Photo by Eliza Barclay
Tony Geraci, food service director for Baltimore City Public Schools, is an emerging champion of healthy school food, along with Alice Waters, Anne Cooper and Michelle Obama--and, as with them, the press has hungrily followed Geraci since he moved from New Hampshire to Baltimore last year to take over food service for the public school system [Curator's note: including me! But I met Geraci before he got famous].
Lately, it has seemed even hungrier, because of a decision the Baltimore school system made: the school system's 80,000 students weren't going to get any meat on Mondays.
The Meatless Mondays program was launched to reduce the cholesterol and saturated fats in the lunch offerings and introduce alternate proteins and vegetables. (It's also helped the cash-strapped school district cut some costs.) Geraci and chef/dietician Mellissa Mahoney say they don't want to promote vegetarianism, just healthy omnivorism. On Mondays, beans and cheese are the main source of protein (along with vegetables and grains) and kids don't lose out on a single gram.
The Baltimore Sun reported that the Animal Agriculture Alliance has implored citizens "shocked" by Meatless Mondays to contact the school system.
But the American Meat Institute, along with the Animal Agriculture Alliance, the Missouri Beef Council, and the editors of Pork Magazine, were unsurprisingly unhappy with the plan, and went to the press themselves.
Janet Riley, of the American Meat Institute, went on Lou Dobbs' show on CNN last week to chastise Baltimore for depriving its students of key nutrients: protein. Her boss, the group's CEO, has also written a public letter to Baltimore's City Schools CEO Andrés Alonso, noting he was "disturbed" by the initiative and that "meat and poultry may be the only significant source of protein" in Baltimore kids' diets. (The claim is of course groundless, as the Food Channel's Marion Nestle explained to the author of this blog post, which also gives a roundup of some of the press coverage of Meatless Mondays.) Janet Riley gave Dobbs a figure: 75 percent of American children, she said, are not getting enough protein. I was visiting Baltimore the day of the Dobbs taping, and asked her the following day by phone share the source of the number. She promised to email it, but never did.
When I asked Riley her thoughts about the problem of childhood obesity and other health issues, she replied: "Meat is associated with weight control. It's not the number one source of fat in their diet." She also invoked her own two sons to emphasize that kids require animal protein in their diets. "Meat is what keeps them satisfied and out of the pantry," she told me.
In an editorial published earlier this month, Pork Magazine wrote, "The Baltimore school officials have taken it upon themselves to relieve dietitians and nutritionists of part of their duties, at least for the first day of the school week." Funnily enough, it was the school district's only dietician, Mahoney, who conceived the program.