12 January 2009

Vote for Vegan School Lunch Options

You can help make this kid's frown turn upside down. You have three days to vote for healthful school lunch options (currently in 18th place, under Agricultural Policy) as part of Change.org's Ideas for Change in America. Animal rights is competing if you will, with a spectrum of progressive issues submitted by Change.org users, to be among the top 10 ideas submitted to the Obama administration this Friday.

The proposal (submitted by Alex Hershaft): Require USDA to facilitate healthful plant-based (vegan) school lunch options to promote public health, freedom from hunger, environmental quality, nonviolence, and kindness to animals.

The Problem

Under the mandate from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National School Lunch Program, school cafeterias routinely serve highly processed meals laden with saturated fat, cholesterol, hormones, and salt. Common entrees include chicken nuggets, pizza, cheeseburgers, and hot dogs. This diet flouts U.S. Dietary Guidelines and promotes obesity, diabetes, hypertension, other chronic conditions, and food poisoning.

Consider the following:

• Fewer than 2% of children eat in accordance with the U.S. Dietary Guidelines on a given day.
• School lunches contain 33% of calories from fat, including 12% from saturated fat, while U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend 30% and 10%, respectively.
• More than 30% of children are overweight or obese.
• 25% of children ages 5 to 10 suffer from high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic conditions.

The Solution

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains is largely free of these problems and essential to good health. It supplies nearly all essential nutrients, contains little fat, fewer pesticides, and no cholesterol, hormones, antibiotics, or heavy metals. It also provides special nutrients that reduce the risk of cancer. It is conducive to more energy and improved academic performance.

A healthy diet for children is a critical indicator of future health, because children's bodies are still developing, because their dietary choices are still being formed, and because their poor eating habits become lifelong addictions.

In addition to its obvious health benefits, a plant-based diet offers the only long-term solution to the world hunger epidemic. It avoids the massive deforestation, water pollution, and global warming caused by the meat and dairy industries. Last, but not least, it spares billions of cows, pigs, and other innocent sentient animals from the atrocities of factory farms and slaughterhouses.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has the ability and the obligation to provide a wholesome food supply for our nation, starting with our children. It should use the school lunch and other national feeding programs to improve the nation's health, rather than to susidize the meat and dairy agribusiness.

Healthy school lunch options are a human right that coincides nicely with animal rights. Yet the word "vegan" in a proposal will be a tough sell in the world of politics and special interests. Even talking about obesity may be a tough sell.

But perhaps the essence of Hershaft's school lunch proposal could be included in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill. When it comes down to real votes in Congress, tell your lawmakers that school nutrition shouldn't be lip service to parents. We need to change the food power structure so that corporate food isn't given an unfair, immoral, marketplace advantage. Here are some of my favorite suggestions to improve child nutrition, so that vegan school lunch options can have the groundwork it needs. Taken from La Vida Locavore:

* Increase funds for school lunch. The reimbursement rate is $2.55/kid/meal right now. Schools already spend $2.88 on average. Cheap food is junk food. For a budget breakdown of a school meal, read "Many Barriers Keep Fresh, Organic Food Out of School Lunches."

* Expand the Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Program. This is a program that provides fresh fruits and veggies at a handful of select schools in each of the 50 states. Right now it's a pilot programs and the schools that are chosen are typically ones in which a high percent of kids qualify for free or subsidized school lunches.

* Reduce barriers or encourage schools to feed students locally produced foods. This is a no-brainer and the farm-to-school programs that exist currently seem to be very popular. However, a number of barriers keep many interested schools and districts from being able to bring fresh, local food into their schools (i.e. schools have no kitchens, the bidding process for vendors is complex, the lunch budget is so small they can't afford local food).

* Get competitive foods out of schools. A "competitive food" is any food outside the federally reimbursed school lunch. The USDA has nutrition standards for the school lunch but it is NOT ALLOWED to have nutrition standards on other foods, called competitive foods. Competitive foods are typically junk, like stuff in vending machines.

* Keep rBGH milk out of schools. This is a longshot since the FDA approved rBGH and thinks there's no difference between rBGH and rBGH-free milk BUT there are links to cancer in humans and the American public overwhelmingly DOES NOT want rBGH in their milk.

* Either ensure commodities provided to schools are healthy foods or give the schools more money for lunches in lieu of commodities. Schools are forced to take free government commodities that are often processed into unhealthy junk... the commodities provided flip the food pyramid on its head, giving schools a lot of the things you should eat sparingly (high fat meat and cheese) and little of stuff you should eat a lot of (fruits and veggies).

* Increase regulation of and inspection of slaughterhouses. Right now the fast food companies have the clout and buying power to insist on high standards for food safety and humane slaughter practices. The government does not have the political will to insist on these things and as a result a lot of the worst quality crap goes to the schools

Considering we eat animals as though they are meant to be eaten, we owe our children the right to a healthier diet that would inevitably address other social issues such as food safety, food sustainability, health, health care, and environmental policy. Change starts with our everyday lives, and what closer way to promote change than to start with our diets?

1 comment:

Warwak said...

Great post - funny picture. Thank you for getting the word out. I'm posting on my blog as well. Rock on!