Monday, September 30, 2019

More schools serving vegan meals; meat industry objects to California bill helping schools expand such offerings

A cafeteria worker in Portland, Maine, shows a traditional pizza lunch along with a vegan version topped with
hummus and fresh vegetables. (Pew Charitable Trusts photo)
Meat producers are already on high alert because of the increasingly popularity of meat analogues in restaurants and grocery stores. Now, that battle is being fought on another front: the school cafeteria, Elaine Povich reports for Stateline.

At least one school in 14 percent of school districts nationwide provided vegan lunches in 2017, up from 11.5% in 2016, according to the School Nutrition Association. Schools have generally offered such alternatives to accommodate those who follow such a diet, or observant Jews and Muslims with dietary restrictions surrounding meat and/or dairy. Though the decision to offer vegetarian or vegan meals has received relatively little pushback on the local level, meat industry groups (mostly the beef industry) have objected to legislation that expands such programs, Povich reports.

"In California, a bill to provide $3 million to school districts across the state to include plant-based options for lunch was whipping through the legislature before being brought up short this year over money and objections from the beef industry," Povich reports. "The money would have paid for grants of up to $100,000 to participating schools, to cover the costs of training, advertising, creating menus, technical assistance and student engagement efforts." Each school would be allowed to choose whether or not to participate in the program.

Justin Oldfield, the vice president for government relations of the California Cattlemen's Association, who testified against the bill, said meat is essential for meeting children's nutritional requirements in school lunches. Food service workers who testified against the bill said it's hard to get kids to eat their vegetables, Povich reports.

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