This “food fight” is not only about my child’s right to participate in the National School Lunch Program, it’s also about my child’s right to survive on this planet… and, it’s about the God given right animals have to live a natural life.
My son had only begun kindergarten when I began to rock the boat. I was simply asking for healthy plant based lunches in the cafeteria and balanced nutrition education in the classroom. I was totally ignorant of school district bureaucracy and PTA politics.
My Superintendent officially rejected my request as “inappropriate,” the PTA’s priority was parties, and the lunch ladies were downright mean to me. I remember calling the Vegetarian Resource Group for guidance. The voice on the other end of the phone forewarned me, “we’ll talk in 5 years and you’ll still be fighting this food fight.”
This “food fight” is not only about my child’s right to participate in the National School Lunch Program, it’s also about my child’s right to survive on this planet… and, it’s about the God given right animals have to live a natural life. It turned out there were other moms willing to fight for the future – okay, 2 others – but we appointed ourselves the PTA health committee and we had a radical idea: legislation. We were going to ask our legislators to pass a state resolution calling for schools to provide daily plant based vegetarian school lunches as a way to combat obesity and other diet related diseases, and as a way to make the National School Lunch Program accessible to all children, including those in the religious minority who abstain from eating animal foods.
The process of getting the Healthy Lunch Act / Assembly Concurrent Resolution (ACR) 16 passed was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I knew nothing of the political process, but I quickly learned that it really is accessible to the average person willing to advocate for a worthy cause, and willing to ask for help. I called my effort Project Healthy Beginnings (which has since morphed into Project Lean and Green Schools.) My first request for help was in the form of a group email I put out (which was forwarded many times over, I’m sure), calling for a “delegation” to meet me at the Capitol building in Sacramento so we could solicit a politician to “author” our resolution. Three fantastic women (and complete strangers to me) stepped up, including Johanna, founder of SoyHappy! We met at the Capitol building, enjoyed coffee and introductions, and that very same day became lobbyists for the first time in our lives. It was exhilarating.
We visited the offices of legislators who had a good track record for children’s health issues and/or environmental issues. We presented them with a packet that included a draft of our hopeful resolution, support articles, and letters of endorsement, including a petition from the Crest Elementary PTA. In one day, we had our bill’s “author,” Joe Nation of Marin County. His school age daughter was a vegetarian. He got it. And as it turns out, a lot of smart legislators “got” how beneficial plant based vegetarian meals could be for children’s health and the environment.
Word spread, and our PTA committee grew from 3 determined moms to a large coalition of support, which included major health organizations, major environmental organizations, and volumes of support letters from school kids and concerned citizens. ACR 16 passed with astounding bi-partisan support in 2003 …and then similar resolutions passed in New York, Florida, and Hawaii.
I founded Project Lean and Green Schools (PLGS) in 2008. Jack was 15. It began with a website and testimony at one of seven USDA “listening sessions,” held around the United States taking public comment regarding re-authorization of the Child Nutrition Act. I called an old college friend and passionate mom in Alabama and convinced her to testify too, at the listening session in her state. We were heard. When the official USDA summary of comments was released, the request for plant based vegetarian school lunches was included in the opening statement!
PLGS received 501c(3) non-profit status in December of 2009. PLGS outreach and programs continue to grow. The movement for shifting from animal to plant protein is no longer deemed “inappropriate.” It is an uphill battle, but our children are worth it. Change is possible, and it’s happening because individuals are simply finding the courage to speak up and take action. The PTA isn’t such a bad place to start – and its kinda fun, too. Visit Project Lean and Green Schools to learn more.
Barbara Gates is a concerned mom and the person behind the passage of the 2003 Healthy School Lunch Resolution (ACR 16) in California. Today, Gates runs the non-profit Project Lean and Green Schools to continue her effort at opening the door to nutritious and vegetarian lunches in public schools. In this article, she tells us about her experience with the legislative system and how ACR16 was passed.