Below you will find actions that you can take at the federal, state, and local level. Help make a difference and get involved. Your voice does matter, and can make a difference!
Deadlines: January 15th, to have your comments seen for the January 23 and 24th meeting of the Dietary Guidelines Committee; May 1st, final opportunity to comment.
The school meal program is based on, and supposed to be consistent with the US Dietary Guidelines. The US Dietary Guidelines for 2020 have not yet been finalized, and you can provide your input for the Dietary Guidelines Committee to consider. In line with our mission, we are requesting the following:
- Do not provide reimbursement for processed meats. They are known human carcinogens, and we should not be feeding them to children (or adults!). In addition, our taxpayer dollars should not be paying for known carcinogens. Please note that meat processed with a natural product derived from celery are still processed meats and still known carcinogens. Use the platform as an opportunity to plainly state that processed meats are known carcinogens and that it is recommended that they not be consumed.
- Place more emphasis on plant-based protein foods, including beans, lentils, split peas, tofu, and tempeh. Clearly state the the plant sources of protein are preferable, and will reduce disease risk.
- Remove DAIRY as a food group. Research shows that milk does not build strong bones. Lately, the dairy industry has been promoting milk for protein, and yet protein is not a nutrient of concern and most people get too much protein. What’s more, people of color have high rates of lactose intolerance. Humans simply have no need for milk past the age of weaning, much less milk from another species—and for our guidelines to be encouraging its consumption by people whose normal biology does not tolerate it is, frankly, a form of racial bias. Another common problem is chronic constipation in children from undiagnosed dairy allergies. Instead, add a Calcium Group, and encourage greens, beans, and other high calcium plant foods, as well as exercise, for bone strength. At the very least, the guidelines should promote the inclusion of non-dairy milks wherever cow’s milk is offered. Humans have no more need for cow’s milk than they do for horse milk, since milk is for baby mammals and specifically for the same species.
- Address the issue of processed foods, because unfortunately, limits on calories, sodium, and fat still leave too much room for artificial and fiber-deficient ingredients. Virtually all foods displayed at school food expos are processed. Address artificial ingredients such as colors, flavors, preservatives, and artificial sweeteners.
- Consider the impact of animal agriculture on sustainability. The last time the Guidelines were issued, the Committee recommended it, but the recommendation was rejected and it was stated that the guidelines consider nutrition only. That’s not true. In the past they have considered exercise, with the stairs up the side of the pyramid, as well as the cost of food. Food does not exist in a vacuum by itself and it is important to cover related factors.
There is a proposed law in New York State that would require schools to provide a plant-based meal at the request of students or persons in parental relation to students. Currently, the bill is in the Senate and Assembly Committees. Elected officials are concerned that it would cost more but our experience is that plant-based meals cost less or are at least cost neutral. In New York City, the food cost for the vegetarian menu is 9 cents less than the standard menu. In Ithaca, the cost is cost-neutral. If New York City switched all schools to vegetarian menus, they could save over $10 million dollars per year. Please contact your New York State Senator and Assembly person now and urge them to pass this law. You can see the Senate bill here and the Assembly bill here.
There probably won’t be local laws passed to change the food in your local district, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference and effect change. It’s important to be strategic in approaching a local school, for example should you approach the food service director, the superintendent, a school board member, a principal? It’s important to do your research and know something about the person you are going to reach out to. If the food service director has a history of being resistant to change, then starting with that person might not be the best choice (though we find most food service directors open to change, not all are). New York City works quite differently from many other school districts, so speaking with the mayor’s office, the borough president’s office, or your local council member could make a difference. What can you ask local schools to do? Check out our Create Change section.