Meatless by choice, or by design?

Earlier this fall, Baltimore City Public Schools initiated its “Meatless Monday” menu that includes a cheese sandwich or cheese lasagna or a bowl of vegetables, but no meat options. None.

“We hope Baltimore will become a national model for each school system in the nation to follow,” said Robert Lawrence, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, after the school rolled out its new Monday menu.

I hope it will not.

Influenced by the activist Meatless Monday campaign, the school district says the new menu will help students become more aware of food choices and their diets.

But I wonder if the school district was aware of the Meatless Monday campaign’s real agenda. According to its Web site, it has a stated goal of helping “reduce meat consumption 15 percent in order to improve personal health and the health of our planet.”

Now, we’ve all eaten meatless meals, and maybe even for a complete day. Others choose not to eat meat every day. But it was a personal choice, not a decision made by someone else.

Children do need to learn more about nutrition, their food and their own health. But I’m not sure a second-grader gets that message from the mini cheese ravioli on his tray. In fact, the message he gets is that meat or poultry isn’t good for you.

Improving diet awareness and personal food choices comes from age-appropriate lessons in the classroom involving the food pyramid and balanced diets. Removing meat from a menu does not improve access to healthy foods.

You know, we’re always worried about the government becoming too broad and intrusive, but I’m more worried about meddling special interest groups that slide under the radar and steadily push an agenda until it’s a wave that can’t be stopped.

Schools are required to provide balanced, nutritional meals for students. For many students, those school meals are the best ones of the day. Give these students the information they need to make better choices about the food they eat, don’t dictate their food choices to them.

This country does have problems connected to food and health. Our collective weight is making us a nation of unhealthy people, and the current health care system is burdened with individuals whose health problems are exacerbated by their weight. One source pegs the medical cost of overweight and obese people to the U.S. health care system at $147 billion.

Hypertension and diabetes are just two of the major health concerns that can be minimized by paying closer attention to what you eat, and all health is connected to food.

The problem will be solved, however, only with education for all ages and better personal decision-making. It will not be solved by the taking meat off the menu for a day in a school system.

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University. You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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