Kids and healthy fresh foods - perfect together

Here it is World Vegetarian Day, and the Daily News is celebrating in typically contrarian fashion, singing the praises of a sausage factory and explaining how to get your kids to eat things like pork, octopus, bear meat and lasagna - you know, the things kids really need to be eating and don't get enough of.

More seriously, all health authorities agree that what American kids, and adults as well, need to be eating more of is fresh fruits and vegetables. A new CDC report found our national average is under 10% of teens getting the recommended servings daily (we are meeting our daily recommendation for lasagna, however).According to this list, Pennsylvania is on the high end of the curve, topping 15% of teens adequately nourished.

This isn't all that surprising, as a report a few years back by the General Accounting Office found that the USDA spent less than 5 percent of its food-promotion budget on fruits and vegetables, despite these foods comprising 33 percent of the Food Guide Pyramid - which the GAO also suggested be updated "to better communicate the need for a variety of produce, especially deeply colored fruits and vegetables, to fight chronic diseases." Funding of meat and dairy promotion, meanwhile, was plentiful.

Today, though, saw a small step in a very positive direction for government nutrition programs, as the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program, which provides food vouchers to those who need extra help getting good food, has been significantly revised for the first time since its inception in the 1970s. For too long a dumping ground for commodity foods the government's trying to get rid of (in order to keep prices stable), the WIC program will now for the first time fund fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is a welcome move, even if it doesn't encourage anyone to go vegetarian, because it means millions of women and children will have a much better chance at meeting real nutrition needs. But given this auspicious occasion, it's worth pointing out (as some bloggers have) that there are clear, unassailable reasons to reduce or eliminate meat (and dairy) - especially if you're trying to live sustainably.

The reasons are clear enough that the Baltimore School District just announced it will go meatless once a week as part of the "Meatless Mondays" program, which "aims to get Americans to cut out steaks and pork chops on one day a week as a way of trimming the greenhouse gas emissions produced by the livestock industry and as a way of supporting locally grown foods."

According to this report from 6abc.com in Baltimore, the schools' staff "have been working with local farmers to provide fresh produce, and with its distributors to find local suppliers. the City Schools also introduced a teaching farm, Great Kids Farm, and is developing the resources to establish a garden at each of its more than 200 schools."

In addition to giving kids a better shot at good health from nurtitious food choices, this citywide move seems like a pretty significant step on the way to, dare I say it, "Greenest City in America." Too bad Philadelphia hasn't taken it... yet.

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