L.A. Now: Southern California -- this just in
Doctors want hot dogs off LAUSD menu
Photo: Rick Loomis / Los Angeles Times
4:46 PM, August 4, 2008A Washington, D.C., organization is calling on school districts to get hot dogs, pepperoni and other processed meats out of school cafeterias. Physicians for Responsible Medicine and its affiliate the Cancer Project ran broadcast ads last week in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities to make its point.
Among the districts that the group says get an F for serving too much processed meat is Los Angeles Unified. Of the LAUSD menus it studied, the group said 60% of elementary school breakfasts and 80% of middle and high school breakfasts contained processed meats.
Last year, the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund offered 10 recommendations for cancer prevention that included avoiding processed meats.
"If we don't protect our kids by removing hot dogs, sausages, deli slices, and pepperoni from our schools, we're stacking the cards against them," Neal Barnard, a doctor and president of the Cancer Project, said in a statement.
There's some value in the effort to reduce processed meats in school lunches, said David Binkle, L.A. Unified's assistant director of food services. but it's complicated. LAUSD, for example, doesn't serve ordinary hot dogs, but it does serve low-fat turkey corn dogs, Binkle said. Also turkey and other deli meats are on some menus.
The district already has been looking at the meat it serves, Binkle said. No changes are in store for 2008-09, but some are possible the following year.
Sometimes, it's a question not of eliminating an item such as ham but rather changing the specifications, Binkle said. That kind of effort has helped reduce the fat and sodium in school food, he said. "This is the new thing ... as we continue to make healthier meals."
"In general, the philosophy is to move away from processed food and toward scratch cooking. But how do you do that?" Binkle said, adding that the kitchens and cafeterias are not all staffed and set up for cooking from scratch.
The Cancer Project, which surveyed menus in 28 school districts, is campaigning to reform the federal Child Nutrition Act, which helps determine school food and is up for renewal next year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture now includes processed meats in the commodity foods available to schools.
-- Mary MacVean