Mayor Bill de Blasio is expected to announce on Monday that New York City schools are no longer serving meat on Mondays to their 1.1 million public school students.
While other cities, including Los Angeles, have taken up meatless Mondays, New York City’s is the largest school system in the nation to embrace the cause.
“Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers’ health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” de Blasio said in a statement provided to POLITICO.
The announcement comes following a yearlong experiment to determine if New York City students (and their parents) would prove receptive to breakfasts and lunches devoid of all animal products except eggs and cheese.
The program began in 15 schools last spring. This school year, the city quietly began to experiment with meatless Mondays in schools across the city, under the rubric of “Jumpstart Mondays.” Breakfast offerings began to include oatmeal and cheese sticks, but no turkey bacon. Lunch menus listed baked penne, “broccoli trees,” and grilled cheese, but no hamburgers.
According to the city, the experiment has proven successful and cost-neutral. The Department of Education says its Office of Food and Nutrition Services will go back and forth with students before finalizing the meatless Monday menu, which will launch officially in the fall. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose decision to go vegan a few years ago reversed his diabetes, has championed the meatless Mondays cause.
“When we are serving food that causes cancer … [and] childhood diabetes, we’re feeding the crisis,” he told POLITICO in a recent interview.
Over the course of the last century, experts say meat has come to occupy a more central role in the American diet, and in diets of industrialized nations worldwide.
“America kind of reflects the pattern you see replicated around the world,” said Bob Martin, 66, a program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a supporter of the meatless Mondays campaign. “As we moved up economically, meat became more and more of a centerpiece of the plate. And I think that when I was growing up, meat was really a bit of a luxury.”
That changed as agriculture developed “a really cheap, industrial way to produce meat in large quantities,” Martin said.
The repercussions for human health, the environment, and animal welfare have proven dire — undercutting the very notion that factory-farmed meat is, in fact, cheap.
“There are lots of externalized costs of meat production through either health problems or environmental damage that’s not reflected in the meat production price,” Martin said.
Agriculture produces about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions, and “intensive meat production is on an unstoppable trajectory comprising the single greatest contributor to climate change,” according to a recent report in The Lancet.
The World Health Organization considers processed meats a carcinogen and red meats a likely carcinogen. The saturated fats in meat are implicated in heart disease and other health problems. People concerned with animal welfare, meanwhile, consider the grim conditions in factory farms a moral offense.
De Blasio has long championed the abolition of New York’s horse carriage industry as an animal rights issue, but in 2016, bioethicist Peter Singer, the father of the modern-day animal rights movement, said that meatless Mondays would be a more effective way to improving animal lives.
“The Mayor could encourage healthy eating, reduce animal suffering, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing the amount of meat served in school lunches,” he said at the time.
And now that is happening. The Department of Education serves about 880,000 meals daily. Every year it serves 150 million breakfasts and lunches.
“I applaud the school system for doing it,” Martin said. “I think it’s a really important, significant signal because of the size of the school district, but also, for the health of the kids, too.”