July 29, 2021

New bill Would Provide More Plant-Based Choices in Schools

New bill Would Provide More Plant-Based Choices in Schools

Two Democratic members of Congress, Nydia M. Velazquez (D-NY) and Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D (D-NY), have recently introduced a bill that would create a voluntary grant program for school districts to help schools provide additional plant-based options. The “Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act” is intended to help combat the climate crisis as well. 

“At the same time as we invest urgently in the transition to renewable energy, we must build sustainable food systems at every level of our society — and our public education system can lead the way,” said Bowman in a press release. “As usual, our young people understand this best: students and their families have been clamoring for healthy, plant-based, and culturally appropriate meal options at school. I am proud to stand with Rep. Velázquez in introducing this bill, which would advance food justice in marginalized communities, support local farmers of color, and nourish all Americans while fighting the climate crisis."

The funding through the “Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act” would provide for culinary training and technical assistance for school foodservice operators and staff, procurement costs of plant-based sources of protein and milk from socially disadvantaged producers, local producers, and women, veteran, and beginning farmers, marketing and student engagement, such as conducting taste tests and providing nutrition education, additional labor costs incurred in preparing and serving plant-based options, and partnering with small-to-medium-sized plant-based food businesses and producers for professional development and training.

The press release provided by the representatives indicates that “research has shown, eating plant-based foods can help people maintain a healthy weight, reduce the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and protect against certain forms of cancer and other diseases,” but does not reference any research to support the claim. Gary Truitt, the founder of Hoosier Ag Today, a broadcasting company whose purpose is to serve the informational needs of Indiana farm families, published a commentary on the new legislation. Truitt, who opposes the bill, states “While there is nothing wrong with offering plant-based foods in schools as an option, to have the government mandate change and back it up with taxpayer dollars is bad policy.”

It is important to consider the nutritional needs of school-aged children. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) specify that “adolescents are at greater risk of dietary inadequacy than are other age groups.” Specifically, adolescent females consume less meat, poultry, and eggs than any age group and are more likely to be deficient in iron, folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. The DGA recommends a “Healthy Vegetarian Dietary Pattern” for those ages 2 years and older but a recent study published in The Journal of Nutrition has demonstrated that the “ounce equivalents” used by the DGA for protein food sources are not nutritionally equal. The study concludes that “the magnitude of anabolic response to specific dietary proteins should be considered in the development of new DGAs with regard to recommended Healthy Eating Patterns, particularly those for which protein sources are plant-based.”