New York City public schools, the country’s largest school system, will enforce a “meatless Monday” in its student lunches beginning this fall in an effort to improve health and curb environmental effects, the city announced.
“People are going to look at this, and they’re going to start to emulate what the New York City schools are doing,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference on Monday.
The initiative, which will impact 1,800 schools, follows a successful pilot program in Brooklyn involving 15 schools last year, the mayor said.
“We had such overwhelmingly positive feedback that we decided this was the right thing to do,” said school chancellor Richard A. Carranza.
Carranza touted the health benefits of a vegetarian meal, with studies finding that it reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
“It’s also good for the environment because it helps us reduce our carbon footprint and preserve essential resources including water,” he added.
Mark Chambers, director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, called meat reduction “one of the single biggest ways individuals can reduce their environmental impact on our planet.”
“Meatless Mondays will introduce hundreds of thousands of young New Yorkers to the idea that small changes in their diet can create larger changes for their health and the health of our planet,” he said in a release.
The program is one of several initiatives undertaken by the school system to improve students’ eating habits.
Back in 2017, it began offering free breakfasts and lunches to all of its students, regardless of their financial need. During the summer months, the city also offers free breakfast and lunch to any New Yorker under the age of 18 through its Summer Meals program. Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Dallas similarly offer free lunch to its public school students.
Every Thursday the NYC school system also provides locally-sourced or produced food to its students, according to the city.
All New York City public schools also include recycling stations in the cafeterias, allowing students to sort their recyclables and compostables from their landfill waste. It has also swapped out its polystyrene trays for compostable plates.
Staten Island Borough President James Oddo swiped at any critics of the efforts by citing current health trends among children across the country.
“Look at the data. Look at the childhood obesity. Look at pre-diabetes diagnoses. Look at the fact that 65% of American kids age 12-14 shows signs of early cholesterol disease. Then, perhaps you will embrace the fact that we can’t keep doing things the same way, including welcoming the idea of Meatless Mondays,” he said in a statement.