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School cafeterias expand vegetarian options

MIAMIHERALD.COM | HANNAH SAMPSON AND KATHLEEN McGRORY | 12/09/09

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For Ashley Valentín, giving up meat was easy.

The hard part: finding something to eat in the school cafeteria.

``At first, there weren't that many options,'' said Ashley, 17, a senior at Miami Sunset High. ``There was always pizza. But eating pizza all the time is unhealthy.''

School cafeterias are taking note.

While the Miami-Dade school district has long offered vegetarian items, it debuted three new vegan options this year: faux chicken nuggets, veggie burgers and hummus platters.

The Broward school district also added veggie burgers to menus districtwide. And cafeterias are now offering vegetarian and vegan salads daily -- and a hot vegan option once a week.

``The time to do this is now,'' said Penny Parham, who oversees food services in Miami-Dade. ``Our kids are so savvy. They want food that's good for them. We have to be meeting that demand.''

Students like Ashley say they are pleased by the changes -- and hope to see even more veggie items on the menu.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in every 200 school-age kids abstain from eating meat.

There are no official statistics on the number of kids who are vegan -- meaning they don't eat any animal products, not even dairy or eggs. But experts believe the number is growing.

``A generation ago, it was quite unusual,'' said Dr. Neal Barnard, founder of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, which advocates for vegan and low-fat vegetarian school lunches. ``Nowadays, kids do it for political reasons, environmental reasons, animal rights reasons.''

The new menu items in Miami-Dade have been successful, both among vegetarians and children who eat meat.

``We're offering these items on the menu, and not seeing trays and trays go into the garbage can,'' Parham said.

Miami-Dade School Board member Martin Karp, a longtime advocate of vegetarian lunches, said the cultural shift shows a growing social awareness among kids.

``The fact that kids today think about themselves as members of a global community is impressive,'' he said.

Read the whole story here.



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