New York City public schools just announced a campaign to put children’s health first, providing vegan meals to the estimated one million children in the school system. This Friday, the NYC public school system is launching its "Vegan Fridays" project to introduce plant-based menu items including Mediterranean pasta, black bean, plantain rice bowls, veggie tacos, and other offerings. The initiative aims to teach children how to make healthier and more sustainable dietary choices.

The Vegan Fridays initiative will ensure that all 1 million students enrolled in the NYC public school system (the largest in the country) will have free access to vegan meals. The plant-based campaign will make vegan, nutritional eating highly accessible to several communities that otherwise have limited access to nutritional food options.

The initiative stems from the Meatless Mondays project launched in 2019 where all 1,700 public schools adopted the new meatless menu options. The initial campaign was started by then Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former mayor Bill de Blasio. Since, Adams won the election to become NYC’s first vegan mayor, promising policies that would promote plant-based and sustainable foods.

“Plant-based options in schools means healthy eating and healthy living, and improving the quality of life for thousands of New York City students,” Adams said. “Plant-based meals are delicious and nutritious, which is why I previously called for vegetarian and vegan options in schools. I’m thrilled to see that all students will now have access to healthy foods that will prevent debilitating health conditions.

The NYC public school will begin phasing the Vegan Fridays menu in on Friday, leaving the non-vegan options and dairy-based milk for children upon request. Adams worked closely with the Department of Education (DOE) to successfully launch the Vegan Fridays initiative, aiming to provide more information to younger generations about how to eat plant-based.

"The DOE is committed to the health and wellbeing of every child, and having a consistent, nourishing, and filling meal each day is essential in ensuring students can succeed both inside and outside the classroom," DOE Associate Press Secretary Jenna Lyle said. "Following on the success of Meatless Monday and Fridays, we are excited to be expanding access to healthy and nutritious food options for NYC students with the phasing in of a vegan-focused menu on Fridays. Non-vegan menu items will be available upon request."

Eric Adams’ Plant-Based Politics

The recently elected NYC mayor continues to place plant-based dieting and sustainability at the foreground of his politics. Since 2016, Adams has eaten a plant-based diet due to severe symptoms of type 2 diabetes. After feeling the positive effects of his newfound vegan diet, he dedicated a significant amount of his time to promoting non-profits and organizations promoting healthier eating. Adam’s published his book Healthy at Last, detailing how plant-based food helped him personally and could be a solution for how communities of color face a disproportionate amount of diet-related chronic illnesses.

Beyond health, Adams prioritizes plant-based solutions as a key method to combatting racial discrimination across the country. The mayor teamed up with the JIVINTI coalition before his mayoral election to demand that the Biden-Harris Administration work to implement plant-based solutions to racial and financial disparities nationwide, tackling food deserts and replacing them with “food oases”

“I urge the Biden-Harris administration to take steps towards shutting down large-scale animal agriculture and ending systemic racism and the health crisis,” Butler urged at the time. “My generation looks up to our national leaders—especially powerful women leaders like Vice President Harris—to help secure a happy and healthy world for our tomorrow.”

More recently, Adams joined the growing list of Veganuary supporters alongside Venus Williams and the acclaimed chef Matthew Kenney last month. By joining the campaign, Adams worked to promote plant-based eating during the month of January, promoting a space where flexitarians were encouraged to decrease their meat and dairy consumption even more.

“No matter what your past habits or family traditions might have been, you always have the power to choose to eat healthier,” Adams said last month. “You can incorporate foods that tie into your heritage while reinventing comfort food the way it was always intended: as healing for the mind, body, and soul. Try vegan this Veganuary!”

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