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.
And the Baltimore
Sun reported that the Animal Agriculture Alliance has implored citizens
"shocked" by Meatless Mondays to contact Alonso
"to ensure this effort does not spread."
When I was in Baltimore last Monday, I visited Calverton, a pre-K
through eighth grade school in West Baltimore,
to find out how students are responding. A handful of sixth graders were
excited about the change. Dajana Mills, 12, told me she looked forward to
finding out what the Meatless Monday entrée would be every week. "It gives us a
chance to pick different stuff instead of meat," she told me. She's tried new
vegetables like eggplant and "white stuff," which we eventually determined to
be cauliflower. When I asked her friend
Shane Garey if he thought Meatless Mondays was more healthy, he responded,
"Yeah, it has less calories."
That Monday, kids were
choosing between a grilled cheese sandwich or veggie chili bowl with black
beans, salsa and rice. There was also salad, corn, and fresh fruit. Calverton's
cafeteria director, Gail Pendelton, told me that she and her staff enjoy
working with Mahoney's new vegetarian menu because it allows them to play
around with spices, instead of the usual cafeteria routine of simply unwrapping
and reheating packaged food.