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

Two chefs at Whitworth University in Spokane, Wash., are trying to help solve the Mars food dilemma, myfoxspokane.com reports .

Just outside the school’s cafeteria, Executive Chef Timothy Grayson and his partner, Christine Logan-Travis, are trying their hand at growing tomatoes, oregano, basil and other plants in Martian Regolith Soil, the closest soil on Earth to that found on the fourth planet from the sun.

All of the plants in the Mars-inspired garden are intended for human consumption.

“It is a reality that at some point, if man goes to Mars, they will need to...

Industry News & Opinion

Access to fresh produce just got easier for students at the University of Virginia.

The Charlottesville, Va., university’s dining service has partnered with Greens to Grounds , a student-run nonprofit organization that delivers locally grown produce to students. Though students could previously purchase Greens to Grounds produce, they can now use a portion of their meal plans to do so, thecavalier.com reports .

Students can choose between a snack box or produce box, the ingredients in which usually require no cooking, and can place their orders online. The base boxes cost...

Industry News & Opinion

The Virginia Department of Health said it has traced a “cluster” of hepatitis A cases to frozen Egyptian strawberries used by Virginia units of a smoothie chain.

Tropical Smoothie Cafe voluntarily trashed the strawberries and switched to supplies from a different source immediately after being notified of the connection, the health department said in a statement issued Friday.

The department noted that it had traced earlier outbreaks of hepatitis A to strawberries imported from Egypt. But it warned that supplies may still be in the freezers of other foodservice operations...

Managing Your Business
business man smash computer

Foodservice directors spend a lot of time taking care of other people, whether it’s K-12 students who aren’t always eating enough at home, malnourished patients back for return visits or employees squabbling among themselves. That kind of pressure can weigh heavily—and come home from work. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America finds that 83% of men and 72% of women say stress at work carries over into their personal lives, and 50% call staff management their main culprit for workplace stress.

“Stress is very difficult in our world, and work-life balance is very much a...

FSD Resources