A new report by the international network of environmental organizations, Friends of the Earth, is urging school boards across the country to require vegan options at every meal, as part of its new recommendations to secure environmental and health benefits.
The report, titled “Scaling Up Healthy, Climate-Friendly School Food,” is the first-of-its-kind and may revolutionize school meals. Based on interviews with thirty-three school food professionals, the report provides a plethora of examples from eighteen public school districts, showcasing the strategies used by school food visionaries to serve more plant-based foods on lunch menus. It spotlights how “public schools across the nation grapple with how to feed kids healthy, delicious and environmentally friendly food on tight budgets.”
Kari Hamerschlag, Deputy Director of Food and Agriculture at Friends of the Earth and lead author of the report, explained the report’s context. “If we really want to solve the climate crisis, we need to address food — both what we eat and how it is produced,” she said. “Public schools in the United States, which serve seven billion meals annually, can have a huge impact by incorporating more climate-friendly foods.”
For example, with four detailed case studies, the report builds on a 2017 analysis that showed how the Oakland Unified School District reduced its carbon footprint by fourteen percent and saved $42,000 over two years, just by serving less meat and more plant-based foods. If every public school replaced a beef burger for a veggie burger just once a month, it would save 1.4 billion pounds of CO2 every year, the report noted.
Friends of the Earth makes several recommendations. Among the suggestions are that school boards should require a plant-based option at every meal, adopt Meatless Mondays, and phase out processed meat products like bacon and hot dogs from school menus. It also says states should include more plant-based foods on procurement bids, and asks the USDA National School Lunch Program to provide more support for plant-based foods, for example by renaming its “meat/meat alternative” category “protein,” and spend more on plant-based meat alternatives.
Amy Carroll, RD, supervisor of food procurement at Lee County Schools, is optimistic that these changes are possible. “Climate-friendly school food with plant-forward menu planning is really just a healthy food transition,” she explained in the report; Friends of the Earth’s comprehensive new roadmap for boosting healthier, climate-friendly food may make this transition even smoother.
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