Nation’s First All-Vegetarian Public School Menu Debuts in NYC

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An elementary school in the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, New York has become the first public school in the United States to serve an all-vegetarian menu in its cafeteria. Public School 244Q, the Active Learning Elementary School, switched to the meatless menu in Jan. 2013 and was officially recognized by New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott during a visit on Apr. 30.

The school, which opened in 2008, gradually began to increase the number of vegetarian meals served in its cafeterias in 2012, according to Principal Robert Groff. Administrators noticed a higher number of vegetarian meals requested by students in the cafeteria, he said, partially because the school’s population is about 70 percent East Asian and Indian, cultures with traditionally large numbers of vegetarians. The full move to exclusively vegetarian menu offerings was organized in partnership with the non-profit organization New York Coalition for Healthy School Food.

Students are served meals such as braised black beans and plantains, tofu roasted in Asian sesame sauce, falafel and cucumber salad, tofu vegetable wraps, vegetarian chili served with brown rice, and black bean and cheddar quesadillas served with salsa and red roasted potatoes. Each meal has the same amount of mandatory USDA protein requirements as meaty counterparts in other public schools, according to NBC News.

The American Dietetic Association states in its position paper on vegetarianism: “…appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes…”

However, former clinical nutrition specialist Stephen Byrnes said in a statement for the Weston A. Price Foundation: “[A]s a practitioner who has dealt with several former vegetarians and vegans, I know full well the dangerous effects of a diet devoid of healthful animal productsThe mainstream health and vegetarian media have done such an effective job of ‘beef bashing,’ that most people think there is nothing healthful about meat, especially red meat. In reality, however, animal flesh foods like beef and lamb are excellent sources of a variety of nutrients as any food/nutrient table will show. Nutrients like vitamins A, D, several of the B-complex, essential fatty acids (in small amounts), magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, potassium, iron, taurine, and selenium are abundant in beef, lamb, pork, fish and shellfish, and poultry… Some of these nutrients are only found in animal foods–plants do not supply them.”

A 2012 Gallup poll found that approximately 5% of Americans (15,695,702 people) considered themselves to be vegetarian. According to data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Americans ate an average of 279.1 lbs of meat per person in 2005, ranking third in the world behind Luxembourg and Hong Kong.

Sources:

Associated Press, “NYC Public Elementary School 1st to Adopt All-Vegetarian Menu, Offers Kids Beans, Tofu Wraps,” washingtonpost.com, Apr. 30, 2013

Elizabeth Chuck, “NYC Public School Swaps Chicken Nuggets for Tofu, Becomes First All-Vegetarian Cafeteria,” usnews.nbcnews.com, May 1, 2013

Corinne Lestch and Ben Chapman, “School 244 in Flushing, Queens, Becomes First Public School in Nation to Serve Only Vegetarian Meals: Officials,” nydailynews.com, Apr. 30, 2013

Neetzan Zimmerman, “New York Public School First in the Nation to Go All-Vegetarian,” gawker.com, May 1, 2013