“Meatless Mondays” taking over schools

Jill Power | Student Columnist

“Meatless Monday” involves taking just one day out of your week to enjoy a meat-free diet. The remaining six days can be as bacon-wrapped and steak-filled as your heart desires.

The movement has even reached school lunches, with some schools opting to serve vegetarian dishes only once a week. The nutritional needs of the children are met, and the chicken nuggets survive another day. This should be a good thing, right?

If you subscribe to a vegetarian diet and want your children to do the same, then “Meatless Monday” in schools is a great way to allow your children to participate in their school lunch program. They get to partake in the same routine as their peers, and you don’t have to pack a lunch on your last night of the weekend.

Some parents, according Fox News, are outraged that their children do not have a choice if they eat meat for lunch or not. Todd Staples, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, went as far as calling the program an “agenda driven campaign.”

Staples also claims that abstaining from meat for one day out of the week is neither healthy nor environmentally friendly, and that we should be teaching children the importance of exercise and a balanced diet in the fight against obesity.

While this is certainly a respectable idea, what Staples doesn’t mention is that “Meatless Monday” is environmentally and economically friendly. If prepared correctly, it can also be just as healthy as a meal with meat.

Nearly all of the commercially used meat, such as what is economical to use in school lunches, is provided by Animal Feeding Operations, or AFOs, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency. AFOs cram hundreds of animals into confines where their waste and feed cannot be properly maintained.

This has the potential to contaminate natural underground water sources, as well as the air space, thanks to the reactive gases emitted from manure and waste. According to the EPA, the Southern coast of California in particular has elevated particulate levels due to AFOs.

Economically, it costs less to prepare a dish without meat. Plant-based sources of protein such as nuts, beans, seeds and even Greek yogurt or grains like quinoa cost less per pound than most meats, according to June 2014 pricing from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Vegetarians enjoy a lesser likelihood of developing certain cancers, heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes, according to the American Dietetic Association. This is likely due to the decreased levels of cholesterol and saturated fat found in meat. Of course, it’s perfectly healthy to consume proper serving sizes of meat as a part of your diet. It is not, however, necessary to eat meat in order to meet your daily protein intake.

The ADA mentions that some vegans, those who do not consume any animal products, may be at risk of having lower levels of, “vitamin B-12, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and occasionally riboflavin,” but this is not a major concern for vegetarians, and especially not for the “Meatless Monday” participants.

If parents want their kids to have a meat-based protein with their lunch, then they could spend the money from the school lunches they pay for on preparing lunches from home. Why, though, shouldn’t a vegetarian option be offered every day of the week instead of only once? Additionally, why shouldn’t we be giving children the choice to pick what they eat?

Granted, there will be some children who devour all of the chocolate milk and chicken tenders they can grasp between their fingers. But what if these children want to try something new?

Perhaps the parents who are alarmed about the “Meatless Mondays” in schools are also the parents who don’t expose their children to new foods. With no spawn of my own, I’m not qualified or willing to condemn this kind of parent. But doesn’t the child deserve to at least be aware? These are veggie burgers we’re keeping from them, not the reproductive process. Their innocence will not be compromised with the introduction of a soy patty.

Schools should be considering “Let Children Learn to Be Responsible for Their Food Intake Monday” instead of “Meatless Monday.” If all else fails, grab your favorite lunchbox and pick out exactly what you want to eat. That way, everyone wins.

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