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California Schools Cut Meat, Cheese From Lunches To Fight Global Warming

Oakland schools partnered with the environmental group Friends of the Earth (FOE) to fight global warming by making student lunches climate-friendly.

FOE gave kids a lunch menu designed to eliminate foods it says are “unsustainable for our planet.” The new menu features far less meat and more plant-based food. Any meat or cheese the school did use came from “pastured, organic dairy cows.” The student’s lunch menu went from beef hot dogs and pepperoni pizza to vegan stir fry tofu and vegan tostadas. The new FOE-approved menu served meat and cheese-less frequently and reduced the portion sizes.

“This is a landmark moment for school food,” Jennifer LeBarre, head of nutrition services for Oakland Unified School District, said in a FOE press statement. “We were so excited to see how the data showed that we could reduce our carbon and water footprint by serving healthy, delicious food –– like the vegetarian tostadas with fresh made in-house salsa, that kids absolutely love –– all while saving money.”

The district and FOE claimed the lunch program was healthier than before, but only on the basis that food from plants is typically healthier than meat. The study justifies its health claims by stating average poultry consumption fell. FOE did not undertake an actual study into whether or not the lunches improved student health.

FOE says total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the school lunch program declined by 14 percent. The total change is equivalent to taking roughly 127 cars off the road for a year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) official calculator. The activists also claim lunch program costs fell 1 percent.

FOE says it partnered with the school to provide a “roadmap for change” to encourage other schools to fight global warming via student lunches. The green group hopes Oakland’s example will encourage numerous other school districts to switch to a similar menu.

If every school district in the U.S. followed Oakland, the reduced CO2 emissions would be equal to removing 150,000 cars from the roads, according to FOE.

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“While our study focused on school food, it’s clear that meat and cheese reduction is a powerful climate mitigation strategy for all restaurants and institutions that want to reduce their environmental impact,” Kari Hamerschlag, FOE’s deputy director of food and technology, said in a press statement. “We hope this report inspires more public institutions to serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost effective way to achieve both environmental and public health goals.”

Both the school district and the green group claim the meals are healthier as well, but research into similar programs has a poor track record of making such determinations.

Virginia Tech researchers tracked financially vulnerable kids who got free school meals from kindergarten to eighth grade and found those feasting on government meals were more likely to become overweight. Children with the highest chance of being overweight or obese consumed one-third to one-half of their daily meals at school, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture study.

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