In these tumultuous times while most of our country has its eyes on the upcoming election, some health advocates are turning their eyes in another direction: On school lunches.
The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) – a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. – advocates for vegan diets and is out to bring dairy down, and hard. And where are they aiming their message? At kids, naturally, because they want to abolish milk from the school lunch programs for good. And in place of diary, they want to see other calcium sources on kids’ plates like beans, sweet potatoes and figs.
This isn’t an entirely unreasonable request, however, not everyone’s buying what they’re trying to sell. And perhaps it’s because of the group’s tendency to use harsh, unconventional methods for advocating in the past.
An example of PCRM’s radical ways? Just earlier this year the group placed some controversial billboards in Albany, New York, with images of overweight people grabbing their fat, and blamed dairy as the reason for their weight.
The signs said things like “Your Thighs on Cheese,” and “Your Abs on Cheese,” in an attempt to send the message that dairy is the reason Americans are fat. This, they say, is because of the saturated fat milk contains.
PCRM’s latest initiative to remove diary from schools has been spearheaded under the name “Let’s Really Move” – a spin-off of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Campaign, which has sought to educate kids about the importance of living a healthy, active life.
As reported by NPR, PCRM’s founder, Neil Barnard, wants to make their message clear: Milk isn’t natural and it isn’t healthy, and that’s why they want it out of schools.
“The milk requirement is entirely cultural and business-based, and it has nothing to do with health. The dairy industry is an extremely powerful lobby,” he said. “And parents and kids think it’s normal to drink milk. But it’s not biologically normal; it’s just culturally normal.”
Under the current standards, students can opt out of receiving a milk carton if they choose, though it’s been a general requirement of the National School Lunch program since 1946. And from their perspective, milk is not only a nutritious food staple, but also an affordable protein source that they can be easily supplied to large groups of kids.
In response to PCRM’s campaign, National Dairy Council spokesperson Greg Miller told NPR’s The Salt that they view the move as nothing but a ‘publicity stunt.’
“They would love to see milk banned because they’re an animal rights group and they want everyone to switch to a vegan diet…kids are going to have to eat a lot of broccoli,” he said “…they’re going to have to eat lot of kale. I don’t know about you, but my kids are not big on kale.”
It seems there’s not only a great disconnect between these two groups, but also an unwillingness to compromise. Perhaps instead of fighting to remove dairy from schools entirely, PCRM should encourage schools to offer non-dairy alternatives like almond and soy milk alongside traditional dairy milk. And perhaps the National Dairy Council could recognize that vegan diets are growing in popularity, and that maybe kids don’t like vegan foods and alternatives, like kale, because they’ve never been offered them.
In the meantime, this food fight will likely continue. We just hope it doesn’t get as brutal as the upcoming election, and more importantly, that it’s really more about health than politics.
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