The theme of this year's National School Lunch Week, Oct. 14-18, is "School Lunch: What's on Your Playlist." It's meant to tout the fact that "today's school cafeterias are serving up the menu items that kids want to eat, with increased choice and customization."
I wonder if that means they are finally going to start offering tasty vegan options. That's what kids who care about animals and the environment really want.
Schools in California, New York, Miami and Portland, Maine, are scoring high marks when it come to offering vegan options. California schools in Oakland, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Novato, Riverside and Capistrano already offer healthy vegan foods, and a bill that aims to bring vegan options to all state public schools passed the California Assembly Education Committee this spring, 5-0.
If approved by the state's senators, the measure will provide funding for schools that serve more vegan entrees and offer dairy-free milks. Dr. Neal Barnard, president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the nonprofit organization that co-sponsored the bill, firmly believes that vegan meals are healthier for students and the planet and that eating vegan helps foster concern for the environment and the animals we share it with.
According to Friends of the Earth, the Oakland Unified School District reduced its carbon footprint by 14% and saved 42 million gallons of water and $40,000 in the two years after it started offering more vegan options.
Schoolchildren are smart and engaged. They may not be familiar with those exact statistics or the fact that the meat and dairy industries use 83% of farmland and generate 60% of agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions - even though meat and dairy provide just 18% of our calories and 37% of our protein - but they understand that going vegan is the best way to reduce one's impact on the planet.
That's one reason why New York City is planning to reduce the amount of meat served in schools and other city-run facilities by 50%. Other forward-thinking school districts, including Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Portland Public Schools (PPS), the public school district in Portland, Maine, have recently been offering vegan options as well. PPS recently "upgraded" its vegetarian lunch choice to a hot vegan entree. It's currently testing vegan meals at elementary schools first to see which ones are the most popular before adding them to the menu at the middle and high school level.
Hopefully, more schools nationwide will begin serving wholesome vegan meals in order to protect the planet and help ward off obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer and other conditions that are linked to animal-based foods. It's just as irresponsible for schools to serve mystery meat, chicken nuggets and cheese pizza as it would be for them to feed kids nothing but chips, candy and cookies.
Parents send their kids to school to learn more than reading, writing and arithmetic. They also want schools to help foster healthy habits, integrity, ethics and environmental stewardship. Schools can encourage young people to protect the planet and reduce animal suffering by serving vegan foods rather than meat, eggs and dairy.
In celebration of National School Lunch Week, school cafeterias should serve the delicious vegan options that kids want. Then they'll really have a reason to boast.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Heather Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.