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The San Diego Unified School District voted in favor of meatless Mondays in the city's schools.The San Diego Unified School District voted in favor of meatless Mondays in the city's schools.

San Diego Schools Join Meatless Monday Movement

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A few months ago, the Los Angeles School district hopped on the Meatless Monday bandwagon, by offering only vegetarian lunch options on Mondays. Now California’s second-largest school district is following suit.

In a 4-1 vote, the San Diego school board voted in favor of Meatless Mondays in the city’s elementary schools, in an effort to improve the health of both students and the planet. Public health data shows that approximately 28 percent of San Diego’s youth fall into the overweight or obese category. Supporters of Meatless Mondays hope that promoting a plant-based diet will help teach students about healthier food options.

Of course, the plan was met with opposition. The lone board member who voted against the change cited a need for “proper analysis of the proposal.” Other opponents, including the meat industry, also fought against the Meatless Monday option.

According to UT San Diego, these skeptics believe the school should “pass up this trend since students already have daily vegetarian choices — including salad bars stocked with locally grown produce, vegetarian chili and tofu entrees — in addition to daily chicken and beef dishes. Some expressed concern that poor students who rely on subsidized meals (65 percent qualify for subsidized lunch based on family income) for the bulk of their daily nutrition need the protein that comes with eating meat.”

However, the Meatless Monday plan was met with huge support by parents, health professionals and students. Lawrence Hansen, a professor at the UC San Diego medical school, is a big proponent of plant-based foods and an ethical vegetarian.

“I have five reasons why the district should adopt Meatless Mondays: heart disease, cancer, strokes, diabetes and obesity,” said Hansen. “I think there is some karma involved. The less cruelty we impose on animals, the healthier we are.”

It’s important to note that the new Meatless Monday plan applies only to San Diego’s elementary schools (although both UC San Diego and the University of San Diego have both joined the Meatless Monday movement). The middle and high schools will continue to have meat and vegetarian options at the beginning of the week, and elementary students are allowed to bring meat-based lunches from home.

Nevertheless, there’s a definite shift toward plant-based eating happening. Board Vice President Kevin Beiser said that the new plan will force students to at least try vegetarian foods, when they might not otherwise make that choice. And conscious vegetarianism is spreading among the students. Joel Vettel, a San Diego fifth-grader and lifelong vegetarian, was honored with a framed copy of the Meatless Monday resolution, as well as a gift card to a local veg restaurant (the resolution happened to go into effect on Vettel’s eighth birthday).

Vettel couldn’t be happier about the change. “This will helps kids eat more healthy. Eating healthy also gives you more energy. I have a lot of energy,” he said.

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