Friday, August 24, 2012

Make Dairy Part of Meatless Monday

As academic institutions across the country gear up for back-to-school, foodservice suppliers have started showcasing new meal solutions to address the increasingly popular Meatless Monday, which many campuses recognize. It is important that milk and dairy products marketers emphasize the important role their offerings play in this movement.

For the most part, Meatless Monday is not a vegan agenda; rather, it’s an effort to help Americans reduce their consumption of animal meat. It is theorized that by cutting out meat once a week, a person can improve their health by reducing saturated fat intake and improve the health of the planet by reducing their carbon footprint, as animal farming is one of the largest generators of greenhouse gas and users of fresh water and fossil fuel (more on this later).

Meatless Monday purists will also avoid foods with animal origins, such as milk and eggs, but for the average consumer (which is the majority), the focus is on avoiding meat. It’s no wonder that a number of meat substitute manufacturers include dairy ingredients in product formulations, as they recognize the value they provide in terms of appearance, flavor and even nutrition.

For example, The Food Collective, Irvine, Calif., markets a line of meatless burritos that contain real cheese. And Lightlife Foods, Turners Falls, Mass., long a leader in refrigerated vegetarian foods, is now in the frozen foods business, with many of its new products relying of dairy ingredients. The Olé Santa Fe Chik’n heat-and-eat entrée includes cheddar cheese, sour cream and cream cheese.

Dairy marketers would be wise to promote how a glass of milk provides some of the missing nutrients in some meatless meals. Another option is to make a dairy product the protein component of the meatless meal. Think gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, yogurt-based corn chowder, and how about a salad topped with a scoop of cottage cheese.

Further, dairy ingredient suppliers should be promoting their protein offerings as a solution for boosting the protein in Meatless Monday-style prepared foods. Not only do dairy ingredients contribute high-quality, complete proteins to the formulation, some also provide desirable functionalities.  For example, whey proteins assist with binding ingredients in veggie burgers and other meatless center-of-plate alternatives. 

Now back to the carbon footprint reference. In case you were not aware, in a July 25th internal newsletter, USDA urged its employees to support the Meatless Monday movement in efforts to reduce environmental impacts in its cafeteria. This announcement caused uproar among the farmers and ranchers that the agency advocates and who produce food for its cafeteria.

USDA, after immediate and significant pressure from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and other grassroots producer groups, retracted the statement, saying it had been released in error “without the proper clearance.” You can read NCBA’s statement HERE.

The newsletter article read:

One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias is to participate in the “Meatless Monday” initiative This international effort, as the name implies, encourages people not to eat meat on Mondays. Meatless Monday is an initiative of The Monday Campaign Inc., in association with the John Hopkins School of Public Health.

How will going meatless one day of the week help the environment? The production of meat, especially beef (and dairy as well), has a large environmental impact. According to the U.N., animal agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gases and climate change. It also wastes resources. It takes 7,000 kg of grain to make 1,000 kg of beef. In addition, beef production requires a lot of water, fertilizer, fossil fuels, and pesticides. In addition there are many health concerns related to the excessive consumption of meat. While a vegetarian diet could have a beneficial impact on a person’s health and the environment, many people are not ready to make that commitment. Because Meatless Monday involves only one day a week, it is a small change that could produce big results.

Did you notice that our cafeterias have tasty meatless options? So you can really help yourself and the environment while having a good vegetarian meal!

Dairy was mentioned, but parenthetically, thankfully. And the NCBA did a great job defending animal-derived foods. But the Meatless Monday movement is not going away. In fact, it is gaining traction, in particular in foodservice (as exemplified by USDA’s newsletter). Let’s make sure dairy products are recognized as a nutrient-packed food option on Monday, and the other six days of the week.

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