We still can't seem to get school lunches right in this country. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver came to the United States in 2010 and tried to start a Food Revolution to tackle school lunches, but he faced heavy opposition. Former first lady Michelle Obama made improving school lunches a top priority in 2012. Both of those initiatives seem like a long time ago, yet the majority of lunches in public schools are still heavy on pizza and French fries.
Still, some individual school districts are doing what they can to improve the quality and nutrition of school lunches. New York City Public Schools, which is one of the country's largest districts and serves over 1 million children daily, is cutting meat from the menu one day a week. Starting in the fall when the new school year begins, Meatless Monday will be standard in every school lunchroom in all five boroughs.
Mayor Bill de Blasio made the announcement on March 11 that the entire school district would adopt the once-a-week meatless lunches. A successful pilot program in 15 schools in Brooklyn in the spring of 2018 set the stage.
"Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers' health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions," he said during the announcement. "We're expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come."
Mark Chambers, director of the NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability, said "reducing our appetite for meat is one of the single biggest ways individuals can reduce their environmental impact on our planet." He also mentioned that Meatless Mondays would introduce all of the district's students to the concept that "small changes in their diet can create larger changes for their health and the health of our planet."
I can't argue with that, but the North American Meat Institute can. That group issued a statement in opposition to the announcement, saying it's "misguided" and that "meat and poultry products are excellent and affordable sources of complete protein, vitamins, and minerals that students enjoy in school cafeterias across the country." Their statement said nothing about the environmental impact of meat. Nor did it mention that beans, like the ones the mayor is eating in the photo above, are also an excellent and even more affordable source of protein, vitamins and minerals.
More opportunities to take the lead
This is good progress, but as with anything, there's still room for improvement. Take a moment to look at the actual plate the mayor is eating from. It's disposable, as are the plastic utensils that come wrapped in plastic and are used by the students each day. And remember: the city's public schools serve over 1 million students each day. (And yes, not all students eat lunch from the cafeteria, but they do eat in the cafeteria.)
If New York City Public Schools want to take the next step in teaching students how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they'll work on bringing back durable, washable trays, plates and utensils so they eliminate the greenhouse gasses created from all that plastic that ends up in a landfill. New York City sets a lot of trends for the rest of the country. Now that they've embraces Meatless Monday, cutting back on disposables could be the next big trend for them to start.