California Assembly Passes Bill Incentivizing Plant-Based Meals in Public Schools
Lawmakers Overwhelmingly Support Plant-Based Meals to Improve Students’ Health
SACRAMENTO—The California State Assembly passed AB 479, a bill that could bring more plant-based meals to public schools, with a vote of 61-12 on May 23. AB 479, introduced by Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys) and co-sponsored by the Physicians Committee and Social Compassion in Legislation, would provide extra funding to schools that add or increase the number of vegan entrées and plant-based milks on their menus. The bill now moves to the California State Senate.
“By passing AB 479, California Assemblymembers cast their votes for a healthy future for students and the planet,” says Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Plant-based school meals not only protect students’ health, but they also teach compassion for the environment and those we share it with.”
In its position paper on vegetarian diets, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics—the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals—states that “vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases,” including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, certain types of cancer, and obesity.
The state’s Let’s Get Healthy California campaign says that more than 70 percent of California adolescents are not eating enough fruits and vegetables, foods which can help lower the risk of chronic diseases including overweight/obesity and diabetes. More than 4 out of every 10 California adolescents are either overweight or obese.
“More and more of today’s children are choosing to live a plant-based lifestyle, because they know it’s the best way to reduce their carbon footprint—and, frankly, young people are the ones who will have to live with the consequences,” added Assemblymember Nazarian, author of AB 479. “This bill helps them have the option to live their values even at school. I want to thank my colleagues for their support.”
In addition to improving students’ health, the bill would help fight climate change and protect the environment. Plant-based meals save water, reduce land use, and even lower greenhouse gas emissions. A Friends of the Earth study found that when Oakland Unified School District added more plant-based meals to its menus, the district reduced its carbon footprint by 14 percent and saved 42 million gallons of water and $40,000 over the course of two years.
“There are so many reasons to pursue a plant-based diet, with an increasing number of studies showing both the health benefits and the environmental impact of abstaining from meat, dairy, and eggs,” said Judie Mancuso, Founder and CEO of Social Compassion in Legislation. “This bill is about providing a choice to young people who have decided that eating animals is the wrong choice for them – and for our planet.”
AB 479 will not only provide funding for plant-based meals, but it will also offer support for staff training, student engagement, recipe development, and other technical assistance needed to boost participation rates.
Many school districts across the state, including Oakland, Novato, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, and Capistrano have already added healthful, plant-based options to their menus. AB 479 will provide critical technical and financial support to expand these menu offerings and encourage many other schools to follow suit.
California’s bill would set a precedent that other states are already looking to follow. A bill in the New York State Legislature, S1472/A1624, would provide plant-based options upon request to students in New York public schools.
Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in education and research.