Getting Schooled

Black Bean Burritos.jpg

The Humane League's black bean burritos | Photo courtesy the Humane League

Philadelphia Public Schools offer vegetarian education, meals

This fall, Philadelphia Public School students have a new kind of assignment—learning about alternatives to eating meat. Schoolchildren throughout the city will partake in the once-a-week meatless “Lean and Green Days,” part of an effort to create a healthier, more environmentally and animal-friendly student population. With the support of The Humane League, the rapidly growing nonprofit that advocates for reducing cruelty to farm animals through public education and campaigns, Philadelphia public schools join dozens of other school districts across the country participating in similar programs.

In October 2013, the City of Philadelphia passed a resolution supporting the global “Meatless Monday” initiative, which began in the U.S. in 2003, but is now active in 34 countries. This year’s Lean and Green Days are part of the city’s implementation of that resolution.

“The School District of Philadelphia's decision to adopt Lean and Green meals is exactly the kind of positive change we had in mind when we passed the [resolution],” says city councilmember Cindy Bass. “It’s worth celebrating—a major win for children's health, the environment and animals.” 

The Philadelphia Public Schools serve more than 85,000 meals daily and once a week, Lean and Green days will feature main entrees that promote meat-free menu choices such as bean burritos, pasta with marinara sauce, and veggie calzones. As part of the program, students will also be educated about the health benefits of eating at least one vegetarian meal per day.

Rachel Atcheson, the Philadelphia director for the Humane League says it’s not just a win, but a “win-win-win.” “The school district will save money; nutrition-wise it’s a step in the right direction for curbing obesity; and at the end of the day it spreads awareness to parents and students about other animal-friendly options,” she says.

Another goal of the program is to educate not just the students, but their parents and families as well. “We have been working to be a resource for parents, showing them the whys and hows of vegetarianism, and getting the word out that it does not need to be more expensive,” Atcheson says. Centering meals around protein-rich sources such as beans, for example, are often cheaper than meat.

Many students were active in the campaign to institute Lean and Green Days, Atcheson says. Her group handed in a petition in support of the program that boasted over 1,000 signatures from both parents and students within the school district.

Mena Shenab, a senior at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, was so compelled by the program’s potential and the larger mission of the Humane League that she joined the Humane League as an intern.

Shenab, a vegan, is also glad to have the option to eat a school-provided meal, rather than having to pack her own lunch. Already, the program appears to be gaining support from other students, too. “Most students seem to be very receptive to the concept. … My friends are really excited to try new food and are really happy to be eating healthier while also being conscious of meat consumption,” Shenab says. “The program has shown that schools can really make an impact by making small changes.”