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We advocate on all animal protection and exploitation issues, including experimentation, factory farming, rodeos, breeders and traveling animal acts.

Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704

Articles

Rockland private school goes veggie

By RANDI WEINER
rweiner@thejournalnews.com
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: September 19, 2005)

Cooking for a crowd

Executive chef Richard LaCossade created this Cheery Cherry Compote as a dessert or side dish. It is served at Rockland Country Day School. The dish serves 24.

2 packages kosher vegetarian cherry gelatin
2 cups boiling water
10 oz. strawberries
11 oz. cherries
20 oz. pineapple
15 oz. pear halves
3 firm bananas
2 navel oranges, peeled and separated
2 tart apples
1 cup fresh blackberries

In a large bowl, dissolve the gelatin in the water. Stir in the other ingredients. Transfer to a 4-quart serving bowl, cover and refrigerate for three to four hours before serving.

CONGERS Monday's deli special features meatless hot dogs and soy-based pork; Friday's specialty cuisine lunch can involve veggie burgers and egg-free pasta.

The cafeteria at Rockland Country Day School has gone vegetarian.

"I'm a vegetarian and I had lunch today. It was pretty good. Last year, I didn't eat lunch at all. I'm really happy that they're there," Matt Zeltzer, 14, of Nyack, a ninth-grader at the 165-student private school, said of the menu options. "It's so much better than last year."

For the first time in more than a decade, Rockland Country Day has changed lunch vendors from a commercial organization to a local restaurant. After a year of committee meetings, taste tests and student and parent comment, the school signed a one-year contract with Main Essentials, a Haverstraw vegetarian restaurant that caters to vegans vegetarians who also don't eat dairy or other animal products.

"We know there's an obesity crisis and a crisis of disease in this country, and a lot of it stems from the kind of foods and the fast foods that people ingest," said Martha Roth, a parent and member of the committee that selected Main Essentials as the school's food vendor. "If you start early, if you teach children to eat well at an early age, it won't be an issue when they get older."

Local public schools usually offer a meatless option for students and have tried to cut down on sugar and salt in other foods, but none has done what Rockland Country Day has hired a vegetarian restaurant to provide school lunches.

Two years ago, parents and students approached James Handlin, the headmaster of Rockland Country Day, about the school's food. Research showed that many children nationwide were eating high-sugar, high-fat foods that contributed to health problems such as asthma and diabetes. There had been concern among organic-foods activists for years about chemical fertilizers, genetically engineered foodstuffs and commercial feed lots.

"We did two things: We took a hard look at all of the snack foods we were offering in all our machines and decided to get rid of what wasn't healthy, mainly those with corn sweeteners. We put in a lot more juices and so-called natural sodas," Handlin said.

"We're really concerned about the obesity and lack of nutritional awareness that so many families seem to have. Because we're a school that goes from 3-year-olds to 12th-graders, we would have kids on these sort of sugar highs. We took a long look at what we were going to put into those machines."

Beginning in the spring, granola, pretzels and soy-based cookies replaced candy bars, chips and Pop-Tarts in the snack machines. Water, juice and seltzer-based sodas ousted Coke and Pepsi products. The food, provided by Kristo Beverage, costs 75 cents to $1.50.

The change was not made effortlessly. Students and staff complained they didn't like the options in the snack and soda machines. Handlin said the complainers agreed to live with healthy snacks for the rest of the school year, and no one has complained about the machine offerings since school started last week.

Handlin said the organic chips were selling better than regular chips used to and the school wasn't selling as much soda.

As for student behavior it's too soon to tell, he said. But the younger children now have access to the machines, which they weren't permitted with the former snack offerings.

With that project completed, the school launched its second initiative. Earlier in the summer, parents and students fenced in a 100-foot-by-100-foot lot and began an organic garden. Roth and local greenhouse owner Ron Breland plotted a simple vegetable garden as a start and asked students and parents to help. Eventually, the garden will be used with the curriculum and for some of the school's mandated community-service projects.

Adam Darer, 15, of Chestnut Ridge, a 10th-grader at the school, was drafted by his mother to come help, but it wasn't a hardship, he said. His grandmother got him hooked on growing things, and he already had had a garden at home for four years.

"I came to a meeting one day and it sounded interesting," he said. "It's been a lot of fun coming here in the summer. It seems weird to come here in the summer, but when you have a lot of students working toward a goal, it's really nice."

While the garden project was getting started, the same committee began looking at food vendors for the cafeteria. Because the school receives little public money, students now pay about $4.50 for lunch each day, compared with about $1.75 for an average public-school hot lunch.

Richard LaCossade, 27, is the executive chef in charge of Rockland Country Day School's cafeteria. He worked in the kitchen of the Manhattan Woods Golf Course and a Marriott Inn before joining Main Essentials. He takes standard cafeteria fare and makes it meatless.

"I just try to keep it healthy. This is a school," he said. "But we'll use soy cheese for the quesadillas, and soy-based products for the ham and cheese omelets. The kids that still eat ham will still taste the difference, but the rest don't seem to notice."

Unlike at Main Essentials, the school cafeteria has a meat option: turkey hot dogs. LaCossade will use real cheese in his sandwiches, he said, although soy-based cheeses are available.

The vegetables and fruits are from local farmers markets, and once the school garden starts producing in bulk, that food will be part of the menu. Scraps from the lunchroom will go to the school compost heap.

Eliza Martin Simpson, 15, of Wesley Hills, a 10th-grader, said she just appreciated the ability to eat a school lunch.

"It's really made it a lot easier for me to be a vegetarian, and the food is really interesting," she said. "I really like to eat, so it's been a highlight of the year coming here."

Nonvegetarians such as ninth-graders Norma Kuhling, 14, of Valley Cottage; Hailey Fyfe, also 14, of Piermont; and 10th-grader Katie Crispi, 15, of New City said they found the school lunches infinitely better than last year.

"You just sort of feel good," Fyfe said, "after eating a healthy meal."


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