KENSINGTON – “I want to say, I enjoyed my grilled cheese a lot–and the barbecue beans, I was impressed. Yeah, so, this is change I can believe in.”
This was what Mayor de Blasio said after sharing a meal of cheese sandwiches, apples, and veggies with city Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and students of P.S. 130 in Kensington. The mayor announced Monday the launch of systemwide “Meatless Mondays” for the 2019-20 school year.
“If you are thinking about our kids individually, we want them to be as healthy as they can be,” de Blasio said. “We want them to learn as well as they can learn, and meatless Mondays will help. It will create more balance in their lives.”
Students will have all-vegetarian breakfast and lunch options on Mondays starting in September. Officials believe itis healthier for students and the environment.
Other city officials joined in the chorus of approval, including Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and newly elected Public Advocate Jumaane Williams.
Adams is totally vegan and does not eat meat or dairy.
Williams is an avowed pescatarian, so does not eat meat, but does eat fish.
More than a dozen schools in Brooklyn, including P.S. 130, have been piloting a “Meatless Monday” program during the past year.
Carranza and de Blasio tested out a lunch of grilled cheese and barbecue beans with students before the announcement. Carranza said they tried the program quietly in schools during the past year, and “it worked”. So the program will now expand to all 1,800 schools and the 1.1 million children.
“Last spring, we piloted the program in 15 schools across Brooklyn, and it was a hit,” Carranza said. “But what you don’t know is that the very next semester without a lot of fanfare, we rolled it out district-wide. And the reason we did that is we had such overwhelmingly positive feedback that we knew this was the right thing to do.”
Both de Blasio and Carranza credited Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams for championing the program. Adams changed to a plant-based diet after being diagnosed with diabetes several years ago.
Adams has become an advocate for healthy eating and he said teaching children to eat right early will help avert a future “health care crisis.”
“In 1964, the surgeon general came out with a reporter and said cigarettes causes heart disease, cancer and other ailments, and then 30 years later, the tobacco industry stood in front of Congress and said the evidence is conclusive,” Adams said.
“We look back today because we are in conflict today because a report distributed by the World Health Organization stated that process meats are a type 1 carcinogen. Déjà vu. We must stop ignoring the science. If we don’t start our morning with a Marlboro, then we should not be serving our children the same things that get the same results.”
Students at the school were equally enthusiastic about the menu changes.
Lola Herzik, 12, a seventh-grader said she is a vegetarian and “doesn’t really like beef anyway.”
“Meat is one of the causes of many environmental issues, so yea this is great,” Herzik said.
Layla Fortunato, also a seventh-grader, said she has been a vegetarian for nearly 5 years: “Not eating meat is a good impact on the environment, she said. “So this is a good change for all of us.”
Aiden Jules, 11, a fifth-grader, said the change in menu is “important for the school.”
“Food meals served in our school were unhealthy and processed, but now, they are healthier and way better than before,” Jules said. “So they took a lot of things off the menu like chicken nuggets and mozzarella sticks, and now our school is a better place because of that.”
School lunches have always been given a bad rap in the past, but Jules said that’s no longer the case in his school.
“School lunches are now really good, especially the veggie tacos – they are meatless and they are just delicious – you should try them. Today we have the cheese sandwiches in the cafeteria – give it a try,” he said.
Students will get a chance to weigh in before the school food menu for next year is finalized.