PCRM (Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine) Created this “Universal Meals” template as a guide to help individuals, Corporations, and Organizations create menus that can accommodate the widest range of dietary restrictions. PBNM is happy to share this guide in hopes of helping to make even more people aware.
Universal Meals: Food Everyone Can Enjoy
More people than ever are changing the way they eat—for health reasons, environmental or humane concerns, or other motivations. Many more have followed cultural or religious food traditions all their lives.
They take their preferences or directives with them when they board a plane, go to a business meeting, visit the breakfast bar at a hotel, have lunch in the company cafeteria, or meet friends at a restaurant. It is challenging for them if their nutritional preferences are not reflected in anything that is served. And it is no less challenging for businesses that want to be able to respond to clients’ requests.
Universal Meals is a simple set of meal guidelines that meet the vast majority of food requirements and can be implemented anywhere food is served. Imagine being lactose intolerant, following a vegan diet, or avoiding meat and eggs for religious reasons, and never again having to ask if suitable foods would be available—because they always are? Imagine being a flight attendant who never again has to say, “I’m sorry, if you wanted a vegan meal, you would have had to order it 48 hours in advance.” Universal Meals means never having to say you’re sorry.
Developing Guidelines for Universal Meals
Natural constituencies include the following:
Foods that are likely to work well include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and non-gluten grains (e.g., rice, corn, quinoa, etc.) While it is not possible to cover every possible food tradition, preference, or medical need, it is relatively straightforward to cover the vast majority of them.
The Defense Department’s Experience
The Defense Logistics Agency of the U.S. Department of Defense developed a meal program that, while intended for a more limited application, provides useful lessons. The Humanitarian Daily Ration (HDR) was designed for feeding large populations of displaced persons in emergencies (http://www.dla.mil/TroopSupport/Subsistence/Operational-rations/hdr/). It provides a full day’s nutrition and is designed with the recipients’ needs in mind:
“In order to provide the widest possible acceptance from the variety of potential consumers with diverse religious and dietary restrictions from around the world, the HDR contains no animal products or animal by-products, except that minimal amounts of dairy products are permitted. Alcohol and alcohol based ingredients are also banned.”
These meals are much more basic than Universal Meals. HDRs are inexpensive and are packaged to be able to withstand extreme environmental conditions, with a three-year shelf life at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and to allow air drops when necessary. Examples of currently available HDRs include the following, served as fully prepared, ready-to-eat meals, along with crackers, peanut butter, raisins, bread, a fruit bar, etc.
Although Universal Meals aim to be enticing to all diners and are not necessarily designed to withstand the rigors of emergency situations, what is noteworthy in the HDR program is the U.S. Government’s recognition of the need for widely acceptable meals, a principle that might be profitably applied to all facilities serving diverse populations. Also noteworthy is the use of simple plant-based ingredients, focusing especially on grains, legumes, and vegetables.
Limitations of Universal Meals
Universal Meals ensure that the nutritional requirements of the vast majority of people are met where they work, study, or travel. However, the program has limitations. For example:
Building a Program of Universal Meals
A successful program will require several steps:
Appendix A. Suggested Criteria for Universal Meals
Appendix B. Applicable Settings
Airlines. Meals served on trays, snack boxes.
Airline clubs. Buffet style soups, salads, and light meals.
Hotel breakfast bars. Buffet-style simple foods.
Restaurants. Menu service.
Schools. Buffet-style or cafeteria-style full-meal service.
College food services. Buffet-style or cafeteria-style full-meal service.
Businesses. Buffet-style or cafeteria-style full-meal service.
Appendix C. Meal Examples
Note: Items including grains (e.g., noodles, bread, or pizza crust) will use gluten-free varieties.
The most popular cuisines served at U.S. restaurants are Italian, Mexican, and Chinese, according to Nation’s Restaurant News and the National Restaurant Association. Among young (25-34 year old) diners, sushi and fusion restaurants are also popular. (http://www.nrn.com/consumer-trends/top-10-ethnic-cuisines-consumers-favor).
Appendix D. Food Allergens
In the U.S., the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (FALCPA) holds that approximately two percent of adults and five percent of young children in the U.S. have food allergies and that eight foods account for approximately 90 percent of these allergies:
Pursuant to this Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that these potential allergens be listed on product labels.
Canada and the United Kingdom have similar lists (http://www.inspection.gc.ca/food/information-for-consumers/fact-sheets-and-infographics/food-allergies/eng/1332442914456/1332442980290; but add mustard, sesame, sulphites, triticale (pronounced trit uh KAY lee, a wheat-rye hybrid), and lupin (a bean sometimes added to flour products or eaten pickled)
Appendix E. Interested Groups
The following figures provide estimates of affected groups in the US:
Vegetarian or vegan 5% – 10%, depending on age
Partial vegetarian 15%
Gluten intolerant or sensitive, or celiac 10%
Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu 4%
Lactose Intolerant 10% – 90%, depending on race and age
Severe food allergies 5% of US children
Appendix F. Brief Description for Use in Menus
More people than ever are changing the way they eat—for health reasons, environmental or humane concerns, religious observances, or other motivations. We are pleased to offer Universal Meals—delicious meals that contain no animal-derived ingredients, gluten, alcohol, or common allergens (dairy, egg, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, mustard, sesame, celery, lupin, and sulphites). You’ll find them marked with the UM logo.