It was a proud day for Barbara Gates when she sent her son Jack off to his first day in kindergarten. But one thing troubled her—there wasn’t a vegetarian item to be found on the lunch menu.
Barbara contacted the director of their Child Nutrition Department and was encouraged to submit suggestions for the menu. Barbara, with her friends Heike Suggs and Debbie Milligan-Fox (whose children also attended Jack’s school), founded Project Healthy Beginnings, a group of San Diego area parents who have worked to incorporate vegetarian and vegan alternatives into the school lunch menu. They assembled 12 plant-based lunches, all of which complied with USDA nutritional regulations. However, when they presented their suggestions, the Assistant Superintendent informed them that their “philosophy of life” was “not recognized or appropriate to promote.”
Still, they did not give up. Barbara scheduled meetings with California state representatives who might be interested in their cause. The very next day, Assembly-man Joe Nation said that he would author a resolution titled Assembly Concurrent Resolution No. 16, or ACR 16. Barbara spent several weeks making phone calls and writing e-mails to foster awareness of the resolution and to secure support. Finally, she testified at committee hearings, an experience she found “exhilarating and empowering,” but more importantly, she says, “My kids were proud of me.”
ACR 16 passed in June 2003 with an overwhelming majority. As a resolution, it sets a standard and serves as a guiding principle as opposed to a bill, which orders and requires change. ACR 16 requests that the appropriate California agencies develop and institute a daily vegan lunch that is equal in rotation and variation to the other lunch options. It also requests that the President of the California School Food Service Association report back to the Legislature by January 1, 2008, about the progress of these initiatives.
ACR 16 draws on information from organizations such as The American Dietetic Association, the United States Department of Agriculture, and the American Cancer Society when it states there should be “a greater emphasis in the American diet on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes with a reduction in consumption of animal foods.”
Thanks to Project Healthy Beginnings and ACR 16, the Child Nutrition Department in Barbara’s school district is now offering lacto-ovo vegetarian options more frequently and is making an effort to incorporate veggie burgers and a build-your-own baked potato bar. There has also been the addition of beans (as a meat alternate) and a bread component to school salad bars, allowing students to build an entire meat-free USDA meal from these stations. Salad bars in the Santa Monica and Berkeley school districts have become both popular and profitable because they have been marketed well.
So, what is next for Project Healthy Beginnings? Barbara says that she hopes that their success “will encourage other individuals in other states to start a Project Healthy Beginnings campaign. The groundwork has been laid, and I am anxious to share strategies and resources with others to make the process as easy and enjoyable as possible.” Twelve menu suggestions that comply with the current USDA school lunch nutritional regulations are available at the Project Healthy Beginnings website. Barbara expects that these suggestions will serve as a foundation for the School Food Service’s menu additions.
Most of all, Barbara encourages parents to take up the gauntlet for their children. “Something parents need to understand is that there are written regulations in the School Lunch Program that encourage and allow parents to contribute to menu planning,” she says. “I hope as more and more parents understand this right, they will help to advocate for the goals of ACR 16 in their own school districts.” As far as advice to parents interested in enacting similar resolutions in their states, Barbara says, “Believe… Begin… Be Strong—for your own kids and for all children.”
To learn more, visit Project Healthy BeginningsHeather Gorn is a frequent volunteer for Vegetarian Resource Group outreach and research efforts. She will attend the University of Pennsylvania as a freshman this fall.
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