The Vegan Option

New Yorker Cartoon

From the February 13 & 20, 2012 edition of The New Yorker

In November 2011, I published an article on Technorati called Misguided Eating: The Nose to Toes Food Trend, which promptly sank into oblivion.  But I’m not finished with the topic.  And that’s because what inspired the Technorati article continues to inspire me: our fascination with meat.  This time around my inspiration comes from a local (and I mean, a very local) paper.  The kind of paper that has lots of photos of junior high sporting events and interviews with 95-year old veterans celebrating birthdays at the retirement home.  Don’t forget the crime reports of petty thefts and break-ins.  There’s all kinds of interesting information to be gleaned from small town newspapers.  For instance:

A few days ago while I was preparing lunch, Kel was entertaining me by reading aloud from the newspaper.  He came across the meals menu for the local school area and he knew I’d get a kick (i.e., my blood pressure would soar) out of it.  Sample Breakfast items included: cinnamon roll, strudel, a variety of (dairy) milks, breakfast pizza, sausage.  Sample Lunch items included: breaded fish, Frito pie, beef stew, cheeseburger, grilled cheese, cheese sticks.  Two things struck me: the menu has changed little from when I was in school; and it is still spectacularly unhealthy – heavy on meat and cheese, sugar, refined grains and oily, fried foods.  Even the vegetable items are cooked with meat (lima beans and ham, for instance) or battered and fried.  Each day there is the “main” menu item and an alternative.  Maybe something for the non-meat eaters?  No.  The alternatives are as wretched as the main items.  Couldn’t schools at the minimum provide a few healthy alternatives?  How about, for instance, a vegan option?

What we are very successfully doing is raising the next generation to eat as poorly as we now do, to place animal products at the center of their diets and to learn to tolerate vegetables only if they are fried in fat or cooked with meat.  We are grooming our children for a litany of health problems (some of these kids already have Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol) long before they reach middle age.  They will become, like us, dependent on pills to “manage” their entirely diet-controllable diseases.  We are teaching them to view vegetables as side dishes and animals as products.  We are encouraging them to be ignorant of the origins of their food and to be senseless to the pain and suffering from which their chicken nuggets and hamburgers are produced.  It’s unnecessary, willfully ignorant and short-sighted.  And PS: We can easily figure out which industries are subsidizing the school lunch programs.  Money is more important than health and ethics.  The following excerpt is from the March edition of the Nutrition Action Health Letter:

School Meals.  In January 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed long-overdue improvements to subsidized school meals, requiring less salt, fewer fries, and more fruit, vegetables and whole grains.

That spelled bad news for sellers of pizzas, fries, Tater Tots, and the like.  So they quickly got their pals in Congress not only to block the USDA’s plan to limit how often kids could be served potatoes, but to classify pizza as a vegetable.  (Isn’t it amazing what a shmear of tomato sauce can do?)

Despite a roar of outrage from the media, members of Congress once again sided with their campaign contributors.

The question is: why do we as a nation remain so short-sighted?  Is the overwhelming evidence for adopting a plant-based diet over an animal-based diet not enough? I haven’t even touched on the environmental impact of “food” animals – nor the horror of the miserable lives and senseless deaths of these same animals.

I am not one to advocate that the government dictate what or how we should eat – they’ve spectacularly botched the job thus far and frankly, the less government intrusion in my life, the better.  And I believe strongly in personal responsibility.  But since they have claimed the job of feeding our children while those children are in school, shouldn’t our government do so more responsibly – with the goal of raising healthy, strong, informed citizens?  We are an educated nation.  We have an infinite amount of health information at our fingertips.  There is no excuse to continue to eat the way that we do – to continue to compromise our health and the health of those too young to understand how the food they eat affects their growing bodies.  We must do everything we can from inside the home and within the community.  Children must be raised to respect not only their bodies, but to respect the lives and bodies of those that lack the voices and means to speak for themselves.  Start in your own home.  Vote with your shopping list – and send your kid to school with a healthy, cruelty-free lunch.

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28 thoughts on “The Vegan Option

  1. trueindigo says:

    Great information. Schools need to be fueling kids in a healthful, thoughtful way.

  2. infinebalance says:

    “We are teaching them to view vegetables as side dishes and animals as products” – great commentary. And makes me thankful that I pack my kids lunch most days.

    Still – it’s frustrating that even the nutrition education my kids get at school contradicts so much of what I teach them at home. Fundamentally they talk about eating fruit and vegetables but they don’t give the kids real examples of what enough fruit and veg looks like and how to eat it. And then they go and let them buy chips and frozen yogurt in the canteen and call them healthy because the chips are baked and the yogurt is fat free.

    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      Right, exactly!! Even most of our doctors and nurses lack an education in basic nutrition – let alone animal-free nutrition.

  3. tearoomdelights says:

    It’s pretty shocking stuff. I really don’t understand why it’s like this, but presumably the people making the decisions don’t have healthy diets themselves. My sister runs a nursery for pre-schoolers and they learn about healthy food as soon as they walk through the door aged 3. Most of their snacks are fruit and vegetable based and when it’s their birthday they don’t get cakes, they get to choose their favourite fruit for that day’s snack. They also regularly do baking and often choose to make savoury foods rather than sweet things (they love making onion biscuits!), and it’s all about education. I totally agree with you, something needs to be done about it on a bigger scale because for those nurseries and schools that don’t teach children about food they’re missing out on a huge opportunity to bring up a healthy next generation.

    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      That’s impressive, Lorna. It’s a shame we remain so “unenlightened” here.

      • tearoomdelights says:

        Well, I don’t know if most places are like my sister’s or if it’s just that she’s particularly good at educating children about food. She’s interested in food herself, so that no doubt makes a big difference. If the teachers don’t know about healthy food how can they educate the children about it? They ought to attend training courses about it, it’s such a hugely important subject.

      • An Unrefined Vegan says:

        Yeah, we need a license to drive – - maybe a license to care and feed ??

      • tearoomdelights says:

        Not a bad idea, that!

  4. thisismyeverest says:


    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      :-) Sometimes I just gotta rant!

      • thisismyeverest says:

        You did so in such a controlled, concise, convicted way. My rant about this same topic would be laced with expletives and run-on sentences. Bravo to you! People tend to listen more to those who can contain themselves…less likely to listen to someone like me! :)

      • An Unrefined Vegan says:

        Expletives have their place, for sure! Sometimes ass must be kicked! I grumbled and rambled for a while (to Kel, poor guy) and then calmed down and wrote. Anyway, thanks!

  5. Rachel in Veganland says:

    Have you seen the documentary Forks Over Knives? You should definitely check it out! It’s a great one with some really good info and this post is definitely along the same lines. I’m really disturbed by what we as Americans are feeding our children. I’ve already decided to raise my kid(s) vegan if I have any. It just doesn’t make sense to me to put so many toxins and awful things into such little bodies that have to fuel brilliant minds!

    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      I have seen it and thought it was amazing. I’m convinced anyone who watches it will immediately go vegan. Very powerful. Definitely would choose to raise kids as vegans – start them out right!

  6. Kinenchen says:

    Brava, madam. Thank you SO much for this. It’s important.

  7. Put Our Money Where Your Mouth Is, Uncle Sam « Turning VEGANese says:

    [...] post is inspired by anUnrefinedVegan’s recent post about school lunch menus, health, nutrition and public policy. I agree wholly with the sentiment [...]

  8. The Vegan Kat says:

    I agree, there needs to be better food options at schools. I remember in college too there were barely any vegetarian options, never mind vegan options. They had a vegetarian stir fry station for one semester and then turned it into a meat carving station the next semester. The main options were various combinations of cheese and carbs. I wonder if it’s gotten any better…

    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      Oh my gosh – that is so true! My college cafeteria was a minefield of horrible food! I hope that it’s changed…but probably most people (students, parents) don’t demand change, so…carbs, cheese and meat it remains!

      • The Vegan Kat says:

        Yeah, that’s true. I did try to give feedback while I was there and ask for vegan options, but it didn’t seem to do much good.

  9. luminousvegans says:

    Great post. It is the sad truth that reflects the corruption within our government. Many of the men in power have financial ties to the meat and dairy industries so they have a vested interest in making sure these areas of agriculture continue to get subsidized. Our government doesn’t really care about all people of our nation, only certain people. I get overwhelmed sometimes when I think about it all.

    Sorry, rant. Again, great post…it is good to get people talking and thinking about these things.

    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      I completely and totally agree with you! Most of the time I can live with my head in the sand, but sometimes…it is just overwhelming. Thanks for your thoughts. And rant on!!

  10. Nancy Gentry says:

    It makes me crazy! What is wrong with our country? Other countries are not feeding their kids like this! Anyway, i send my kids lunches to school every day, today they had arugula salad, hummus and rice crackers, plain sheep yogurt, seaweed and some left over veggies with millet!

    • An Unrefined Vegan says:

      YAY, Nancy! I want to hug you just for that! Your kids are very lucky. (As in: I WANT THEIR LUNCHES!) Yes, it all makes me crazy and sad and mad. Don’t get me started on all of the junk food that is so readily available… And I don’t even have kids!!

  11. veganelder says:

    If you stack up ways of behaving that are beneficial (or at least non-harmful), wise and that contribute to the well-being of the planet and those thereon…if you stack up those ways and then stack up the ways of behaving that are destructive, short-sighted and harmful to the planet thereon…well. I think you might agree that we seem to be having some serious difficulties.

    The human species could easily be characterized as a bunch of beings that are short-term clever and long-term stupid….and the potency of our short-termed cleverness simply amplifies the power of our long-termed stupids.

    Some, if not many, indigenous groupings of humans have appeared to be able to at least avoid the worst of our LTSs because they didn’t participate in many of our SSCs.

    Can we overcome this? I dunno, maybe…the problem now is rapidly becoming one of whether there will be much of a planet left when we straighten out our act. I suspicion we won’t get it straightened out because we are prone to be “disaster learners”…and once the cascade of environmental disasters begin in earnest…learning probably isn’t going to help.

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