Mystery meat in school cafeterias may soon be a thing of the past. Across the country, schools are increasingly adopting Meatless Mondays and dedicated Lean & Green days, thanks in large part to the efforts of the Humane Society of the U.S.’ (HSUS) Farm Animal Protection Division.
This arm of the org is dedicated to working with institutions to implement meat reduction campaigns, helping to make their students’ and patients’ meals healthier and more sustainable. Thus far, HSUS has worked with roughly 150 school districts, 20 private schools, nearly 100 colleges/universities, and 45 hospitals.
“We have an incredible team of professionals with more than 80 years of combined foodservice experience who provide recipes, cycle menu ideas, hands-on training and marketing ideas to make it easy for institutions to start a program that fits best within their framework,” says Kristie Middleton, food policy manager for the HSUS. “Some opt to participate in Meatless Monday; others may do a meatless ‘Lean and Green Day’ and still others may add more plant-based options to menus and decrease the amount of meat they’re serving. We support whatever they think will work best within their framework.”
The concept of “Meatless Monday” originated during World War I as a way to conserve resources. It was revived in 2003 by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and The Monday Campaigns, and in 2011 HSUS officially took up the mantle and started working directly with institutions to reduce their meat consumption.
This year alone, 25 K-12 school districts, a dozen colleges & universities, seven hospitals, and a handful of corporate cafeterias have adopted these kinds of programs, including Miami-Dade County schools, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Detroit Public Schools, and Houston Independent Schools. That’s a lot of plant-strong lunches. Depending on the school and its implementation strategy, meal options can include both vegetarian and/or vegan choices.
In total, the HSUS has eight people on staff across the U.S. dedicated to working towards meat reduction in various institutions. “We are helping institutions with meeting this growing demand,” adds Middleton.
It’s an issue HSUS takes seriously, and given the reduction in overall meat consumption, it looks like their efforts are paying off.
“More than a third of American children are overweight or obese,” says Middleton. “And evidence indicates that obese children will grow up to be obese as adults. The writing is on the wall that we need to take swift action. Meatless Monday is an impactful way for schools and other institutions to help students reduce saturated fat and cholesterol intake and introduce them to a whole new world of eating.”