By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Students attending Sarasota County public schools might be wondering, “Where’s the beef?”
The answer won’t be found between two buns, at least, not on Mondays.
Sarasota County Schools kicked off a Meatless Monday campaign this week, nixing traditional protein-packed food items for vegetarian substitutes.
The program is part of “a popular international movement… to promote abstaining from meat one day a week for personal health and for the health of the planet,” reads a statement forwarded to Watchdog.org by a school district spokesman.
The program will continue every Monday for the rest of the school year and vegetarian dishes will be offered alongside meats on other school days.
“In Sarasota County, we strive to provide a variety of food choices and saw this as an opportunity to showcase meals with legumes and other meat-free protein sources with which they may be unfamiliar,” said Karla Dumas, the district’s food and nutrition manager.
Meatless Monday is a project of the nonprofit Monday Campaigns, an initiative associated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Syracuse universities. It’s taken root in other parts of the country — mostly New York City and California — and has high-profile endorsements ranging from Michelle Obama to the U.S. Humane Society to vegetarian celebrities.
Ahead of the United Nations Climate Summit last month, Paul McCartney urged Climate Week protesters in song-form to take a Meat Free Monday pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sarasota is the first school district in Florida to partially ban meats from school menus, according to the Meatless Monday website.
“Ultimately, the decision to participate in Meatless Monday was based on student requests,” Dumas said.
On Mondays, as many as 42,000 students eating in the county’s 52 school cafeterias will choose between hummus, vegetable subs, veggie pasta bakes, spaghetti marinara and fiesta taco salads, along with other approved items.
At a minimum, those impacted will include the 49 percent of district students who receive free and reduced-price meals.
The initiative was brought to Sarasota County Schools by Kristie Middleton, according to MeatlessMondays.com. Middleton is a San Francisco-based manager of corporate policy and supply chain strategy at the Humane Society of the United States, according to her Linkedin page.
“Participating in Meatless Monday, now a popular international movement, is a simple and effective way to help animals, go green, and become healthier,” says the U.S. Humane Society, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance, a coalition of farmers, ranchers, agricultural producers and associated retailers — along with some scientists and veterinarians — says the meat-free campaign “grossly misrepresents” important facts.
“Since the inception of the Meatless Monday campaign, the Alliance has closely monitored the campaign’s progress and tried to correct its misinformation about the healthfulness of meat consumption and the environmental impact of livestock production,” the nonprofit group said in a statement ahead of Meatless Monday’s 10th anniversary last year.
The agricultural group found more than 57 percent of school districts listed on the initiative’s website no longer participate in the program.
“Meatless Mondays is a carefully orchestrated campaign that seeks to eliminate meat from Americans’ meals seven days a week – beginning with Mondays… (and) pushes an extreme animal rights and environmental agenda by promoting false claims about animal agriculture,” the group stated.
In Texas, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples called the program an “activist movement” and said in an editorial last month, “restricting children’s meal choice to not include meat is irresponsible.”
“Meat is a critical part of a balanced diet, and provides us with high-quality proteins and essential amino acids. It bothers me when a particular group tries to convince the public that meat consumption is unhealthy and environmentally unfriendly,” he said.
The mission of Florida’s Department of Agriculture is to safeguard the public and support Florida’s agricultural economy, which includes thousands of jobs, 26 million poultry, 1.5 million beef cattle, 140,000 dairy cattle and 100,000 swine.
Watchdog.org contacted the department to inquire about Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam’s position on Meatless Mondays, but didn’t receive a response.