watching that broadcast.

Of course, you’re unlikely to see any news stories on the studies that have shown that frequent consumers of dairy tend to have more bone breaks and a higher incidence of osteoporosis than those who eat less or no dairy. That might piss off the advertisers.

USDA: Fries are fresh

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Oh good Lord.

Remember when Reagan declared that ketchup was a vegetable? Well, the USDA has done Ronnie one better by proclaiming frozen french fries a “fresh vegetable.”

“While plaintiff argued that battered-coated French fries are processed products, they have not been ‘processed’ to the point that they are no longer ‘fresh,’ ” attorneys for the USDA argued.

“It is still considered ‘fresh’ because it is not preserved. It retains its perishable quality.”

Wonderful.