Bean-based burgers, tofu burritos, veggie stir fry — these are just a few of the options that New York City public school kids might be able to choose starting this fall when the city introduces its “Meatless Mondays” school breakfast and lunch program.
The city is enacting the new dietary protocol to improve kids’ health outcomes and become more sustainable. A pilot program will be tested in Brooklyn this spring, and from there it will be rolled out to all city schools.
“Meatless Mondays are good for our students, communities, and the environment,” said schools chancellor Richard A. Carranza in the city’s press release. “Our 1.1 million students are taking the next step toward healthier, more sustainable lives. Our students and educators are truly leaders in this movement, and I salute them!”
Meatless Mondays is a concept that supposedly originated during World War I, when the US government tried to save money and food supplies by encouraging citizens to go without meat one day a week.
The modern iteration of the food trend is more of a health, wellness, and environmental movement championed on social media channels. The power couple Beyoncé and JAY-Z have called on their fans to adopt Meatless Mondays and other sustainable dietary choices to reduce their ecological footprints.
A growing body of research has shown that excess meat consumption is bad for both human health and the environment. Processed meat, like the cold cuts found in school cafeterias, has been tied to various health problems. The meat production industry, meanwhile, is one of the leading causes of deforestation, water pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions in the world.
One study argues that Americans need to eat 90% less meat in order to protect the planet from catastrophic climate change.
For New York, Meatless Mondays are a way to instill sustainable values in young people.
“Reducing our appetite for meat is one of the single biggest ways individuals can reduce their environmental impact on our planet,” Mark Chambers, director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, said in the press release. “Meatless Mondays will introduce hundreds of thousands of young New Yorkers to the idea that small changes in their diet can create larger changes for their health and the health of our planet.”
The move further distinguishes the city as a leader in the nationwide effort to reform school lunch programs.
In 2017, the city made school lunch and breakfast free for all students to reduce nutrition inequality, promote better learning environments, and help kids grow properly.
All around the world, school lunch menus have become avenues for positive social change. In Brazil, four cities are planning to introduce vegan school lunches to promote health and fight climate change. In Kenya, the youth activist Wawira Njiru received the first ever Global Citizen Prize for Youth Leadership for her pioneering role in expanding access to school lunches in Kenya.
Global Citizen is currently campaigning to improve access to school lunches in Zambia to fight poverty and improve graduation rates.
New York’s efforts might be met with some skepticism by people who love to eat meat, but the change will help students learn about healthier lifestyle options.
“Learning to eat healthy food is one of the most important lessons our children can gain as part of their education, and access to healthy food is an essential part of our preventative care,” State Senator Alessandra Biaggi said in the press release. “As a vegetarian, I always appreciated having viable choices like this, for nutrition.”