Vegetarian entrees like meatless burgers should always be available at agency cafeterias, Democratic lawmakers say.

Vegetarian entrees like meatless burgers should always be available at agency cafeterias, Democratic lawmakers say. LauriPatterson / Getty Images

Let Feds Have Their Meat and Veggies Too, Lawmakers Tell Biden

The government should set an example by making sure healthier and more sustainable entrees are available at its facilities, House members say.

A group of more than two-dozen Democratic lawmakers is pushing the Biden administration to ensure all federal facilities offer vegetarian entrees for employees and visitors, saying the government should lead by example in providing healthier and more sustainable options. 

The plant-based food should be available at federal agencies, museums, national parks, prisons and military bases, the 31 House members said in a letter to Biden that was spearheaded by Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md. Requiring agencies to provide vegetarian entrees would help federal employees and visitors “get more protein and nutrients from plants,” they wrote. They sent their letter in advance of the White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition and Health in September, which the lawmakers said would serve as a forum to roll out changes to federal facility food options. 

In addition to providing healthier options, the House members noted the alternative food options can “advance the health of our environment by reducing the federal government's carbon footprint.” 

The Food Service Guidelines for Federal Facilities, authored by representatives from nine agencies but led by the Health and Human Services Department and General Services Administration, defines entrees as “meat or meat alternatives” and encourages “innovative” approaches that include offering “protein foods from plants such as legumes (beans and peas), nuts, seeds, and soy products, at least three times per week.” The guidelines apply to any food service concession or vending operation, such as cafeterias, cafes, snack bars or vending machines, and serve to assist agency contracting officers and food vendors that have received federal contracts. 

Despite those advisories, the lawmakers noted, “vegetarian entrees are still not routinely provided at federal facilities.” 

“Let’s help make nutritious and delicious vegetarian entrées more readily available to federal workers, visitors, and Americans,” they said. “To help ensure the federal government is leading through its own food practices, we urge you to make a vegetarian entrée available everywhere the federal government is serving our people a meal.” 

The letter had only Democratic signatories, and the idea could prove controversial. Last year, Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, introduced legislation that would ban federal agency cafeterias from serving only vegetarian fare, despite no agency ever actually attempting to institute such an initiative. The Telling Agencies to Stop Tweaking What Employees Eat Act (S. 1082) appeared to stem from a brief controversy at the Agriculture Department in 2012 when the department sent employees a newsletter encouraging employees to consider going one day per week without eating meat. Federal agencies have never restricted meat at federal agencies and USDA was simply making a suggestion for employees to consider participating in a voluntary program. The proposal drew criticism from some lawmakers and the meat industry. 

Still, Ernst said her bill was necessary to send a message. 

“Our federal agencies shouldn’t be encouraging people to ban agricultural products at the expense of America’s hardworking farmers and producers,” the senator said. “Congress needs to make its intention known that we should get ‘Meatless Mondays’ and other types of activist bans against agricultural products out of our government dining halls.”

Raskin and his colleagues, meanwhile, are calling only for vegetarian options to be consistently offered, rather than for any type of ban on meat.