HCPS is making lunches sustainable


Asher Montgomery

Students can visit Lavan Walker, the Student Nutrition Manager, to arrange options for plant-based dining at school.

Students move through the lunch line picking up chicken and mashed potatoes, a slice of pizza, hamburgers wrapped in aluminum. With 29.8 million students in the United States receiving school lunch daily, the school system has an influence on what majority of children eat and what resources are being used in the food industry.

Studies show animal agriculture is the second largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions after fossil fuels and is a leading cause of deforestation, water and air pollution and biodiversity loss.

 Because of these statistics, or other reasons such as health, compassion for animals, or religion, some students choose to go vegan or vegetarian. 

A vegetarian is someone that removes meat, fish and poultry from their diet. Vegans are similar except they eliminate all animal products, so they do not eat or drink dairy products or eggs. 

Sophomore Elizabeth Milan chooses to follow the vegetarian diet. She packs her lunch every day, but if the school had vegetarian options, she said she would consider buying lunch from the school. Senior Gillian Bennett packs a plant-based lunch every day to. 

“I don’t think I’d consider eating school lunch if there were more options because I like eating my own lunch, but I think the school should do it regardless,” Bennett said. 

Hillsborough County Public School (HCPS) website provides documents titled “Managing a Vegan Diet at School” and “Managing a Vegetarian Diet at School.” These documents include the definition of each diet as well as what the school district provides that fit each diet.

 There are eight options for lunch meals listed on the document for vegans. 

“We have multiple vegan/vegetarian options available but our sites do not always prepare everything if they do not know there is a need to avoid waste,” Hillsborough County’s Registered Dietitian said. 

For the nutrition staff to provide options for vegan and vegetarian students, the county requests that students fill out a Meal Preference Form and turn it into their school’s Student Nutrition Manager.

At Hillsborough, that role belongs to Lavan Walker. “If you’re a vegan or vegetarian just come back here and say, ‘Hey Mr. Walker, I am a vegan or vegetarian’ and we will provide you with options other than just picking through what we have [in the lunch line],” he said. 

As of Jan. 17, the Trump administration plans to remove nutritional standards for school lunch set in place by former First Lady Michelle Obama. This includes allowing schools to serve fattier, saltier and more processed foods, as well as cutting the amount of vegetable and fruits required to be served, meaning more meat and cheese.

Junior Olivia Kasper became vegetarian in the fourth grade because of animal cruelty but came to realize the environmental benefits as she got older. “I probably wouldn’t eat school lunch even if they had more vegetarian options because I like having control in what I eat based off my preferences,” she said. 

Many studies and statistics show though that having a mainly plant based diet could be worth in in the long run. According to a study from the American Chemical Society, because of the beef industry, an average American’s diet annually produces 1,984 pounds of C02e, a greenhouse gas that is linked to climate change.

If the beef was replaced with a plant-based meat, that would be reduced 96%.

By as early as 2030, the Earth’s temperature will increase by almost 3 degrees. The temperature increase will be disruptive for all of the Earth’s ecosystems. According to the study from the American Chemical Society, reducing consumption of meat is one way to reduce these consequences. 

According to a study done by Oxford Martin School researchers, a worldwide switch to plant-based diets could save up to 8 million lives by 2050, reduce greenhouse gases by two-thirds and avoid climate damages of $1.5 trillion. 

Sophomore Isha Mondha is a vegetarian, originally for religious reasons but now she is motivated by environmental reasons, too. 

“At Hillsborough, there are so many people who have a meatless diet so schools should definitely look into more plant-based meals.”