By California State PTA Resolutions Committee and Maya Bhandari, Student Board Member, California State PTA Student Involvement Committee
We are pleased to announce that the delegates to the 2022 California State PTA Convention adopted a new resolution titled: Plant-Based Food Options at School Meals. This new resolution will help all California State PTA members advocate for school breakfast and lunch programs that provide balanced, nutritious meals, and promote equity for all children and youth. Its primary author, California State PTA Student Board Member Maya Bhandari, tells us:
“I believe California schools have a responsibility to equitably provide healthy meals to all children. This PTA resolution demonstrates that providing plant-based meal options improves children’s health and our environmental footprint while reducing costs.”
Our state Resolutions Committee Chair, Beth Graves Meyerhoff interviewed Bhandari. Here is a summary of their conversation:
Meyerhoff: How did the issues addressed in this resolution come to your attention?
Bhandari: After talking to students in my community and statewide online about the lack of plant-based meals in schools, I brought the idea to California State PTA’s Student Involvement Committee. Together we wrote the resolution and it received approval from the Board of Managers to submit it to the delegates at the 2022 California State PTA convention. It gives both local and state PTAs authority to advocate for a plant-based meal option to be offered as a regular part of all school meals. This resolution, entitled Plant-Based Food Options at School Meals, offers three primary benefits: (1) equitable access to nutritious meals, (2) a decrease in detrimental health effects on children, and (3) reducing the environmental impact of the food schools provide.
Meyerhoff: Why is this resolution needed now?
Bhandari: Food allergies and dietary restrictions that are common among non-European people have largely been overlooked when it comes to school meals. In addition, students who have religious or moral objections to having animal protein should not be discriminated against. Plant-based meals are the most universally accepted foods for the diversity of cultures, religions, and food allergies with which students identify.
Plus, plant-based meals will also have material environmental benefits. Meat production is one of the most significant contributors to environmental problems, including waste, energy use, water consumption, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emissions according to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Another report documents that plant-based food production is significantly more sustainable.
Meyerhoff: Can you share some examples of how the lack of plant-based meals impacts students?
Bhandari: Sure! California students share stories about their food choices and challenges online:
“Every time my tribes-people and I have a lot of dairy and meat, we become ill,” said Henry, a Mojave Native American student from Springville, CA, and a friend of mine. “But, we depend on free school lunch and food stamps. So, we have to choose between going hungry or eating food that physically makes us sick.”
“I feel marginalized at school because my beliefs are not mainstream,” said Asha, an Indian-American senior at Mission San Jose High School. “My Jain principles forbid me from having animal protein. My school does not offer any viable options, so I have to forgo free school lunches that everyone else gets. Instead, I have to make and bring in my own food every day.”
“I had a malignant ovarian tumor removed that was caused by my animal protein consumption,” said Sophia, a Honduran-American senior at Salinas High School in Salinas. “Since I am trying to spare my other ovary, I cannot eat school lunches, since they do not provide non-animal protein options.”
Meyerhoff: How will the change to plant-based meals impact local schools and school districts?
Bhandari: The cost of serving plant-based meals is potentially lower. A two-year pilot at Oakland Unified School District serving more plant-based meals resulted in $42,000 in cost savings annually while achieving a 14% reduction in carbon footprint and 6% reduction in water use.
Meyerhoff: How can local PTA/PTSAs and PTA members use this new authority?
Bhandari: This resolution will give all PTA members authority to support all students including students like Henry, Asha, and Sophia. PTA members can advocate locally in their schools and on legislation at the state and federal levels. We all need to advocate that healthy and universally accepted plant-based meals be offered in schools.