Young and Hungry

Political Food Jargon Watch: Meet “Plant-Based”

For those trying to navigate the delicate terrain of food identity politics, a new phrase seems to be popping up on the turf once dominated by vegetarians and vegans.

When the group Farm Sanctuary praised the D.C. City Council last week for its Healthy Schools Act, the so-called "farm-animal protection organization" celebrated the law for making "plant-based meal options and non-dairy beverages more widely available."  The bill, authored by Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh, doesn't use the words "plant-based"; instead it recommends that schools consider offering "vegetarian food options."

"It is a vague term referring to the general idea that a larger proportion (unspecified) of daily caloric intake should be derived from fruits, vegetables, grains, and beans rather than meat and dairy foods," explains New York University professor Marion Nestle, the author of Food Politics and What to Eat. "Plant-based diets are not necessarily vegetarian; they just contain more plant foods than typical American diets."

"Plant-based" is getting a workout in a piece of federal legislation similar to Cheh's.  The Healthy School Meals Act, introduced this spring in the House of Representatives by Colorado Democrat Jared Polis, pushes the Department of Agriculture to expand lunchroom offerings of "plant-based alternate protein products and fluid milk substitutes" — which sounds a lot like more tofu and soy milk.  The bill would offer up additional cash for school districts that offer a "plant-based entrée on their daily lunch menus."

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