Ah, the infamous school lunch: The idea conjures up the image of a graying patty of meat (with ketchup for an extra serving of "vegetables," of course!), a pile of something that was possibly once a potato, and maybe a bag of fiery flavor-blasted chips if your gut is feeling resilient.
Over the years, school lunches have become a cultural icon for everything that is wrong with our food system, and how we’re passing these problems off to the next generation in the form of poor nutrition, obesity, and a world strained by climate change. I probably don’t have to tell anyone reading this that this is entirely unacceptable, and we can do better.
Yes, we all bonded over the horror meatloaf day inspired. But imagine if the next generation could bond over something more meaningful than indigestion? Like, maybe, pride about how their school is using food to improve the world?
(Or perhaps anything else that they’re actually learning, other than that there are big problems with school lunch subsidies.)
Enter Oakland Unified School District. A report released today by Friends of the Earth shows that menu shifts prioritizing plant proteins and cutting back on animal products allowed Oakland schools to significantly reduce their carbon and water footprint over a two-year period. Unsurprisingly, these actions also saved the district money and improved students’ access to more nutritious foods.
While these benefits might seem obvious, this case study was the first of its kind to use life-cycle assessment data to show how meat and cheese reduction in school food is an effective strategy for both mitigating climate change and serving affordable, healthy meals – laying out a roadmap for other school districts to follow suit.
Indeed, this research could serve as a guide for more than just schools, as Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and technology at Friends of the Earth, explained:
While our study focused on school food, it’s clear that meat and cheese reduction is a powerful climate mitigation strategy for all restaurants and institutions that want to reduce their environmental impact. While cities and states are leading efforts to combat climate change, shifting institutional food purchasing has rarely been tapped as a climate mitigation strategy. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost effective way to achieve both environmental and public health goals.
To download the full report, click here.
Want to start making the shift in your district? Try starting bringing Meatless Monday to your school! You can find the resources you need here.
To learn more about how The Good Food Institute supports healthy, humane, sustainable foods, visit our website.