Meatless in Seattle: New initiatives carve out meat from school lunches and pave the way to nutritious lifestyles

By: Christy Wolyniak

The Humane League joined Seattle residents and local mom, Megan Murphy, in delivering petitions with over 1,500 signatures in support of Meatless Mondays to the Seattle Public School District’s nutrition department on Wednesday, June 11.

A growing international campaign, Meatless Mondays promotes vegetarian and healthier options for students one day a week while also decreasing the carbon footprint on the environment and perhaps sparing a few factory farm animals in the process. The Humane League calls it “taking a vacation from meat.”

“For most of us, the week begins on Monday –not just for kids but for people who go to work. Studies suggest that we are more likely to maintain behaviors on Monday and carry those throughout the week, which makes Monday the perfect day to change health and any sort of habits,” said Seattle Director for The Humane League, Rachel Huff-Wagenborg. “We have a three- pronged approach to benefiting health, humans, and animals.”

The movement first began during World War I by the U.S. government to save on resources. In 2003, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health installed The Monday Campaigns, cutting out meat from lunches one day a week in an effort to improve the health of students and the planet.

School districts in Los Angeles, Houston, Philadelphia, and San Diego have already adopted meat-free meals in the lunchroom, and many Seattle residents hope to see their local school district follow suit.

“Seattle seems to be so ahead of the curve on so many things, especially when it comes to sustainability and climate change. That is one thing the Meatless Monday program addresses: as we reduce the amount of meat on our plates, we reduce our carbon footprint,” said Huff-Wagenborg.

Statistics show that Americans are serious meat eaters. According to the USDA’s Agriculture Fact Book, Profiling Food Consumption in America, “In 2000, total meat consumption (red meat, poultry, and fish) reached 195 pounds (boneless, trimmed weight equivalent) per person, 57 pounds above the average annual consumption in the 1950s.”

Livestock’s Long Shadow, the United Nations’ comprehensive study on agricultural effects on the environment, reported that animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gasses than all forms of transportation combined and they urge the world to cut back on meat consumption. 

Well-known environmental groups encourage reducing meat consumption –including the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, Oxfam, and The Nature Conservancy.

While the types of meals turned out onto a child’s plate remain in the control of the Seattle Public School’s nutritional board, they must also still comply with USDA requirements. The National School Lunch Program served over 31.6 million children in the 2012 Fiscal Year, outlining even stricter requirements as of 2013.

The Humane League and other organizations hope to promote healthy choices and consider forgoing the cheeseburger or pizza slice at least for one day. Perhaps positive, healthier choices will stick because of Meatless Mondays, instead of grease and sugar in little bellies that can cause dietary issues and obesity.

“Some of the recipes I’ve seen are really mouth-watering, like a flavorful bean and rice burrito or spicy three bean chili. Our whole goal here is to introduce more fruits, vegetables, and legumes to kid’s diets,” said Huff-Wagenborg. “These foods also have phytochemicals which have disease-fighting properties, fiber, minerals, and iron.”

Students, surprisingly enough, are even warming up to leafier options. An elementary school in Queens recently announced that their campus was going 100 percent vegetarian, and with that, students’ test scores, attendance, and energy levels notably improved as sourced in the New York Daily News.

“Schools have an incredible opportunity—and responsibility—to help get kids eating healthy as they’re developing habits that will stick with them for a lifetime,” said Megan Murphy. “For the sake of our children’s health and the health of the planet, I hope Seattle Public Schools will embrace Meatless Monday.”

The Humane League has not found any opposition or drawbacks to incorporating Meatless Mondays. Seattle Public School Director of Nutritional Services, Wendy Weyer, says she is open to the idea, though meatless days may be slow to come to fruition and dependent on community feedback.

“We have been approached in the past and again this week with a request for us to consider a transition to a Meatless Monday or a single day during the week that meat is not offered as part of the school menu.  We value the time and effort that went into gathering the signatures on the petitions provided.  Our current plan for the fall is to continue to offer students a variety of entrée choices.  We will evaluate a transition to a weekly, bi-monthly or monthly meatless menu day.  I envision that evaluation will include some additional surveying in schools to gather input,” she said.

For more information on Meatless Mondays and The Humane League, visit http://www.thehumaneleague.com/.

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