One year after its entry into force, the UFC-Que Choisir takes stock of the climate law which imposes a vegetarian menu per week and authorizes a daily vegetarian alternative. Based on the analysis of 800 menus offered to students this year, the association demonstrates that uncontrolled application of the law increases nutritional and health risks, but also waste. Consequently, UFC-Que Choisir calls for a strengthening of the regulatory framework to guarantee the quality of meals, as well as the generalization of effective measures to limit waste.
VEGETARIAN MENUS: A REAL ADVANTAGE IN THE CONTEXT OF THE FOOD TRANSITION
After transportation and accommodation, feeding is 3th after greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and, alone, meat is the source of 40% of food greenhouse gas emissions. Vegetarian meals make it possible to reduce this environmental impact, especially in school catering attended by 9.6 million students (1.1 billion meals a year), since a vegetarian school meal emits 4 times less GHG than a meal containing meat .
TOO WIDE USE OF OVER INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTS EXPOSURES CHILDREN TO ADDITIVES AND ENDOCRINE DISRUPTOR
Our analysis of the almost 800 vegetarian menus served to children (1) shows that the share of industrial products is on average higher in establishments that offer a daily vegetarian menu (35% of industrial dishes against 23% in other canteens) and which can reach up to 84% in some cafeterias. However, these products are generally ultra-processed and contain many additives, some of which have been identified by scientific authorities, such as silicon dioxide E551, suspected of containing nanoparticles harmful to the intestine, kidneys and liver, or even calcium phosphate E341 and calcium diphosphate E450 which could increase cardiovascular risks.
Many of them are made from soy, a source of compounds suspected of being endocrine disruptors (phytoestrogens). While the National Council of Collective Catering recommends that canteens serve no more than one soy-based product per month to students, 22% of the canteens analyzed exceed this threshold. Worse still, for daily vegetarian menus, it is on average double the recommended maximum number.
THE CONSUMPTION OF FISH THREATENED BY THE VEGETARIAN MENU OF THE DAY
Among the regulatory criteria on nutritional balance, canteens must offer at least 4 fish-based menus (not breaded) over a 20-day period, which is a source of vitamin D and the only source of essential fatty acids, consumed insufficiently in 90% of children. However, 50% of the canteens studied do not comply with this obligation and the situation is getting worse with the introduction of the daily vegetarian menu. In fact, by proposing an alternative every day, experts point out that children can never eat fish!
RECIPES SO THAT THE VEGETARIAN MENU DOES NOT INCREASE FOOD WASTE
While food waste currently accounts for 121,000 tonnes annually, the unchecked introduction of vegetarian menus further increases these costly losses. In fact, surveys show that children do not appreciate the taste and texture of industrial vegetarian products and 79% of cooks admit that they do not master the preparation techniques of vegetarian cuisine (2).
However, the best practices, compiled by UFC-Que Choisir from 21 experts, can significantly reduce waste, up to 45% compared to the national average of the canteens studied. For example, reducing the use of ultra-processed industrial dishes and ensuring the supply of vegetarian ingredients through collaborations with local producers (Bordeaux-Mérignac central cuisine) or preparing recipes inspired by dishes known to children (lasagne, chili, couscous, etc. . .) as in the Urban Community of Redon (35) or involving students through “menu commissions” (J. Prévert d’Entrelacs middle school – 73). It is also possible to precisely adjust the quantities of vegetarian dishes to each age group (Crown – 16).
In the light of the results, the UFC-Que Choisir, promoter of responsible consumption, asks:
- Mandatory application of health recommendations to limit children’s exposure to phytoestrogens and compliance with nutritional obligations in the implementation of vegetarian menus;
- A training framework for the specifics of vegetarian cooking for school catering teams.
DOWNLOAD THE STUDY
(1) Analysis of 779 menus served in 40 French communities, regarding compliance with regulatory criteria reflecting nutritional quality and potential health impacts.
(2) Overview of school catering after the Egalim law – MFA – December 2020.