Los Angeles School District Looks to Add Vegan Meals to School Lunch Program 

Los Angeles School District Poised to Replace McDonald's and Processed Meat with Vegan Food 
iStock/XiXinXing

The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second-largest school district home to more than 665,000 students, may soon see some major changes to its school lunch and fundraising programs. It’s facing a lawsuit aimed at removing processed meat from all menus, and two significant resolutions: one would require vegan meals be offered at every school, and another would cut ties with McDonald’s, eliminating the fast-food chain sponsored McTeacher’s Night fundraisers.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group, joined forces with several Southern California teachers, filing a lawsuit aimed at removing processed meats from school lunch menus.

The lawsuit was filed against the Los Angeles and Poway school districts, stating that processed meats violate the state’s own education code requiring students have access to foods with the “greatest nutritional value possible” and be of the “highest quality.”

That, the group says, is certainly not found in any type of processed meat, according to a 2015 study issued by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer that linked processed meats — bacon, ham, sausage, etc — to increased risk of certain types of cancer.

“When you look at all the science that’s coming out and pretty much universal consensus that processed meats are carcinogens, it makes it pretty clear that any school that’s serving processed meat is not meeting the state standard,” Mark Kennedy, vice president of legal affairs for the Physicians Committee told the Daily News.

“A generation ago, America tackled tobacco. It took time and a lot of arm-twisting, but eventually cigarettes were banned from airports, restaurants, hospitals, and even the teachers’ lounge in every school in the country,” Dr. Neal Barnard, founder and president of PCRM recently told Vice. “Today, the issue is food.”

According to Barnard, “scientifically, there is no argument.” He says adults know better, especially since there’s currently so much science linking processed meat consumption to heart disease, early death, as well as cancer. “Everybody knows we shouldn’t be serving this stuff to children,” he says.

The American Association of Meat Processors defended its industry in a statement. “Processed meats make up a safe and nutritious part of a balanced diet and there is no scientific data to support removing them from school menus for being unhealthy,” Chris Young, AAMP’s executive director, said.

But even if processed meats are allowed to remain on the menu, a resolution backed by LAUSD school board President Steve Zimmer, who adheres to a plant-based diet himself, would require LAUSD to launch a pilot vegan meal program in select schools next fall, with plans to roll it out to all schools.

Citing an “epidemic” of diet-related illnesses such as obesity and type-2 diabetes, the anti-McDonald’s fundraising resolution points to the nation’s second-largest school district as having an obligation “to promote the health of children, which leads to better attendance, improved behavior, lower incidence of illness, and increased attention, creativity and academic achievement.”

The McDonald’s sponsored events contradict that obligation, says the resolution. McTeacher’s Nights bring students and parents to local McDonald’s where the teachers work the restaurant counters and a portion of proceeds go to the schools.

Current school guidelines ban any corporate sponsorship from companies that sell products harmful to children, including fast food and soda, but the McTeacher’s Nights have slipped under the radar, with more than 120 events held in the district between 2013 and 2016, reports the Los Angeles Times.

“This is about being sure that our policies actually mean something, that we’re not directly participating in the marketing of food with high-caloric, high-fat content,” Zimmer told the Times. If the resolution passes, LAUSD will be the first school district to break all ties with junk food and fast food companies.

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Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.