Five Questions for: Miguel Villarreal

FoodService Director - Five Questions for Miguel Villarreal - Novato USDFollowing the Hallmark/Westland Meat Packing beef recall in 2008, Miguel Villarreal, director of food and nutritional services for 7,500-student Novato Unified School District in California, eliminated all beef products from the menus. Villarreal talked to FSD about his reasons for taking beef off the menus and if he’ll ever add the protein again.


Why did you take all beef products off the menu?

It wasn’t a hard decision at all. I’ve been in this business almost 30 years. During that time period there have been numerous beef recalls. For me, it was about three years ago [with the Hallmark/Westland recall] that was the final straw. I thought, “Why am I even putting these kids at risk?” The primary reason for taking beef products off the menu was that I didn’t want to continue having to deal with this.

What was the reaction to the move?

Over the years I had been reducing the amount of beef we had been serving. I haven’t been sending my commodity dollars into the beef venue. When the decision was made to eliminate beef there were only a few beef items still on the menu. It wasn’t like the kids all the sudden didn’t have beef. I have a veggie burger in place of the beef burger. We didn’t have any reaction from the students.

Marin County, where we are located, has a lot of cattle farmers. If there were any concern, it would have come from them. I’ve been working with the local farmers for quite some time now and I said, “Look, I can’t afford to buy your grass-fed, organic beef and I’m not about the serve the kids the beef I’m getting from the USDA.” I’m not saying kids shouldn’t eat beef. I’m saying I’m not going to serve the beef that’s been made available to me. That stopped that. What were they going to say, “OK, I’ll sell the beef to you at that cost?”

I did get some calls from other vendors. There was a vendor that told me that they had some products with beef in it that was grass-fed beef. This was several years ago and it was more than I was willing to pay. They know now just not to come around because I’m not serving it. I don’t serve any pasta or burritos with beef in it.

What menu changes did you make in conjunction with removing beef from the menus?

We still offer pork, chicken and cheese items so there is plenty of protein available. In dishes we switched from beef to turkey or another protein. I also increased the number of vegetarian entrée choices when I decided to eliminate beef. My goal is to provide students with healthier food choices that are primarily plant based.

Beef isn’t the only food item that has been recalled in the past three years. Why is beef the only item you’ve decided to eliminate?

Just recently in California we had a spinach recall, so you might ask why didn’t you take that off the menu? For me, with beef it was more than just the recalls. I’m trying to provide an education for our community to show them the environmental concerns. If you look at beef, it takes a lot of water, grain and other natural resources to produce it the way it’s being farmed. So this is our way of telling our students and community that we are also concerned with what goes on in our world and that we are trying to be better stewards of our land.

Will you ever add beef back onto your menus?

I will add beef back to the menus if I can get grass-fed beef from local farmers that is available at the same price as the beef I get from the USDA. For me, I’m making a statement on what I am seeing in our industry.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The new unpaid-balance policy at Canon-McMillan School District in Pittsburgh is making waves after a former cafeteria worker sounded off about the practice on social media.

Stacy Koltiska said she quit her job with the district after being forced to take hot meals away from students who owed lunch money, CBS News reports .

Under a new policy that was implemented at Canon-McMillan this year, students whose lunch debt exceeds $25 are not allowed to receive a hot lunch. Children in grades K-6 are given a sandwich in its place, and older students receive no lunch. A recent...

Industry News & Opinion

Due to low participation in its lunch program, Talawanda School District in Oxford, Ohio, is raising the price of school meals this year, Patch.com reports .

The cost of school lunches will see a 30-cent increase, half of which is being enacted to cover the district’s budget. The other half is being required by the government to cover the cost of free and reduced-price lunches provided to low-income families. Prior to this year, the district had not raised prices since 2009.

The district’s cafeterias have experienced a decline in student participation since implementing the...

Industry News & Opinion

Six Philadelphia hospitals were honored by the city’s department of public health for healthy food initiatives introduced as part of the local Good Food, Healthy Hospitals program, bizjournals.com reports .

The hospitals each debuted healthy measures to their dining services, such as lowering the cost of water bottles and seltzers, and offering dishes that incorporate local produce. One hospital was also honored for operating its own organic farm.

The facilities that were honored were:

Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia Cancer Treatment Centers of America’s Eastern...
Sponsored Content
chili flakes and peppers spicy hot

From Catallia.

When planning your menus, take note: college and university students think spicy is hot.

Fifty-seven percent of consumers age 18-34 find spicy flavors, “extremely appealing,” according to Technomic. And almost 50% of college students surveyed said they would like their schools to offer more ethnic foods and beverages, states a recent Technomic College & University Consumer Trend Report. Translation: they like their food kicked up a notch!

More Options than Ever

“Students of today are all about flavor,” says Steve Mangan, director of dining for...

FSD Resources