Goodbye, Mystery Meat. Hello, tofu turkey.
A Queens, New York elementary school has become the first in the U.S. to go vegetarian in its lunch program, promoting healthy eating as a core component of education. Gone from the cafeteria menu are the pizza, burgers and chicken fingers that most students see as their constitutional right. In their place: rice and kidney beans. Tofu with noodles. And a bunch of green, leafy stuff that causes carnivores to weep.
The kids, while sad to see the end of their favourite guessing game, “What’s in That Hot Dog?,” are surprisingly embracing the move, which effectively puts crappy food back where it belongs – off school grounds, and in the refrigerator and cupboards at home.
Mandating healthier food is a great idea, and one Canadian schools should adopt. While we don’t have a national food program like they do down south, many of our schools do have cafeterias, and the majority of those still serve stuff that has the nutritional value of lead (not to mention the flavour of old couch). Those “meals” could result in the return of prayers to the classroom, as students look for divine assistance to help them survive fare that Miss Beasley wouldn’t have fed even to that human garburetor, Jughead.
Most schools also sport vending machines, which spit out bite-sized packages of sugar, salt, fat and chemical additives (yet not one label lists the ingredient essential for hormone-fuelled teens: saltpeter).
The comic characters at Riverdale never showed the inevitable outcome of eating all that junk, but the waistlines of Canadian students do. More than a quarter of our kids qualify as obese. And students eat about a third of their daily food at school, according to Promoting Healthy Eating in Schools.
Combine that with the science linking a high-quality diet to improved learning, and you have to ask why we don’t have a national nutrition policy for our schools. B.C. and Nova Scotia have rules, but all the provinces in between let principals wing it.
It’s not that vegetarian is the only way to go, but we certainly should eliminate so many of the unhealthy choices. Much of what we offer to students is available only because it is cheap (hello there, Salisbury “steak,” which has as much in common with steak as Amanda Bynes has with self-control), when nutrition should be the over-riding concern.
Kids can – and always will – buy and bring their own junk food. So schools don’t need to compete with commercial outlets serving fast food (a term that is actually an instruction on how to eat the stuff, to avoid the taste).
Besides, healthier food can be incorporated into their education. Vending machines stocked with fruit and vegetables will become mini science labs, letting students study rot and decay behind glass, rather than at the bottom of their lockers.
This one, like most teens, is a no-brainer. Healthier eating improves learning. Our kids therefore need better food choices at school, even though they may resist them (they also loathe household chores, and dressing appropriately, but we shouldn’t just surrender to their tantrums on those issues either).
Pass the tofu!