Meatless Mondays: Healthy Alternative or Radical Campaign?

A new debate over hot lunches has sprung up in the San Francisco Bay Area as schools introduce "meatless Mondays" to the menu.

The movement is already in place in other area districts such as Oakland and West Contra Costa, who have been participating in meatless Mondays for several years now.

The program is set to show students that there are other alternatives to protein sources other than meat and poultry.

"It can be other foods that have protein," said Linda Carrozzi, South San Francisco's director of nutritional services and a registered dietitian. "Our school lunches really do embrace healthier lifestyle changes."

Children are offered healthy meals such as vegetarian chili with cornbread, black bean burritos, grilled cheese, or ravioli, with baby carrots and sliced peaches.

The program hopes to show students that consuming less meat can improve a person's health as well as the health of the planet. Growing more vegetables and reducing the raising of livestock will diminish the greenhouse gasses in the air.

Humane Society posters are prominently featured in the schools, promoting ads for meatless Mondays. The group actively campaigns in schools for the cause, calling it a win-win for children and animals.

"By going meat free just one day a week we can prevent some of this animal suffering," said Kristie Middleton, food policy manager for the Humane Society of the United States, in reference to the billions of animals slaughtered each year for food production.

The meat and poultry industries have a different take on the movement.

"Meatless Monday is not a grassroots effort to celebrate healthy eating," said the Animal Agriculture Alliance in published talking points addressing Meatless Mondays. "It's a well-funded, radical campaign pushing an extreme animal rights and environmental agenda by promoting false claims about animal agriculture."

According to Janet Riley, senior vice president for the American Meat Institute, the main concern is providing students with the option to choose their own protein source.

Meatless Mondays were first introduced during World War I and II in an effort to ration the meat supplies. An official campaign was launched in 2003 to reduce the effects on health associated with overeating meat.

Some parents are questioning the change, claiming the new menu is not as filling as meat options. The meals do, however, fit with the national standards for the required amount of nutrition and calories, as per the plans introduced by First Lady Michelle Obama.

The campaign is spreading throughout the nation, with schools in Dripping Springs, Texas, taking part this year as well through a pilot program in its three elementary schools, as well as schools in Houston.

Students who do not wish to participate are always welcome to bring their own lunch to school.

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