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Many Want Vegetarian School Lunches, USDA Says

You spoke up, and the federal government heard you—loud and clear. Last year, PCRM asked its members and other concerned citizens across the country to attend listening sessions held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA was soliciting opinions about the National School Lunch Program, and we knew the government needed to hear how important it was to offer students more healthful vegetarian foods.

Boy Eating SandwichHundreds of physicians, dietitians, parents, and others concerned about childhood obesity responded to our call by attending USDA public hearings in Austin, Texas, Atlanta, Denver, and other cities. Some PCRM physicians and dietitians spoke out in favor of vegetarian options in media interviews and newspaper op-eds. It made a huge difference, as the USDA just made clear in its notes about the listening session.

“Many commenters also asked that the USDA require more plant-based vegetarian menus and increased vegetarian options,” the USDA explained in a new document posted on the agency’s Web site. This has put vegetarian school lunches on the political agenda just as Congress begins gearing up to consider the Child Nutrition Act.

But the meat and dairy industries also weighed in, and the USDA heard from some people who believe that cancer-causing processed meats and artificially flavored dairy products are what children deserve in school lunches.

And while the USDA does appear to hear what many caring members of the public have asked for—lunches with more vegetables, fruits, vegetarian foods, and healthful nondairy beverages—it still considers the inclusion of more cholesterol-laden meats and dairy products in school lunches part of “an aggressive effort to improve the nutritional profile of its offerings.”

According to the USDA white paper “USDA Foods in the National School Lunch Program,” which was released in December, some of these so-called improvements include increasing the number of available frozen or refrigerated meat products from 11 in 1981 to more than 30 today, and the number of available cheese products from two in 1981 to over 15 today.

And with over 31 million children eating these high-fat, USDA-funded school lunches each school day, the already dire childhood obesity epidemic will continue to expand.

Last year, you helped PCRM by putting the topic of vegetarian items on the agenda. This year, as the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act approaches and a new administration takes office, you can take two important steps: encourage President-elect Obama to make good nutrition a priority in his health care plan and sign PCRM’s petition asking Congress to support healthy meals for schools.

To learn more about PCRM’s school lunch reform efforts, visit


PCRM Online, January 2009

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