See H.R. 4108 The Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Act of 2021 Below for Details to Take Action
Below you will find actions that you can take at the federal, state, and local level. Help make a difference and get involved. In addition to legislative action, you can Create Change in your own local school district. Your voice does matter, and you can make a difference!
You can find your Senator here (use down arrow to select your state) and your Congressperson here (enter zip code in top right corner) if you wish to communicate with them about these bills. Go to the Take Action section to find out how to make your voice heard.
The Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization of 2021
The Child Nutrition Act Reauthorization of 2021 (CNR) is Congress’ process of scrutinizing and updating all laws that govern child nutrition programs. The CNR process generally occurs every five years. However, the last time Congress reauthorized these programs was in 2010, when it passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. Despite the fact that the CNR process has not happened for many years, federal child nutrition programs continue to operate without reauthorization.
Over the past several years (starting pre-pandemic) there have been some roll-backs of the nutrition standards set out in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. For example, some roll-backs are that school lunchrooms have the flexibility to provide not only flavored milk that is skim, but also 1%; stepwise sodium reductions have been paused, and the whole grain standard has been weakened. These weakened standards were completely unnecessary, and were industry driven. The vast majority of schools at the time were meeting the standards. Now, because of pandemic-related labor shortages and supply-chain issues, the USDA has issued many waivers giving schools more flexibility to meet federal nutritional guidelines. This is completely understandable. On Sept. 15, 2021, the USDA issued a waiver preventing school meal programs from being financially penalized if they fail to meet the guidelines because of supply-chain issues. It has also increased the rate it will reimburse schools for the cost of food products. While these pandemic related roll-backs are important for providing flexibility to schools that struggle to feed their students, we expect that the standards will be reinstated once the supply chain and labor crisis have been averted.
This year, let’s remind our Federal Congresspersons and Senators that we want more positive steps to be taken towards our kids’ health! Two very important high-priority marker bills (a marker bill is a piece of legislation introduced in Congress that’s not actually intended to pass as a standalone bill, but rather is intended for inclusion in a larger bill) under the Child Nutrition Reauthorization are the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Act of 2021 (H.R. 4108) and the Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 (S. 1530 / H.R. 3115).
Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Act of 2021
H.R. 4108 is a federal bill introduced by Representative Velazquez (NY) that establishes a grant-based pilot program to support schools in providing healthy, climate-friendly plant-based meals to students. Specifically, this legislation provides funds for:
- Professional development training for food service personnel on serving (including preparing, procuring, marketing, and creating menus) plant-based food options
- Technical assistance, pupil engagement and education on plant-based food and plant-based milk options, including providing taste tests, recipe development, and culinary education
- Outreach to agricultural producers of meat alternates including socially disadvantaged farmers and local farmers
Importantly, this legislation prioritizes schools that have a high proportion of kids from financially disadvantaged backgrounds and who serve a high proportion of kids eligible for free or reduced price lunch, thus giving our country’s most vulnerable kids the chance to eat healthy, culturally-appropriate meals that helps them be better prepared for school each day.
The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021
The Universal School Meals Program Act of 2021 (S. 1530 / H.R. 3115), introduced by Senators Bernie Sanders (VT) and Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Representatives Ilhan Omar (MN) and Gwen Moore (WI), would ensure that every child has access to free meals at school, after school and during the summer, regardless of income. This critical program would reduce childhood hunger, enhance school readiness among children, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement. Call your Congressional Representative today to voice your support of this bill!
Other Priorities for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization
- All students should have access to a non-dairy milk option. This is important because the majority of the world’s population is lactose intolerant. This is a normal condition because mammals are not designed to digest dairy after weaning, including that of another species. This condition especially affects BIPOC, with half or more (up to 95% of Asians, for example) of the BIPOC community having lactose intolerance. It does not impact most whites because 80% of whites have a genetic mutation that allows them to continue digesting dairy after weaning. The lack of a non-dairy option is discriminatory and requires immediate attention.
- Offering more than one 100% plant-based option for breakfast, lunch and snack (the one most schools already offer is a nut-butter sandwich.)
- Elimination of artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives in school food. These are the hallmarks of processed food, and do not provide any benefit to children.
Relates to requiring public schools to offer plant-based food options in food service
Bill in New York State introduced by League of Humane Voters of New York 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, at least at a point in the past, 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 Assemblyperson 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.