Taking a page from long-standing Christian tradition — particularly Catholic tradition — taxpayer-funded public schools across the United States are now denying children the option of eating meat for lunch one day each week.
For Catholics, and for different reasons, that day has been Friday for centuries. For American school children, the trendy new day of forswearing carnivorous deliciousness is Monday.
“Meatless Monday” bills itself as an international campaign “launched in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.” It was founded by Sid Lerner, a longtime Madison Avenue advertising executive.
The goal is to convince people to choose to give up meat one day each week because, as the Meatless Monday website explains, it’s “fantastic for the planet.”
And so, in the semi-rural town of Dripping Springs, Texas, for example, school district officials are choosing to force kids to forgo meat and poultry.
On Monday, the lunch menu at Rooster Springs Elementary School included meatless chili, meatless pizza, meatless burritos, some nachos “and more,” but no meat, reports Austin ABC affiliate KVUE.
“The cheese sauce is made with real cheese. It comes from Land O’ Lakes, and it actually has incredible value as a protein product,” John Crowley, the school district’s food services director, told the station.
“With more parents and kids asking for vegetarian choices, we just decided to give it a try in Dripping Springs for a year,” Crowley explained. “We’re definitely not against meat. This is a pilot program we’ve decided to try this year and see how our kids do with it.”
Crowley also advised parents who don’t like the new policy to pack their kids’ lunch on Mondays.
School districts in Houston are also participating in Meatless Mondays.
Further west, public school districts throughout California’s Bay Area are also foisting Meatless Mondays on students.
The San Francisco Chronicle recounts the experience of seven-year-old Jocelyn Ortiz at Spruce Elementary School in San Francisco, who passes by a propaganda poster from the Humane Society poster endorsing Meatless Mondays each day in the cafeteria lunch line.
Ortiz offered a wonderfully circular argument for why she now won’t be munching on meat at lunch every Monday.
“Meatless Monday means we have no meat because we don’t eat meat on Mondays at school,” the second grader explained. “Because sometimes the rule in school is on Mondays we don’t eat meat.”
Linda Carrozzi, the school district food director in San Francisco, lauded the new meal regime.
“Our school lunches really do embrace healthier lifestyle changes,” she told the Chronicle.
“We tell them a little about the Humane Society and animals,” Carrozzi added. “I like how they talk about compassionate eating. I think the kids are very curious about that.”
Kristie Middleton, food policy manager for the Humane Society of the United States, defended Meatless Mondays because, she said, it could prevent the slaughter of some farm animals.
“By going meat free just one day a week we can prevent some of this animal suffering,” Middleton told the Chronicle.
Environmental groups are also strong advocates for Meatless Mondays.
On the other hand, meat and poultry industry representatives are not supportive.
“Meatless Monday is not a grassroots effort to celebrate healthy eating,” the Animal Agriculture Alliance has countered, according to the Chronicle. “It’s a well-funded, radical campaign pushing an extreme animal rights and environmental agenda by promoting false claims about animal agriculture.”
American Meat Institute spokeswoman Janet Riley stressed the lack of choice for students.
“As a parent, I want my children to have options at school,” she told the San Francisco paper. “I don’t want the school to take away my sons’ access to the complete protein that meat represents.”
Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples similarly weighed in against Meatless Mondays. He called once-a-week meat bans in public schools “irresponsible” and predicted that activists will eventually push for more meat-free days each week, according to KVUE.
Thanks to federal intervention that first lady Michelle has made her signature issue, schools that take federal money under the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act must adhere to strict nutrition standards created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The standards stringently limit the number of calories and the amount of sugar, fat and sodium in every morsel of food sold at schools for over 30 million American school kids.