Since so many of you enjoyed the post about Elizabeth Puccini (co-founder of the NYC Green Schools, who has brought “Meatless Monday” to three New York City schools), I thought you might be interested in the full interview (click to the jump) about how easy it is to bring Meatless Monday to our nation’s schools. And as long as we’re on the subject of school lunch — you know what I’m going to ask — what did you think about Friday’s episode of Food Revolution. I’m disappointed again — I think Jamie is getting away from the issues a bit. I want more of what he gave us in the first episode — explaining the big picture of why this is so important. Enough of the manufactured drama with the local radio host. Do you guys feel energized to do something about your own caf? Come back to TFK later this week for some advice on how to start. And click to the jump to hear Puccini’s interview.
How did Meatless Monday at The East Village Community School , The Children’s Workshop School and P.S.94 come about?
The three schools share the same cafeteria and had already formed a nutrition committee when I joined as a parent of The Children’s Workshop School in September. At our first meeting with our DOE School Foods Manager, I was appalled to discover that meat was served every day to the children. Parents on the committee pointed out that this was not healthy for our children or our planet. Inspired by the Baltimore school system and their Meatless Monday program, we asked if we could have Meatless Mondays, and our School Foods Manager said yes. It was that simple.
Have there been other significant changes in your school’s food policy since the parent nutrition committee stepped in?
Absolutely, we no longer have chicken nuggets, french fries, or any other fried foods served at our schools. We have a salad bar that serves chickpeas and tofu. We will soon be the first schools in New York City to no longer serve beef, based on a recent report by The New York Times that revealed that the beef served in our public schools is treated with ammonia and is particularly susceptible to e-coli and other bacteria. We’re now experimenting with more plant-based meals to substitute for the beef and will soon be one of twenty schools in the city selected for a plant-based pilot program by the New York Coalition for Healthy School Foods, which will include educating the students about the health and environmental benefits of eating plant-based foods.
Can these victories be easily adopted by other city schools?
Yes. School Foods is obligated to meet the requests of parents and schools. Getting rid of fried foods, having a salad bar in the cafeteria, requesting Meatless Mondays are initiatives parents, with the support of their principals, can take on right away. If parents want to make more substantial changes to their lunch menus, than they need to make sure their school has a fully functioning kitchen. If not, they need to tell their School Foods Manager that they want one. Otherwise, they will be very limited in the changes they can make.
Do the students have a favorite meatless entrée?
Pasta with tomato sauce is the favorite right now. But soon we’ll be having a taste test with the children, so they can sample other meatless options like bean burritos, vegetarian chili, and black-bean burgers. Our goal is to bring more variety to our Meatless Mondays and introduce more plant-based foods throughout the week.
What has their overall response been to the initiative?
I think students are beginning to appreciate the health and environmental consequences of the food that they eat, because when you take away the meat, their first question is why. That begins a dialogue about why it’s so important to eat less meat andmore plants.
What advice would you give to other parents who want to ensure nutritious cafeteria options?
I would advise parents to get involved and know that they have the power to demand change. They should form a nutrition committee with parents from the other schools in their building and get the support of their principals. They should arrange a meeting with their School Foods Manager (every school is assigned one) and speak with them about the changes they want to see to their menu. They should let their Manager know that they want to join our Meatless Monday campaign. For more information about forming a nutrition committee and getting started, they should visit our blog nycgreenschools.org.