California becomes the first state to fund plant-based school meals

Kids eating lunch

Photo: skynesher/iStock

California becomes the first state to fund plant-based school meals

Photo: skynesher/iStock

At Farm Sanctuary, we advocate for a sustainable, compassionate, and just food system in which healthful, plant-based foods are accessible to all. Alongside other advocacy groups, we celebrate the California State Legislature’s historic investment in plant-based school meals through its new $300 billion budget. The budget for the 2023 fiscal year includes:

  • $100 million to expand plant-based and sustainable meal offerings in schools
  • $600 million for school kitchen infrastructure and for training, compensating food service workers, and increasing food budgets. That includes preparing plant-based meals and culinary training, which are critical factors in expanding plant-based menus.

Increased access to plant-based meals at school is a monumental win for students. These options can provide relief for students who observe various diets for cultural or religious reasons, or those with food allergies or intolerances. For youth concerned about animal welfare and environmental crises, this funding will enable them to make food choices that better align with their values.

Morgan Greenfield, a rising senior from Palo Alto, California, campaigned for and succeeded in securing plant-based options in her school’s cafeteria last year. “Eating a plant-based lunch is a small habit with a huge potential for change. We wanted to amplify this impact in a school environment, so started a campaign that established a daily plant-based option. Not only does this provide nourishing food for students to perform well in school, but it shows that plant-based eating can be easy and delicious,” says Greenfield, a member of Farm Sanctuary’s Youth Leadership Council, a national network of youth food system advocates. “I am so excited about the additional funding, because it will reduce this concern and give schools the opportunity to find a way to introduce healthier lunches for all.”

Not only does this provide nourishing food for students to perform well in school, but it shows that plant-based eating can be easy and delicious.

Morgan Greenfield, a member of Farm Sanctuary's Youth Leadership Council

This funding follows the dedicated work of Assemblymembers Adrin Nazarian, D-CA, and Ash Kalra, D-CA, who have championed healthy, compassionate, and climate-friendly school meals through their sponsorships of AB 558. We applaud their leadership, as well as the collaborative effort by cross-movement advocacy groups, students, parents, and school district leaders.

“I am very excited to see plant-based school meals included in this year’s budget. Having this optional program for schools, in addition to their existing meat and dairy menus, will allow for an inclusive selection for our students,” Assemblymember Nazarian said in a statement. “Many school districts across our state have a sizable student population that requires or wants plant-based or restricted diet options and cannot afford the sometimes-higher prices. This year’s budget is a sizable step towards empowering schools to respond to their students’ needs.”

Now, it’s on all of us to ensure that this victory in California is just the start. Farm Sanctuary is proud to be an active member of a diverse coalition of advocacy and frontline-community organizations working towards a food system that readily provides plant-based meal options to school children. At the federal level, we’ve endorsed the Healthy Future Students and Earth Pilot Program Act, sponsored by Representatives Nydia Velázquez, D-NY, and Jamaal Bowman, D-NY. The bill would create a pilot grant program for schools to voluntarily provide plant-based and culturally appropriate meals. To learn more about how you can help us advocate for this legislation, please click here. For youth wanting to get involved in food system advocacy, please visit our Youth For a Just Food System website where you can apply to join Farm Sanctuary’s Youth Leadership Council and find online resources to support advocacy, including our toolkit to support student-led campaigns for plant-based school meals.

Connie sheep at Farm Sanctuary

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