by Michael dEstries
Categories: Eats
Tags: .

Earlier this week, President Obama said that he was “open to any idea, whether it comes from a Democrat or a Republican or a vegetarian.” Guess who was listening?

PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk has sent a letter to the White House urging the Obama administration to take a closer look at school lunches — and send them in a more veggie direction. “Teaching our children the benefits of vegetarian meals would save animals, help stop climate change, and help keep kids at a healthy weight as well as help them avoid our nation’s biggest and most costly killers—cancer, heart disease, and obesity,” she writes. “If promoting a vegetarian diet isn’t already part of the proposed stimulus package, it should be.”

I couldn’t agree more. I have no idea what the state of school lunches is like today, but 12 years ago I remember it being a mostly meaty affair. Would be great to see much more emphasis on local, organic, and vegetarian dishes for the nation’s children.

February 12, 2009
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Dear Mr. President,

On behalf of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and our more than 2 million members and supporters, thank you for saying that your administration is open to any idea, whether from “a Democrat or a Republican or a vegetarian.” May I suggest an idea that would indisputably bolster the economy, reduce work days lost, improve the health of our nation’s children, reduce medical costs, and spare millions of animals from needless suffering? Please direct the U.S. Department of Agriculture to end purchases of meat, eggs, and dairy products for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and replace them with healthy vegetarian foods like fruits, vegetables, veggie burgers, faux-chicken patties, and more.

As you know, obesity and its associated health problems have reached a crisis level that is now affecting our nation’s young people. America’s children are already overweight, and as they get older, their health-care costs will increasingly soak up money that could otherwise be invested in new American technology and businesses. As these children enter the workforce, the economy will suffer another blow as they take more sick days. Fortunately, the long- and short-term human and economic effects of the epidemic could be largely reversed by giving plant-based meals to children now in order to instill healthy eating habits in them.

As you know, vegetarian foods have no cholesterol and lots of fiber; meat, eggs, and dairy products contain a lot of cholesterol and have no fiber. No wonder that meat-eaters are nine times more likely to be obese than vegans are. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada are among the many health organizations that are reporting that vegetarians have “lower rates of death from ischemic heart disease; … lower blood cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and lower rates of hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and prostate and colon cancer.”

In addition to harming Americans’ health, the meat industry is a leading cause of environmental degradation and pollution, is energy intensive, and causes enormous animal suffering through debeaking, dehorning, castration, and other painful procedures, which are carried out without any painkillers. Conditions of intensive confinement, inhumane transport, and poorly regulated slaughterhouses also cause animals great stress and fear.

Because of the lobbying efforts of the meat and dairy industries, NSLP meals are heavy in saturated fat- and cholesterol-laden animal products. We ask you to direct the USDA to reverse its policy of propping up these politically powerful industries at the expense of our economy, our health, our children’s health, and animals.

A bright, healthy future for our economy and our children can begin with a nutritious, delicious vegetarian lunch in the school cafeteria. We would be happy to discuss this proposal further or to advise you on this issue. Thank you for your consideration.

Very truly yours,
Ingrid E. Newkirk

About Michael dEstries

Michael has been blogging since 2005 on issues such as sustainability, renewable energy, philanthropy, and healthy living. He regularly contributes to a slew of publications, as well as consulting with companies looking to make an impact using the web and social media. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his family on an apple farm.

View all posts by Michael dEstries →
  • jamie lynn

    i work in a after-school/weekend/summer program for children and my #1 complaint is the food they are fed. it is nothing short of disgusting. regular options are chocolate milk (made with corn syrup!), cheese bread (it’s bread with cheese on it people. where is the nutritional value?), and the few vegetables that make it into the mix are tired-looking–there is no way i would eat them. they have a “monitor” that checks the children’s trays to make sure they have each “food group” (like the “bread with cheese” group?!) so the program looks good on paper. but in reality, the kids throw away most of it uneaten and of course gravitate towards the unhealthy fare. they also offer chips and junk food snacks that the kids can purchase separately. guess what they prefer to eat? most “meals” are centered around a meat option (unless it’s bread-w/-cheese day) and like i said, they are monitored to make sure they take EACH food group.
    i know this is a bit long-winded, but being in the program, i have observed that most parents & the workers themselves think nothing of feeding children corn-syrup laden, greasy, empty carbohydrates for every meal. wake up people! juvenile diabetes & obesity are an epidemic now. we have conditioned children to want only bad food choices. they complain if we offer fruit for a snack and ask if they can have cookies instead! this needs to become a priority for our country if we want to stop our life expectancy and quality of life from deteriorating.
    *whew* okay, i’m done!

  • DJ Karma (VegSpinz)

    I remember being one of those kids- throwing away my regular lunch and having a candy bar and soda instead! I’m not so sure that I cared very much about what I put into my body at that age- and although the kids (and most likely a lot of the parents) will revolt, I think it is almost necessary to restrict some of the choices given to kids at school. At home, it’s up to the parents! If you think about it, it is only one meal out of their day that would be regulated- unconstitutional?

  • CrazyNat

    Okay, I’m in school right now, and what they feed us is pretty bad. Pizza, cheeseburgers, sandwiches, and a few other things. And fruits and veggies that taste like cardboard. Doesn’t give vegetarian kids (Like me) much of a choice.
    A lot of kids have complained, and the principal and many teachers agree too that the food is of poor quality, but they say that they can not do anything about it because they do not control the quality of the food. Chartwells does.

    Anyways, I hope Obama does something about that! :]

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  • Judson

    Why doesn’t the kid bring a sack lunch to school instead, rather than having a government institution /regulating/ each individual’s diet. That’s what I did for 13 years of public education. I think it’s ridiculous. Our republic should not be responsible for the eating habits of every child in the nation. That’s micro-managing to the extreme, and completely irresponsible on the part of a parent or individual.

  • Shannon

    At my Middle School,they offer Vegeterian choices,because it is required to have a choice for students who are vegeterians,which is great!

  • The Vegan Snorkeler

    It would be nice if public schools that teach basic nutrition and physical fitness (I think that PE and health classes are mandated) would also have healthy, whole foods available for school lunches.

  • s

    thank you, ingrid newkirk! school lunhes (at least here in ohio) are nothing but disgusting, unhealthy platters of death and slaughter of innocent animals! not only that, they taste like crap! i have to pack my lunch every single day because the only vegetarian thing at my school is a small salad-barely enough to feed a rabbit, forget about a teenager. oh wait-not even the salad is vegetarian, now that they’ve started adding chicken to it!!!
    shannon, you are soooooo lucky!!!

  • Vegan Soldier

    I did vote for the vegan school lunches and am sorry to see it wasn’t in the top 10.
    Lets hope that at least it bring the topic somewhat in the picture.

  • greg

    This is the first productive/non-fanatic thing I have heard of PETA doing, and I actually think this is a great idea.

    When i was in high school, 5 years ago, lunch consisted of mini pizzas, microwaveable burritos, and a few other less than appetizing entrees.
    I dont think it is cafeteria style in too many places anymore.
    It was set up more like a food-stand at an amusement partk.

  • Uncle Ray

    I to love to see PETA going a bit more main stream. There is hope!

  • Walski

    Childhood obesity, and obesity in general, are serious issues that will have severe consequences regarding the economic, cultural, and productive capacities of Americans in the future. However, when did it become necessary or morally ethical for the NSLP to stop feeding children meat, eggs, and dairy at school? The U.S. dept. of agriculture is not going to stop purchasing beef and dairy for school lunch programs, nor should they, because school lunch is not the culprit making American children overweight. If it were the schools making our kids fat in America, the NSLP would be rolling out veggie wraps and carrot sticks in the face of demanding parents. But they’re not, because they know that kids in this country are chronically overweight as the result of KFC bucket o’ chicken family dinners and 64ounce slurpees from 711 which are on almost every corner. As cliche as this may sound, it’s parents who are the culprits when it comes to fat kids. Of course there are genetic factors that play a role in body weight, but parents who feed their children toaster strudels with frosting for breakfast everyday before school and then order dominoes pizza for dinner, in between all the chips, candy, cookies, and soda that they allow their kids to snack on throughout the day, are either ridiculously naive as to why their children are overweight, or they just don’t care enough to replace the potato chips with some fresh pineapple or watermelon because they’re looking to gorge themselves on junk just as much as their kids are. If PETA wants to tackle the obesity problem in America, go after the parents and teach them something about smart shopping at the grocery store. The President has bigger fish to fry than to worry over school lunches. This letter from PETA should have been sent to every PTA in America, not the white house.

  • Renee

    Our government should be ashamed that we have produced a generation of obese children who are starved for nutrition.

    A starving child is a stupid child because his brain can’t function on fat and sugar.If you don’t care about the kids- care about yourself! This is the generation upon whom the boomers will rely on for food, shelter and safety.

    Shame on the USDA and all who govern public meals.

  • kb

    What is wrong with all you people?

    If you don’t like the choices on the school menu, pack your own lunch! It’s cheaper, better for the environment, and a lot better than standing in a line for half of lunch to order some cafeteria food!

    But noooooo; the government has to upturn the entire public school cafeteria system for you, so you can ‘go green’ and be crazy and vegan, while still being lazy and not just doing it yourself!
    Next you’re gonna complain that a high school with 5,000 students uses disposable plates instead of washing 4,000 dishes every day!

  • jamie lynn

    actually, kb, yes, i would like to complain about the waste that accompanies the awful “meals” at school. most schools now serve breakfast in addition to lunch, and with hundreds of students eating up to twice a day, that is some serious refuse! i have watched the janitor change out the bags in the five industrial-sized garbage cans in the cafeteria DURING a meal, that is how much waste is produced in uneaten food, wrappers, packaging, milk & juice cartons, and those evil styrofoam trays.

    there are better ways to do things. it is foolish to say “just pack a lunch” and ignore the wastefulness of the program as a whole. keeping the status quo here is just plain lazy & irresponsible.

  • PaganBudda

    I went to private catholic schools all my life, I thought the food was very good.
    pastas, pizza, crisp steamed veggies, etc.
    And yes some of the meals included meat, I see nothing wrong if it is cooked properly.
    Yum, I like eating tasty animal meat.

    btw, I have some friends who went to public schools, and I heard bad things about the food in some of those places.

  • Get Technical

    Kb, some schools won’t allow children to bring lunch (unless there is a specific medical reason). Crazy, but true.

    Jamie Lynn is right. So much food is wasted anyway, there needs to be an overhaul, both the sake of the planet and our children’s health.

    When they opt for soda from the machine and cheetoes every day (like I did, because 9/10 meals were gross) this isn’t helping the obesity epidemic in children.

    Not to mention, more soy and rice milk options are needed in public schools where there are high numbers of minority students (these populations have a higher prevalence of lactose intolerance AND are more likely to have 1-2 out of 3 of their best meals at school because of economic difficulties.)

  • spencer

    I think it woulfd be better to teach the kids about vegetarianism first and the health benefits of the occasional veggie meal, and then to turn them onto the veggie meal in their itinerary as a practical experiment where the kids are involved instead of having it rammed down their throats

  • VeggieTart

    It may not be healthy, but why not feed the kids veggie nuggets and veggie burgers that look and taste like their cruel counterparts. Look, kids like junk food. I know I did (and still do, although I haven’t been a kid for a couple of decades now). Heck, I’m old enough to remember having a president who wanted to reclassify ketchup as a vegetable.

    And there are a lot of poor kids out there whose parents can barely afford to put food on the table for a decent meal, so the school lunch is often their main meal.

  • Aelys

    How about nutrition classes and educating the parents in the first place? On this side of the Atlantic, it has proved to be way more efficient and beneficial than blaming the government for “not doing their job”/”not feeding the kids properly.” Good habits, whether eating or hygiene, are learnt at home first, from an early age.

  • Rebecca

    I think this is a great idea. Being a vegetarian high school student can be quite difficult. I wasn’t always a vegetarian and in the 4th grade I was told I had hypoglycemia. I know that it is in part because of the eating habits I was taught in elementary school. I don’t think parents realize how serious these diseases are! I personally know people who think it is cute that their 3 year old ways almost 100 pounds. IT is sickening. They are setting their children up for failure and a life full of health problems. Could you imagine how much money the government would save by feeding the children vegetarian options, at least sometimes?!
    Wow….good for PETA. Great idea and great cause.

  • muralimanohar

    I am completely and totally for the elimination of the slaughter of animals, and teaching children how to eat a better diet, having a Type 1 diabetes child (genetic, not environmentally caused) and seeing what the hospital nutritionist teaches parents is a healthy diet…barf.

    But calling for harming three entire industries, putting American farm families at risk due to loss of livelihood, and forcing schools to feed only vegan meals, not even cheese, which a lot of vegetarians even can’t give up, is basically going to guarantee that your suggestions are going to be ignored and laughed at in disbelief.

    It would be so much more practical and productive to suggest as workable way of reducing meat and dairy consumption in the meals, and upping the veggies and wholegrain content, to form a much more balanced, nutritional meal, that parents will actually pat themselves of the back for, rather than screaming blue murder that their child is being deprived of a healthy, “balanced” meal (you know and I know how much healthier a vegetarian balanced meal is, but in a nation that considers cheezwiz a viable calcium source, you have a much bigger fight on your hands just trying to teach them real nutrition vs believing the commercials with the Wonder Bread with 8 Essential Vitamins Added.)

    Once you have gotten the parents on board with a diet that actually consists of real food, THEN you can move towards a healthier version of that diet.

  • Ali

    At my high school, EVERY DAY is pizza day. Greasy, nauseating, pepperoni pizza. Oh, and limp french fries, too, of course. Just the smell is enough to make me sick. Let’s hope Mr. President is paying attention.