September has been a long one for Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples. At the month's start, Staples drew some heat for an op-ed he fat-fingered for the Austin American-Statesman. It denounced efforts to get school children to eat less meat and sparked an Internet backlash that preceded Staples' resignation from the Texas Department of Agriculture, which was announced yesterday morning.
Elementary schools in Dripping Springs, a suburb of Austin, had recently embraced Meatless Monday as part of their school lunch program. The movement encourages participants to give up meat on the first day of the workweek, in the hopes that the behavior will curb Monday meat consumption and also shape mealtime choices the rest of the week. The push towards flexitarianism is said to benefit the participant in terms of healthier choices, and also the environment, which suffers negative impacts from unfettered meat production.
But Staples didn't see things that way. "Restricting children's meal choice to not include meat is irresponsible and has no place in our schools," he wrote. Staples noted that meat's protein and amino acids a critical part of a balanced diet. Staples also pointed out that for some income-restricted children, school lunches are their most substantial meal of the day and that the Meatless Monday campaign was the start of an effort to completely remove meat from school lunches
Staples is partly right: meat can be an important part of a balanced diet, and for children below the poverty line, school lunches are an essential source of nutrition. But for those meals to actively contribute to a child's health, they have to actually consist of healthy choices, and Dripping Springs school children haven't exactly been supping on lean animal proteins.
Pizza with assorted toppings, mini corndogs, beef tacos, hamburgers, baked "fish shapes" and various fried cuts of chicken including tenders, nuggets, popcorn: these are the wholesome menu items Dripping Springs has denied their children under the tyranny of Meatless Monday. Staples is upset that this choice is being taken from Elementary school children, but he ignored that kids that will choose pizza over broccoli, and buttery grilled cheese over spinach ten times out of ten.
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Children never make wise dietary decisions in the presence of burgers and pizza, which is why parents and teachers spend so much time and money on education. And even the Texas Department of Agriculture, the organization for which Staples is now only temporarily responsible, has devoted efforts to helping kids make better nutritional choices.
Their Square Meals program teaches children all about dietary choices and how those decisions can potentially affect their health, and a slide from a presentation devoted to the program has illuminated Staples' hypocrisy. In addition to seeking out lean proteins including skinless chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef and pork, (mini corndogs and deep fried chicken shapes did not make the cut) the slide recommends that meat be replaced with beans, which are also rich in protein and amino acids -- the very swap the Meatless Monday program currently promotes. Instead of fried chicken with enough sodium to thaw a driveway in February, Dripping Springs children are getting black bean burritos. The horror!
The slide has since been taken down from the Square Meals web page, but a slew of articles, including this one on Slate have been published in the meantime. They shame Staples for his duplicity and also point out the large sums of money he's received from the meat industry in recent years. The take away is that Staples is more interested in protecting big industries than he is protecting the citizens his origination was set up to serve.
So now, after presiding over the removal of educational material that could help kids and parents reduce their fat and cholesterol intake while benefiting the environment, Staples will move to lead the Texas Oil and Gas Association. He's expected to start by the end of the year.