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On February 14th, California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) introduced landmark legislation incentivizing K-12 public schools across the state to offer healthier, climate-friendly lunch options. Under AB 479, the Healthy, Climate-friendly School Lunch Act, schools would receive additional state funding for serving a plant-based entree and plant-based milk. The bill is co-sponsored by Animal Hope in Legislation, Friends of the Earth, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and Social Compassion in Legislation.
AB 479 also includes critical state support for staff training, student engagement, recipe development and other technical assistance needed to help public schools boost participation rates and successfully serve plant-based foods.
“AB 479 will increase access to healthy food options for low-income communities and reduce our carbon footprint at the same time,” stated Assemblymember Nazarian.
Growing evidence, highlighted in the recent EAT-Lancet Commission’s comprehensive study, shows that a plant-based diet is more sustainable and environmentally-friendly. According to research from Tufts University, shifting to more plant-based options can reduce our carbon footprint by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and requires less land and water for food production.
“California won’t meet its ambitious climate goals unless it tackles consumption-based emissions from the food sector. With millions of pounds of animal foods served each year, this bill will help California’s public schools reduce their carbon footprint while serving kids healthier food,” said Kari Hamerschlag, Deputy Director of Food and Agriculture at Friends of the Earth. “If every public school swapped out a beef burger for a veggie burger just once a month, it would save 300 million pounds of CO2 a year.”
California has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030. Empowering schools to contribute to this effort is an important step for California’s climate strategy. Research shows that healthy, protein-rich plant-based foods like lentils and beans are 26 to 34 times less carbon intensive than beef.
“Given the effects that we and our northern neighbors are still feeling from the climate-exacerbated Woolsey and Camp Fires, there is no question that we are in a time of profound environmental crisis. The Healthy, Climate-friendly School Lunch Act makes the best use of our institutional purchasing power to provide both healthy food and a gateway to a safe climate for the very children whose future and whose palates it will be serving,” said Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who will be hosting a press conference on the bill on Wednesday, Feb. 13th.
“There are so many reasons to pursue a plant-based diet, with an increasing number of studies showing both the health benefits and the environmental impact of abstaining from meat, dairy, and eggs,” said Judie Mancuso, Founder and CEO of Social Compassion in Legislation. “This bill is about providing a choice to young people who have decided that eating animals is the wrong choice for them – and for our planet.”
“As the world moves forward and progressively changes, the way we teach our youth will impact not only the climate. But our ethics, our morals, and the future that comes before us. This program is about choices. Choosing not just for ourselves, but the environment, and our children,” added Marc Ching, Founder and CEO of Animal Hope in Legislation.
The bill does not mandate a plant-based diet in schools, but incentivizes schools to offer a plant-based option. While numerous school districts across the state want to increase plant-based offerings, many face cost barriers since animal-based foods and cow’s milk are heavily subsidized by the federal government relative to plant-based options.
This measure also recognizes that California’s increasingly diverse population deserves greater attention. “Our state is a global microcosm with many different cultural needs,” noted Assemblymember Nazarian. “California’s school meal policy should not only reflect this diversity, but also incorporate the extensive research on the health benefits of plant-based nutrition.”
According to the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a plant-based diet has substantial health benefits. It can reduce the risk of diabetes, help manage weight and provide protection against cancer and other diseases.
“Bringing plant-based meals to schools will help students establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime,” said Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Not only do these foods help students stay focused and energized in the classroom today, but they also reduce long-term risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.”
Under AB 479, eligible entrees must be free of animal products or byproducts, including meat, poultry, fish, dairy or eggs to qualify for additional reimbursement. Schools are eligible to apply for reimbursement if they serve an increase in plant-based options from a baseline year.
Many school districts across the state, including Novato, San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and Capistrano, are reducing the carbon footprint of their food by serving delicious, healthier plant-based entrees. AB 479 will provide critical technical and financial support to expand these menu offerings and encourage many other schools to follow suit.
Featured image: A girl shows off her healthy, plant-based school lunch. Image via PCRM.