Priscilla Feral got her idea from two people – her granddaughter, a kindergarten student; and Eric Adams, mayor of New York.
Feral said that, as her granddaughter was getting ready to enter public school, the family saw that the cafeteria lunch menu was heavy on hot dogs, cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizza.
In New York City, Mayor Adams declared that the nation’s largest school system would serve only vegan meals one day a week. Adams said his switch to a plant-based diet had helped reverse the effects of his type 2 diabetes.
Feral, president of Friends of Animals in Darien, decided that expanding on Adams’ effort to improve school lunch offerings would be good work for her international advocacy organization.
The goal is to overhaul the meat- and cheese-heavy National School Lunch Program by getting more public school cafeterias to offer vegan options every day, Feral said.
Vegan dishes contain no eggs, dairy or seafood, or anything that comes from an animal.
According to Friends of Animals, production of a vegan burger generates 90 percent less greenhouse gas than a quarter-pound of beef. It also requires significantly less energy and water, and is far less harmful to the land.
Production of beef, lamb, cheese and other animal-based products generate significantly more carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane – the greenhouse gases that trap energy and retain heat in Earth’s atmosphere, Feral said.
Schools are teaching about the climate crisis in classrooms, she said, and it makes sense to put environmental protections into practice in the cafeteria.
“We’re going to go community by community, state by state, to try to create a grassroots effort,” Feral said Wednesday. “The work will be grueling, but the rewards will be huge.”
She began in September with her granddaughter’s school district, Norwalk.
More than Meatless Monday
Schools spokeswoman Emily Morgan said the Norwalk district has had “a vegan option” on the menu for three years, and “we’ve always received positive feedback from students and parents on providing the option.”
But, after conversations between Friends of Animals and food services staff in Norwalk, and help from Norwalk Board of Education member Kara Nelson Baekey, the district will have a vegan option on the menu each day, starting next month, Feral said. Offerings will include hummus, plant-based chicken nuggets, sweet and crunchy chickpea wraps, plant-based “beef crumbles” and burgers, and a Mediterranean salad, Feral said.
“The Meatless Mondays movement started in school cafeterias years ago,” Feral said, but food served on those days was heavy with cheese, she said.
Friends of Animals is pushing for “vegan items, not vegetarian items, which contain eggs and dairy, and not just for schools to offer peanut butter and jelly sandwiches as an option,” Feral said.
Norwalk “did not remove all meat and cheese products, but they are offering a vegan choice every day in elementary, middle and high schools,” Feral said. “Now Norwalk is the gold standard.”
So is Middletown, where school officials implemented the vegan idea within a few weeks, Feral said.
“Middletown was primed,” she said. “Restaurants affect the culture of a town, and Middletown has a restaurant called It’s Only Natural that’s been there for decades. They also have a vegan food truck.”