By Heather Moore
The theme of this year’s National School Lunch Week, which is observed in October, is “School Lunch: Recipes for Success.” Schools are encouraged to boast about the “secret ingredients” to their success and to tell people what makes their lunch programs special. It’s a great opportunity for vegan-friendly schools to brag about their healthy, humane options — because I doubt that anyone believes “mystery” meat and cheese pizza help kids to succeed in life, especially considering that animal-based foods contribute to heart disease and other life-threatening illnesses.
I spent two days holed up in a Sarasota elementary school while Hurricane Irma barreled toward Florida. Many of those taking shelter were served school lunches—primarily chicken nuggets, corn dogs and cheese pizza. (Fortunately, I had packed vegan sandwiches, peanut butter, raisins, fresh fruit, vegan banana bread and other munchies.)
The school lunches looked depressingly similar to the ones that I ate three decades ago when I was a student — back before I realized that I was being served dead, dismembered animals and that animal-based foods are high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Such fare would only qualify as a “recipe for success” if your goal were admittance to a hospital.
If you want to be healthy, try eating nutritious vegan meals. They’re cholesterol-free, generally low in fat and high in fiber, complex carbohydrates and other essential nutrients. Fruits, vegetables and other wholesome plant-based foods have brain-boosting properties, too, that can help students focus while they’re studying or taking a test. Ben Franklin even wrote in his autobiography that vegetarian foods gave him a clearer mind and better powers of comprehension.
So it’s smart for schools to give students vegan lunch options. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) — the second-largest school district in the nation — is conducting a pilot program at seven high schools through November 17 to offer students a vegan menu, including vegetarian chili, bean tamales, Italian “sausage” sandwiches and teriyaki “burgers,” in addition to veggie sides, fruit and dairy-free milk. This move can be attributed in large part to the efforts of the Earth Peace Foundation, a group of students who encouraged the LAUSD to offer an animal-free menu.
Only a few other schools serve vegan meals on a regular basis, including P.S. 244Q in Flushing, New York, and the MUSE School in Calabasas, California. In 2016, schools in Durham, North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Alachua, Florida; Loudon County, Virginia; and other areas were recognized by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine for offering vegan options as well.
I give high marks to those schools — and to the many college campuses that offer vegan options. Aramark — which serves more than 3 million college students each year — offers innovative vegan meals, including Vegan Chick’n Tagine and Pineapple Chipotle Black Bean Burgers. Vegetarian and vegan items account for more than 30 percent of the main dishes at the campuses that Aramark serves.
Kids shouldn’t have to wait until they’re adults to have access to tasty vegan meals. Nutritious vegan foods are the “recipe for success” for a healthy life. So I hope the LAUSD and other vegan-friendly schools will promote their menus during National School Lunch Week — and every week, for that matter. Perhaps other schools across the nation will learn a thing or two and start serving more vegan meals. Because no one should be subjected to the lunches that I saw during my brief return to school.