What if red meat disappeared from the plates of school canteens? Researchers from the National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and the Environment (INRAE) have imagined a scenario to improve the sustainability of meals in school canteens. According to their results, by increasing the frequency of vegetarian meals (up to three times a week) and by serving fish and white meat at other meals, it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by half while while maintaining good nutritional quality.
“It’s a scenario. This does not mean that we should eliminate red meat at school, but that if we did, it is in this case that we would have the best compromise between nutrition and carbon impact”, explains Nicole Darmon. , research director at INRAE in nutrition and public health.
Maintain nutritional quality
The researchers analyzed several possible levers to reduce the carbon impact of school meals, while efforts have already been made in this direction over the past two years. Since the EGalim law of 2019, at least one vegetarian meal must be served per week. According to the results of the researchers, if this number increased, it would reduce the environmental impacts (up to -61.2% of greenhouse gas emissions if all the meals are) but would decrease the nutritional quality.
Another possibility was studied: that of reducing the number of meal components from five to four, ie favoring the starter or the dessert rather than having both. But this scenario does not really reduce the environmental impact and its energy content could be insufficient for some children.
-50% carbon impact with white meat
The scenario that obtained the best result consists of serving 12 vegetarian meals over a month, four meals with fish and four with white meat. “If we served four red meats instead of four white meats, the carbon impact drops by 25%, whereas with the four white meats, we get a 50% drop,” says Nicole Darmon. This scenario, however, is not ideal. “White meat poses other problems from an environmental point of view. To feed pork and chicken, we are notably obliged to give them grain and cereal-based products when these foods could be given directly to humans,” notes Nicole Darmon.
Respond to current debates
This hypothesis also requires a modification of the current regulations, which impose the service of red meat at school. For the expert, another possibility could be to serve a variety of meat, but this scenario has not yet been studied.
If such an application is not envisaged in the near future in school canteens, the study aims to provide a scientific answer to the current debates. “We have to open our eyes to the fact that reducing the consumption of animal products is necessary. Consuming red meat in excess is not terrible for your health, it is also good to teach children that there are other alternatives,” adds the specialist.