California Assembly Passes Landmark Expansion of K-12 Plant-Based Lunch Options

Friday, May 24, 2019

(Sacramento, CA) On a vote of 52-11-17, the California Assembly passed Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian’s (D-Van Nuys) Assembly Bill 479, incentivizing K-12 public schools to offer healthier, climate-friendly lunch options.

Called the Healthy Climate-Friendly School Lunch Act, AB 479 would provide schools with additional state funding for serving plant-based entrées and plant-based milk. The bill also includes critical state support for staff training, student engagement, recipe development, and other technical assistance needed to help public schools boost participation rates and successfully serve plant-based foods.

“We’re passed the stage where our only school lunch options are meat and potatoes,” stated Nazarian. “Plant-based meals are healthier for our children and will reduce our state’s carbon footprint.”

The legislation does not mandate a plant-based diet in schools, but incentivizes schools to offer plant-based options. While numerous school districts across the state want to increase plant-based offerings, many face cost barriers since animal-based foods and cow’s milk are heavily subsidized by the federal government relative to plant-based options.

According to the Journal of Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, plant-based diets can reduce the risk of diabetes, help manage weight and provide protection against cancer and other diseases. Plant-based food can also benefit the environment, as noted by Tufts University researchers. They found that shifting to more plant-based choices can reduce the carbon footprint by lowering greenhouse gas emissions and utilizing less land and water for food production.

“We are enormously grateful to the California Assembly for taking this significant step to reduce the carbon footprint of public school food by voting to support plant-based options,” said Kari Hamerschlag, deputy director of food and agriculture at Friends of the Earth. We applaud legislators for committing to climate-friendlier menus, and for taking a big bite out of climate change while protecting school kids’ health.”

Research shows that healthy, protein-rich plant-based foods like lentils and beans are 26 to 34 times less carbon-intensive than beef. If every California public school switched from a beef burger to a plant-based burger just once a month, it would save 300 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually.

“Bringing plant-based meals to schools will help students establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime,” said Neal Barnard, M.D., president of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “Not only do these foods help students stay focused and energized in the classroom today, but they also reduce long-term risk for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases.”

“This bill does what scientists and climate experts know we must do, which is cut our reliance on polluting and cruel animal -based meals,” said Judie Mancuso, Founder and CEO of Social Compassion in Legislation, sponsor of the legislation and several other bills on animal rights, protection, and welfare. “By incentivizing options for the growing number of vegetarian/vegan progressive young people in our state, the California Assembly took a compassionate common-sense step today.”

Marc Ching, Founder and CEO of Animal Hope in Legislation, added: “California is about choices. AB 479 gives our children that choice, and access to healthy, climate friendly foods. AB 479 is a necessary and critical step forward for California, and we thank the Assemblymember Nazarian for his strong leadership in this initiative.”

Cosponsored by Animal Hope in Legislation, Friends of the Earth, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Social Compassion in Legislation, AB 479 has received widespread support from more than 70 educational, food policy, public health, environmental, labor and animal protection organizations, including 10 school districts, the California Federation of Teachers and the California School Boards Association. The bill has also received support from celebrity figures such as Aidan Gallagher, Alicia Silverstone, Whitney Cummings, Adrianna Costa, Kip Anderson, James Cameron, Suzy Amis Cameron, Mena Suvari, and Shaun Monson.

AB 479 will next be heard in the State Senate.

Adrin Nazarian represents the 46th Assembly District, serving the San Fernando Valley communities of Hollywood Hills, Lake Balboa, North Hills, North Hollywood, Panorama City, Sherman Oaks, Studio City, Toluca Lake, Valley Glen, Universal City, Van Nuys, and Valley Village.