Students wait in line for free lunches at the Paly cafeteria. “There are some students who are apprehensive [about more plant-based meals] — they don’t want all of the meat options taken away — and some students are just grateful for the Universal Meals program and they don’t really want to alter it,” said junior Margot Blanco. Photo by Neil Rathi. (Neil Rathi)
Students wait in line for free lunches at the Paly cafeteria. “There are some students who are apprehensive [about more plant-based meals] — they don’t want all of the meat options taken away — and some students are just grateful for the Universal Meals program and they don’t really want to alter it,” said junior Margot Blanco. Photo by Neil Rathi.

Neil Rathi

Students push to get more vegan meals on the school menu

February 6, 2022

Several Palo Alto High School students are leading a campaign to get more plant-based lunches on the menu through a petition which now has over 339 signatures. 

Although over 25% of the Paly population is vegetarian, vegan, or pescatarian, according to an opt-in, anonymous Anthro survey of 117 students conducted from Jan. 18 to Jan. 20, there often aren’t any fully plant-based options on the school’s lunch menu. Through their petition, juniors Margot Blanco and Morgan Greenlaw, along with several other students, are trying to change that.

“The nutrition team is a little apprehensive about taking on this project just because they would have to change some meal options,” Blanco said. “So our petition is a way of showing that students are in support of this change and that students care about the environment and the food they’re receiving.”

Greenlaw and Blanco are hoping that after the petition gains more traction, they can speak to administrators, gather data, and broaden their campaign.

“Next steps are going to be to get more detailed information on the current menu and budget and how other schools have done this and just gathering a lot of information,” Greenlaw said.

Blanco and Greenlaw are working with the nonprofit organization Friends of the Earth to speak with administrators and work out the logistics of changing school lunch menus. Friends of the Earth is a nonprofit organization that helps students with environmental activism.

Though Blanco and Greenlaw said that though many students they talked to supported more plant-based food options, some are still skeptical. To these students, Greenlaw would clarify that the free lunch program is not being taken away, and that there would still be meat options available if they implemented their plan.

“We’re not going to make all the food options vegan at the cafeteria,” she said. “That’s not what’s going to happen. We just want more variety and we want a fully plant-based option each day.”

You don’t have to be 100% vegan your entire life to make a difference. Every single choice we make does have an impact.”

— Morgan Greenlaw

More vegan options may be difficult to implement due to the higher cost of plant-based foods, according to Alva Spence, Palo Alto Unified School District student nutrition director.

“The Food Service Department operates on a budget and the change to add any plant-based items will have to be discussed as … plant-based items are not built into our current budget,” Spence said.

Spence said that she would also want more student input before considering changing the menus.

“All students that currently participate in the meal program should be surveyed for their input before any changes of this type should be considered,” she said. “I appreciate and respect that there is a petition for these items to be added; however, we should make sure that we are hearing the voices of (all) students that participate.”

Despite these anticipated difficulties, Blanco and her team are still pushing for change. Blanco said her devotion to the cause comes from the multifaceted benefits plant-based eating can provide.

“These problems are so inextricably linked to so many social problems that we have like racial justice issues, environmental problems, health problems,” she said. “A significant number of slaughterhouse workers are low income people of color, many who are undocumented, and who depend on these jobs to provide for their family. They’re susceptible to dangerous work conditions, but are threatened with deportation if they report any injury.”

Greenlaw said she hopes that even if Paly students don’t go fully vegan or even vegetarian, they start implementing more plant-based options into their diets. She said this was her reason for using “plant-based” in her language, rather than “vegan.”

“You don’t have to be 100% vegan your entire life to make a difference,” she said. “Every single choice we make does have an impact.”

Blanco said that, before this campaign, she didn’t believe her voice or her opinions could make a tangible difference. She said that her advocacy for plant-based eating has changed that.

“Up until we started the campaign a couple of weeks ago and I started researching more into what I could do, I was always so skeptical of these campaigns, believing that my voice, my opinions, wouldn’t really impact a community of so many people,” Blanco said.

 

 

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