Nutrition Advice From the Other CIA

The Culinary Institute of America, known in some circles as the CIA, is offering potentially unpalatable advice to restaurants.

In its second annual report (PDF) on the future of food and the food-service industry, the country’s top culinary school takes a strong stand on the deficiencies and excesses of the American diet. According to Tim Ryan, president of the CIA, the idea “is to provide a comprehensive road map—and a growing toolkit—for industry transformation.”

That said, the report’s recommendations aren’t earthshaking until you consider who is among its intended audience: Such people as Dan Coudreaut, who graduated in 1995 and is the executive chef at McDonald’s. The report cites the clear health risks of food with added sugar, soda in any amount, and fruit juice in any size other than small. Same goes for refined carbohydrates. (Let’s just say it: French fries.) Then there’s red meat. Americans are eating less of it but still too much, the report says, which is bad for us and for the planet.

The restaurant and food-service industry receives a failing grade when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change on agriculture and livestock. In this case, the authors speak to companies in their own language:

“The food service industry suffered from high costs and increased volatility, as long-predicted impacts of climate change affected both crops and livestock. … Action is coming too slowly to help food service companies avoid the costs of climate change.”

The report also points out that the food industry is a major contributor to the greenhouse gases that lead to climate change:

“Globally, the food sector rivals transportation and energy as the largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority coming from raising livestock and growing crops for animal feed.”

Among its recommendations to ease Americans off red meat: Reduce portion sizes in recipes and menus (so much for the bacon McDouble); consider “flexitarian offerings,” as well as vegetable tasting menus; support Meatless Mondays.

The CIA has further ideas for restaurant chains. Introduce 10 percent more produce on menus every year for the next five years. Always offer whole grain options for rice and pasta dishes, as well as bread. And this one:

“Tell your beverage supplier that you want more innovative, natural, and less sweet beverage options, and will gladly help test market them—or better yet, craft them yourself.”

The report concludes on an upbeat note. The Mushroom Council has come up with a blend of meat and mushrooms that kids will eat! It’s affordable, too. The Department of Agriculture has ordered some for its school lunch program. It could be used in tacos. According to the president of the mushroom council: “This is revolutionary because it’s so simple. It’s meat and mushrooms. They go together like peanut butter and jelly.”

Menus of Change, as the document is called, is a joint effort between the CIA and Harvard’s school of public health that focuses on “issues that sit at the intersection of public health, the environment, and the business of food.” That can be a very uncomfortable place for some of the biggest restaurant chains.

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