Will Schools Hold the Lunch Meat?

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Is the USDA ready for an Oprah-style trial, deep in the cattle-raising heart of Texas? They'd better be. According to a recent Associated Press report, head honchos at the Agriculture Department want to soften long-standing restrictions on soy as a meat replacement. The agency proposed using soy as an alternative to some of the meats in school lunch menus. American school refectories, which depend heavily on pork, poultry and beef, have been hard-pressed to meet government limits for fat content in lunches, even as school-age children gain weight at a record pace. Predictably, ranchers, chicken and pig farmers are raising a ruckus over the agency's proposal — but analysts predict the increasingly health-conscious public is ready for tasty alternatives to meat. "Soy's time has come," the USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services told the Associated Press.

Although its public relations department may not realize it, the USDA has some great ammunition against the inevitable charges that it's introducing un-American food products into our school systems. Back in the 1980s, members of the Reagan administration introduced soy as a possible cost-cutting ingredient for school lunches. The soy proposal, which suffered an early demise at the hands of those who opposed Reagan's spending cuts, was also doomed by its association with the President's infamous insistence that as far as school lunchrooms were concerned, ketchup could be considered a vegetable. Today, however, once-skeptical nutritionists are giving soy another chance: Reams of scientific research tout the health benefits of such Thanksgiving newcomers as Tofurky — and the myriad comparable manifestations of the other white protein.