Plant-Forward Schools Initiative

The Plant-Forward Schools Initiative was started by a committee of Needham climate activists. Last year (2019) we collaborated with Representative Denise Garlick to host, “Food, Planet, Health: Connecting the Dots for Massachusetts.” This gathering brought together stakeholders in the fields of public health, agriculture, food services, sustainable development, entrepreneurship, and policymaking, to discuss the impact of the American diet on our planet and health.

The meeting included a presentation by Dr. Walter Willett, Fredrick John Stare Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition; Chair, Department of Nutrition; Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, and lead author of the Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems.”

The Plant-Forward Schools Initiative was started to advocate for feasible changes to school food programs that align with the recommendations of the EAT-Lancet Commission and the 2019 IPCC Special Report, “Climate Change and Land.” 

Recent studies have concluded that we cannot meet our Paris Agreement climate goals, or provide a healthy diet to 10 billion people by 2050, without a 50% reduction in meat consumption (particularly red meat). It’s time for an honest conversation about the impact our diet is having on the planet and our health. Plant-Forward Schools needs your help to get this conversation started.

The global food system is estimated to be responsible for as much as 25% of greenhouse gas emissions generated by humans annually. The vast majority of these emissions are attributable to the high animal-protein (particularly red meat) diets of wealthy countries. In addition to the climate impacts, epidemiological studies suggest that red and processed meats are bad for human health. Red meat is correlated with higher risks of chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some cancers. Processed meats have also been classified by the World Health Organization as “carcinogenic to humans.” Yet, processed meats are served to children daily as part of school food programs throughout the country.

Nationally, school lunch programs are effectively the largest restaurant chain in the U.S., serving more than 5 billion meals annually. Over 121 million of these meals are served here in Massachusetts. This means we have an incredible opportunity to have a significant impact on emissions, as well as children’s health outcomes, through the Massachusetts nutritional guidelines for schools. In fact, changes to the school food program nutritional guidelines is arguably the lowest cost and most immediately implementable mitigation action the State could take right now.

For this reason, Plant-Forward Schools Initiative  will be presenting the following requests to the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Schools (DESE):

  1. Implementation of statewide Meatless Mondays,
  2. Removal of processed meats from school menus,
  3. Reduction in the amount of red meat served per week.