In a huge victory for reducing animal suffering, improving children’s health, and protecting the environment, New York City public schools will introduce the Meatless Monday program citywide. The announcement was made, appropriately enough, on Monday and means that the nearly 1 million kids served meals daily in New York City public schools will eat vegetarian meals at least one day a week. City officials made the decision after successfully piloting the program in 15 schools in Brooklyn in spring 2018. The citywide program will begin in the 2019–2020 school year.
“Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers’ health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” New York City mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We’re expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come.”
Additional credit for the decision goes to school district chancellor Richard A. Carranza and vegan Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams, an outspoken advocate of a plant-based diet.
While this is certainly a step in the right direction, offering entirely plant-based options at every school meal across the country would better safeguard children’s health. Most people in the U.S. (basically, anyone whose ancestors did not come from certain regions of Europe) lack the enzyme to digest lactose and thus suffer continual inflammation if they consume dairy products. Additionally, a plant-based diet has been shown to help prevent Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and even many forms of cancer. Why wouldn’t we want to protect our children with healthier school meals?
Unfortunately, financial interests are at play. The dairy and meat industries are subsidized by the government and have contracts with public schools. Schools participating in the National School Lunch Program must serve dairy milk, even though it can be difficult for many kids to digest, and some districts still require that students who want dairy-free milk supply a doctor’s note. Clearly, something is wrong with this system. And pressure from the meat and dairy industries affects more than just public schools. The U.S. Department of Agriculture called on its employees to observe Meatless Monday but then caved to pushback from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
So while we still have a long way to go in offering healthy, ethical, and environment-friendly meals in public schools, the Meatless Monday program in New York City schools will have a huge impact. Serving a million meat-free meals every week to our kids is certainly something to celebrate. Congrats, New York City!
If you’d like to move toward a plant-based diet, check out ChooseVeg for personalized meal planning, recipes, nutritional information, and more. Every step makes a difference.