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Naval Academy embroiled in '90s kind of food fight Mid petitions for healthful fare

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With all the talk about getting the fat out of the military, Midshipman Jodi M. Wycoff says she has a good place to start -- the menu at the U.S. Naval Academy dining hall.

Eighty-six the artery clogging bacon and hamburgers, the fried fish sandwiches with cheese toppings and the milkshakes and serve up more plain pasta and salads, she and a number of Mids are saying.

"A lot of my classmates, and especially the females, worry about the high calorie content and fat content of King Hall food," the 18-year-old from Indianapolis wrote to the Midshipmen Food Service Division. "Once in a while it would be nice to have a tasty low-fat or nonfat dessert."

PD "Some of my friends don't eat half the food there," said Midship

man 2nd Class Carl S. Briley, 21, recalling complaints that the meals are "too fatty."

TTC In fact, the meals contain more fat than the U.S. Surgeon General recommends and more than those at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point or the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, which offer more healthful dishes and low-fat alternatives.

Meals at the Naval Academy contain 33 percent to 34 percent fat, compared with West Point, which keeps the fat content below the 30 percent recommended by the Surgeon General, said Dawn Roper, the staff dietitian.

The Air Force Academy has set aside separate tables for high carbohydrate and low-fat alternatives to the regular breakfasts and lunches for the last four years and offers alternative dinners, chicken instead of beef, said Beverli Donegon, the dietitian there since 1983.

Jan Yoshimoto, the Naval Academy dietitian, said last week that she is hearing from an increasing number of midshipmen who arecalling for more low-fat meals.

The complaints even have reached the academy's Board of Visitors, where Rep. Ronald K. Machtley, a Rhode Island Republican -- himself a healthful eater -- has asked academy officials for a review.

"I think it's something we can take a closer look at," Rear Adm. Thomas C. Lynch, the academy's superintendent, told the board last month, promising a full report.

But getting the fat out may not be that easy, said Ms. Yoshimoto, whose Naval Academy job has existed for only 2 1/2 years, compared with West Point, which hired its first dietitian 25 years ago, and Colorado Springs, which has employed one for 14 years.

Staff dietitians at the other service academies have veto power over the menus, she said. She only has an advisory role and sometimes is overruled.

She says she has "a lot of support," but complains that she does not "have full rein of implementing something I want."

Ms. Yoshimoto, 46, who has worked for Marriott Corp. and Walter Reed Army Medical Center, has been rebuffed in trying to remove bacon, sausage and ice cream from the menu. And she objected to the recent addition of beef pot pie.

While the other academies have a large food service staff to create more nutritious meals from scratch, the Naval Academy relies more on processed foods, often sources of higher fat or sodium.

Unlike its counterparts, the Naval Academy has its own dairy, which sends a steady, cholesterol-laden stream of milk and cream to King Hall for milkshakes and ice cream. Ms. Yoshimoto has argued in vain to close this 82-year-old sacred cow.

The dairy, founded in 1911 in response to a typhoid epidemic that threatened the local milk supply, has a herd of 347 registered Holsteins that pumps out 4,700 gallons of milk and 225 gallons of cream each week and one customer -- the Naval Academy.

That means Ms. Yoshimoto's menus must include either ice cream or milkshakes three times a week to use up the supply, she said.

"I would love to see them get rid of it," she said. But "somebody politically high up on the ladder doesn't want to get that closed."

Academy officials disputed that contention, saying the dairy remains open because it is cost-effective and convenient. Food service officials can change an order faster with the academy dairy than with a commercial provider, said Karen Myers, an academy spokeswoman.

And it is midshipmen demand rather than bovine production that keeps the milk and cream flowing, she added. "We're going to serve it to them as long as they want it."

While Ms. Yoshimoto's job in Annapolis ranks lower than her counterparts at the other academies, she still has "as much say as anybody else," Ms. Myers said.

And it was the Department of the Navy that decided to eliminate about 30 food service worker positions six or seven years ago after an audit determined the facility could operate efficiently without them, she added.

Despite the hurdles, the academy has made strides in making the menu more healthful. Before Ms. Yoshimoto arrived it was 37 percent fat; now it's about 33 percent.

She has added a salad bar at dinner and a weekly potato bar, introduced skim milk and added more fresh fruits. Plain, grain cereals now share shelf space with the sugar-laden veterans.

Recently a pepperoni pizza lunch included an alternative: chef's salad.

That pleased the very healthful eater, Ms. Wycoff said.

Yet some midshipmen interviewed -- male and female -- brushed aside criticisms of King Hall meals, saying their classmates must learn to skip some foods in favor of the more healthful offerings.

"Eventually, people are going to have to show the self-discipline not to eat that," said Midshipman 2nd Class Spencer Abbot, 20, of Virginia. "We're trying to train responsible people who can make intelligent decisions."

Ms. Yoshimoto agreed that education is the key to more healthful eating. She does not favor the "light tables," in vogue at the Air Force Academy, she said, because they don't teach the mids "how to pick and choose."

She offers midshipmen health briefings and private consultations. Mids also can use their computers to gain access to her "health conscious menu," the nutritionist's suggestions for what's best to eat from the King Hall meals each week.

Then why lobby to trim the high-fat products? Why not let the midshipmen choose on their own? "It sounds contradictory," conceded Ms. Yoshimoto. But if there are too many fatty servings, "you're not going to give them enough options to balance it out."

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