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!
The US Dietary Guidelines
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, but the Dietary Guidelines Committee has submitted their scientific report. The United States Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will hold a virtual meeting on Tuesday, August 11th from 8:30 am to 1 pm Eastern time to hear comments from the public on the Scientific Report. You can register to attend (virtually) this meeting where the USDA and HHS will consider the Committee’s Scientific Report, along with public and agency comments, as the Departments develop the next edition of the Dietary Guidelines for 2020 – 2025. To keep up to date with the process, visit this page. While the opportunity to provide oral comments at this meeting has reached capacity, you can provide written comments through Thursday, August 13th, and we encourage you to do so. Please continue reading our priorities, below, and please include these points in your written comments.
The US Dietary Guidelines are currently problematic because they are too influenced by the food industry. For people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by diet-related diseases, the Guidelines can cause disease, rather than protect from disease, which is the intention of the Dietary Guidelines. This is true for whites too, but much more so for people of color. In line with our mission, we urged our supporters and friends to make comments which include the following (the comment period is now closed):
- 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.
- Emphasize plant-based foods, including beans, lentils, split peas, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds in place of meat/dairy/eggs. Clearly state the the plant sources of protein are preferable, and will reduce disease risk. Also clearly state that protein is not a nutrient of concern, and most Americans will get enough by eating enough calories, and that it is also plentiful in many vegetables and grains.
- Clearly note that processed meats are known human carcinogens, and that there is no safe level to consume. In addition, our taxpayer dollars should not be paying for known carcinogens. Please note that meats processed with a natural product derived from celery are still processed meats and still known carcinogens.
- 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. 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.
Relates to requiring public schools to offer plant-based food options in food service
Bill 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. Based on the cost of the various menus in New York City, if they 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. If you are a school district, a Food Service Director, or a business that would be positively impacted by this bill (for example, bean farmers), you can sign on to a letter to show your support. If you would like us to send you that letter for your review, please email us.
Relates to prohibiting the operation of establishments where animals and/or fowls are slaughtered and butchered for food.
Bill in New York State that would suspend the operation of live animal markets and create a seven member task force on the public health risks and animal welfare concerns of slaughterhouses. Currently, the bill is in the Senate and Assembly Committees on Agriculture. The purpose of the proposed law is to eliminate live animal markets, a potential breeding ground for the transmission of zoonotic diseases. Many of these poorly regulated markets operate in close proximity to schools, homes and parks. These establishments have been issued violations by the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets for offenses including leaving animal blood and feces on public sidewalks, allowing grime to accumulate on butchering equipment, and other unsanitary conditions.
Not only are these markets cruel to the animals killed there (chickens, ducks, goats, sheep, cows and others), but they are hazardous to the health of the employees that work there and the customers who frequent them. Please let your legislators know your support the passage of this important legislation.
For both state bills:
Find your NY Senator’s email address here: https://www.nysenate.gov/find-my-senator
Find your NY Assembly Member’s email address here: https://nyassembly.gov/mem
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, or 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.