May 2020: What's happening and what's not happening?

What's Happening?

Before the pandemic happened there was a lot of great news. We have joined The SAGE Climate Education Team. They are creating curriculum and 2030 Vision Fairs where students will first have an introduction to climate education curriculum and then get engaged with local organizations and businesses who are working on reaching Portland Climate Action Plan goals. Students can create their own projects and gain information about future employment possibilities within these environmental sectors. Greener World Lunches was invited to talk at Sunnyside Environmental School where we met with 8th graders, and our partner FFAC gave a presentation about factory farms and how our food choices matter. We also did an activity on food waste, and the students created posters that we will have printed and displayed in the cafeterias. We're honored to be invited to be part of these Vision Fairs. Moving forward, we hope to have the Greener World Lunches initiative be more student-led as we keep growing the outreach into schools. If you are a PPS student wanting to work with us on the school lunches, please contact us. We have had parent partners step up, and we will be introducing them soon. We'd love to have more parents, teachers or adult allies be part of this initiative! Email us if you want to join in. The other good news is that Greener World Lunches has it's own website! Thank you to Jonathan Bailey at THRIVE creative for providing web development. Check it out... we will add events as we ramp back up. We've added a donate button to defray the costs of materials needed for our new tabling events for the upcoming Vision Fairs, and to have student's posters scanned, printed and laminated for all the school cafeterias. As you can see a peek here of a few of the posters- we would love to show their beaming faces, but will err on the side of privacy. Their youthful excitement give me hope and motivation to keep going so they can have a better future.

What's Not Happening?

Well, besides physical school of course. We had been trying to have a meeting with our PPS Nutrition Director for several months to get an update or information as to what the forecast looked like with menu planning. Once schools closed I stopped my monthly emails asking about this information since this is even less of a priority for PPS as the focus is on making sure students who rely on their services receive any meals. The global pandemic has created challenges for everyone but we are still going to continue our work on a crisis which is even more destructive than Covid-19 for health, economy and all people and animals, and that is the climate crisis. Policies are starting to happen in schools around the School Climate Resolution which passed, and it is our hope that having more plant-based options will be included as part of the sustainability goals. We've met with the PPS Sustainability Program Manager and Climate Justice Programs Manager to highlight this important climate solution. Our partners at Eco-School Network also support this initiative being implemented. At this point, I am not sure how next year will look for students overall or what the next year's menus will look like, but with the health, rising costs and safety issues around the slaughterhouses and the pandemic in our country, more and more families are choosing to leave meat off their plates.

Next Steps

Let's use this time with our students at home and during the summer to prepare for next year. We can do this remotely and virtually. The climate crisis isn't going away, and neither are we! Sign up for our email newsletter for updates. Share it with others who may be interested! Follow us on Facebook, IG channel coming soon. And if you aren't in school, check out Default Veg on how to get more plant-based options into your businesses and organizations!   Stay safe and stay tuned! — Amy Hall, Founder/Parent Organizer

Edible Schoolyard Project

Happy New Year! I'm resurfacing with an even stronger desire to make change in our local communities and schools. I am finally posting about an excellent summit I was fortunate enough to be able to attend last October in Tennessee. The Climate Underground was a two-day conference hosted by former Vice President Al Gore at his farm in Carthage, Tennessee. The conference convened leading farmers, scientists, entrepreneurs, chefs, researchers, policymakers, and other experts to explore the intersection between soil health, food, and healthy communities. Healthy Soil. How often do we actually think about it? Yet not only is carbon a huge carbon sink, but it is also a necessity for our survival. We specifically have laws to protect our air and water (whether they are strong enough or not), but we also need to protect our soils. Farmers who are responsible for growing our food directly, and the food that animals eat, are not rewarded for doing anything the "right" way. Inputs such as pesticides or manmade fertilizers and monoculture crops can increase yields short-term but are extremely harmful to long-term survival. You can read more specifics about the event in this interview "

We really need to wake up quickly: Al Gore warns of a looming food crisis caused by climate change

There were scientists, policymakers, farmers, climate activists, chefs and more who have all been invited to this special event. My partner for Greener World Lunches, Katie Cantrell from Factory Farming Awareness Coalition was supposed to attend but had to cancel due to illness. She gave me a card for Al Gore, and I made sure to hand-deliver it to him and distribute her organization's literature. After I talked to Al Gore about Katie, I let him know how inspiring his Climate Reality Leadership Training was to me personally and that it had caused me to be much more engaged in acts of leadership, he seemed very excited about that and shook my hand enthusiastically. I was specifically interested in Alice Waters' The Edible Schoolyard Project, and how that can inspire Greener World Lunches. For both days of the summit, Alice Waters' menu featured local, seasonal, vegetarian school lunches. These were served family-style by children from local Tennessee non-profit Plant the Seed which shapes community and school gardens into outdoor classrooms to educate and empower under-resourced young people.
"We see Cultural diversity and multicultural understanding are guiding principles in our work, manifested in making culturally-relevant foods available to include in school gardens, as well as sharing foods with each other."
This has been a goal of Greener World Lunches and has already been happening in a few dishes at Portland Public Schools. It was truly an honor and inspiration to be able to attend this conference, and I look forward to working with our local organizations and highlighting this important effort in our area. Here is an educational placemat/menu from one of our meals created by the Edible Schoolyard Project that shows how a cultural meal, using locally-grown food, can be made using plant-based foods and incorporated into the learning experience. I was lucky enough to meet and talk for our long bus ride from Nashville to Carthage with Laurie David, Executive Producer of The Biggest Little Farm. I had just watched it on Redbox, where it is still available, and had been telling everyone to watch it. I could not stop thinking about it, and everyone who I've talked to that has watched it has been similarly moved by it.
The movie chronicles the eight-year quest of John and Molly Chester as they trade city living for 200 acres of barren farmland and a dream to harvest in harmony with nature. Through dogged perseverance and embracing the opportunity provided by nature's conflicts, the Chester’s unlock and uncover a biodiverse design for living that exists far beyond their farm, its seasons, and our wildest imagination. Featuring breathtaking cinematography, captivating animals, and an urgent message to heed Mother Nature’s call, The Biggest Little Farm provides us all a vital blueprint for better living and a healthier planet.
Besides meeting leaders who are truly making a difference, I have so much more of an appreciation and understanding of the importance of the ground we walk on and how we need to protect and nurture it for our own survival. This needs to be done on a large-scale level of course, and farmers are seeing the advantages of making their land more resilient, but we can also create our own carbon gardens wherever we have a plot of land, such as in our yards, community gardens and schools. Sequestering carbon and regenerative farming is a critical part of climate action.  

Welcome back to the New School Year

We left off at the beginning of last summer with a small steering committee meeting from our group, and a meeting with Whitney Ellersick, Nutrition Director at PPS Nutrition. Originally, I had hoped to have some insight earlier to share with you as far as what the 2019-2020 school menu would look like, but I was not able to see it until right before school started on the website. House Bill 2579 passed which should allow more options with local food and school gardens. "The Bill, which increased farm to school activities support from $4.5 million to nearly $15 million will provide critical funds for Oregon schools to buy and serve Oregon foods, and districts and partner organizations to provide agriculture, nutrition, and garden-based educational activities." Good news also that tofu and now tempeh is credited as a protein with the USDA Food & Nutrition Services, giving us more options for plant-based meals. Whitney gave us this great update for the 2019-2020 school menus:

"On our elementary menu, we were able to make all of our featured entrees on Monday vegetarian and/or vegan.  We took many of our entrees and made them flexible choices – such as when we menued burritos, instead of having just beef or bean menued, we have both. We have many entrées like this on Wednesdays – such as our fried rice we are making with chicken or no chicken (egg only), yakisoba (with chicken or veggie), taco salad with beef or beans, and curry with chicken or chickpeas.  While I know these entrees may not have plant-based proteins, specifically, it does increase our options for vegetarian entrees and puts us in a better position to either add a plant-based protein like tempeh or tofu once we have sourced it and tested it, or for students to request “no cheese” on some of our options that do make it vegan as opposed to vegetarian. 

On our high school menu, we have added the shaker salads which once I’ve finalized some other recipes will be promoting as “power bowls” that will be vegan/plant-based protein options. 

These will be daily options on our high school menu.  In addition to the elementary choices that I mentioned above, we also will be adding the Ethiopian simmer sauce to our menu regularly.  We are working on sourcing lentils since last year we struggled to get them into our warehouse.  My hope is to offer this dish with lentils regularly once we have them more readily available. 

As always, our taqueria/burrito bar line is offered at high schools where students can customize their options whether they would like it vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, etc.

We are continuing to expand our sourcing and hope to have more for this year." 

This is progress and we are happy to have this moving towards more flexible options, definitely. And while it looks good to see a lot of green V’s on the menu, we are not there yet with our goals, especially with K-8, and also with the default options. See the top of the high school menu, what if one of those options could change to plant-based? For K-8, their only option is the Smucker's PB&J. [caption id="attachment_1897" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Note: Circled items have a plant-based option, underlined are new vegetarian choices, and star shows where dairy can be removed.[/caption] My own children are both in high school and are vegetarian. They take school lunch every day. Most days when I ask what they ate, the answer is “nachos” or “cheese pizza”. Only on the days when the Indian chickpea curry or new entrée is served, do I feel like they had something healthy. [caption id="attachment_1898" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] More progress in high school menus, but at that age, whether the students take school lunch or not is already decided for most. Would like to see a plant-based option in the choices at the top too so there is more than burrito bar. This will hopefully be the power bowls.[/caption] The goal of this initiative is not to cater to vegetarian and vegan students, but to give all students healthy, delicious plant-based options to decrease our city's carbon emissions. This is critical as we work towards climate solutions that we move away from meat. As we have seen this summer, the world’s demand for beef has increased the amount of deforestation in the Amazon used for animal feed crops and grazing. While we can’t change the world, we can change our part of it.

What are our next steps?

Raise Awareness. We’ve been invited to have a booth at NW Veg’s annual Veg Fest. This event draws over 8,000 people and most are the general public who are interested in vegan options and tasting the wide array of samples available. Children under 12 can attend for free, so it usually draws a lot of families. Our partners FFAC and the Raven Corps will also have booths at the event. This will be a great informational opportunity for us to share what we are working on and expand our group. We are looking for volunteers for either of the days October 5 or 6th! 10–6 Saturday, 11–6 Sunday at the Oregon Convention Center, Hall  A-A1. Please email me,

Education is key. The more parents and students understand the link between our food and the climate crisis, the more support we will have. We don’t have a lot of time- around 11 years to move to dramatically lower emissions, although that may be an optimistic time frame. The students that are starting kindergarten will only be freshman or sophomores in high school before our carbon path is locked in. We need to change the trajectory NOW if we want to give them a chance for a livable future. Sadly, this is not an exaggeration, and it is why we are seeing global strikes and youth are taking action. You can help make this link clear to parents and students by inviting our partner, Factory Farming Awareness Coalition to give a Green Monday presentations in your school classroom or PTA. Contact them for more information. Student involvement Eco-School Network is a great resource for elementary and middle school parents and students to work with school green teams and also to network our school sustainability efforts. Students 14-18 can join efforts with The Raven Corps, a local nonprofit youth organization that promotes environmental sustainability, compassion, and community through a plant-based advocacy. We have some thoughts on student involvement, and we would like to meet up with students and get their ideas. We'll be sending an invitation out soon for that meeting. Parent involvement Sampling: We have been told this is critical to adding new items. We will keep checking in with Whitney to find out when and how we can help with this. Recipe ideas: We haven't been specifically asked to provide recipes, but showing Whitney the foods that students enjoy most at home can be helpful, and then adapted to meet the requirements schools face. Support Greener World Days and ask for what you need. Many students we surveyed and talked to have simply given up on buying school lunch since they are non-dairy, vegan or wanted different choices. Please support the plant-based shift by buying lunch on the days the chickpea curry, vegetable yakisoba, and others are served. This will help lead to more of these options. Also, the cafeteria staff has indicated that they are willing to serve special items for those avoiding meat and dairy. Ask for the soy milk and that will increase demand. If more students are asking specifically for plant-based items it creates a noticeable impact. Thank you for any feedback you have. Now that we are all back to a more structured time of year, we will continue to work together! Hope to see many of you at the Global Climate Strike, September 20 at 10:30 am Portland City Hall. Look for the Raven Corps and other climate groups there!

Next Steps

Thank you to everyone who attended the forum on May 20. If you weren't able to make it, you can catch up on what was presented and the questions we were able to get answered here. Things are moving along! We've had three community meetings, 238 people take our survey, and have gathered feedback and challenges from our PPS Nutrition Director. I heard a lot of room in there for ways we can help with the challenges, and believe that if we keep working with her that every time she is planning a menu, the plant-based options will be more of a priority on her mind. We are now looking to take action and expand our core team as we move into our next steps over the summer. We'd love students, parents, and teachers to be involved, especially. Please send an email to if you can commit to:
  • Smaller focused strategic planning meetings, once or twice/month
  • 1-2 hours/week moving initiatives forward
We're going to schedule our next core meeting soon after school gets out. I know a lot of people go on vacation directly, but even if you can't make it to a mid- or late-June meeting but can be involved for the rest of the summer and Fall, please let me know. Some thoughts I had after the meeting, which we can discuss, and these are just starting points:
  • Recipes/Taste tests: We could provide Whitney at PPS Nutrition with recipes that work at home (they would have to be adjusted for school requirements which we could ask for), and schedule a fun gathering where students can taste and score them. Whitney did mention she wants to know what works at home.
  • Review the current menus: Are there some recipes that are almost plant-based that can just be tweaked rather than a prolonged 2-year rollout with sourcing new ingredients? Like they have done with the chickpea/chicken swap.
  • Outreach to students/parents: How can we create more education/awareness of climate-friendly food so students look forward to Greener World Lunches and support it. How can we reach more students about the campaign- maybe instagram stories, a fun video students can make, etc?
  • Local vendor options: We'd like to know where our group can do leg work for Whitney, like if she has specific needs for local providers like hummus, we can get a list to her to check out. Recognizing she has a whole slew of concerns, how can we make this easier?
  • Boost engagement on plant-based menu dates: After talking to parents/students, I think we can also try to raise number of students and teachers getting school lunch on the plant-based dates. From our survey, we have a lot of people who have opted out completely. If we can get more people to buy lunches on that day, it proves that they could be a more popular option.
  • Ask for what you need: If the non-dairy and vegan students request that soy milk, that would help raise the demand. Possibly ask the cafeteria lead for a vegan option for your student. When I was helping in the cafeteria, the kitchen lead told me she can do that, and Whitney mentioned they have that flexibility. Imagine if all the schools start getting these requests?
  • Create a network of volunteers in each school: Our partners at Eco-School Network are already in many cafeterias. We can set up signups to do sampling, etc.
That's a start, and I am excited to hear what ideas all of you have! I won't be emailing the full group about anything but larger action items but will post links on this blog, FB and Twitter. If you want to be part of the steering committee- let me know! Amy  

Recap of our May 20 Forum

Thank you to everyone who attended! I'll have a separate post with the next steps. This is a recap of the forum for those who missed it. Last week we had a fantastic gathering with about 65 people attending, and many more who wanted to come. Our survey was taken by almost 250 people, most were parents and students. It was a fairly broad sample taken from about 50 schools. Out of the 90 Mt Tabor students, it was a cross-section of students who were not necessarily interested in vegan options.
We had community interest and support too, Higher Taste brought their tasty sandwiches and pasta salad, and Oatly donated vegan pizza, salad, and their chocolate oat milk. We also had delicious samples from local Gonzo Hummus, granola from Margalaxy and Tofu dip from Toby's Foods.
Amy Hall (main parent organizer) started the evening talking about her personal story, the climate change implications, urgency and need for more plant-based options, as well as a vision of how Greener World Lunches can appeal to all students. Not only is this about climate change, but it is also about social justice. Students on Free and Reduced Lunch may eat a majority of their meals at school. If parents lack the time or money to supply them with healthy veg options, this especially impacts them. Here are a few paragraphs to share with those who weren't able to make it.
"If lowering our city's carbon emissions through more plant-based food is our city's goal (Portland Climate Action Plan 12A/B), we must take the steps needed. We can't just continue as normal and expect something to change. 
Our youth understand this and in the face of inaction are striking around the world on Fridays, and demanding that leaders do something. As these students continue to learn about climate change, the plant-based options will become even more important to them. They will live with the consequences of what we do or do not do, right now. The longer we delay, the harder it will be for them. On a hopeful note, a more sustainable world is definitely possible, but we will need to stop our current trajectory and make real changes to our system, quickly. Moving to a more plant-rich diet is one of the steps we need to take and something we can do every day. Just in the last couple of years, I have seen that the news and the environmental movement are finally acknowledging that intensive animal agriculture (factory farming) is a major contributor to climate change."
In just the last 20 years, the 18 hottest years on record have occurred. Climate change is not in our future, it is happening now and progressing rapidly. If there is just one chart that shows the issue we face, it is this one:
Next, we had Brennan from Raven Corps speak about their organization and give student's perspective.Raven Corps started as two clubs from Franklin and Cleveland but last year became a youth-based non-profit to support youth activists to advocate for a plant-based diet to help animals and the environment. It gives youth the opportunity to engage in the type of advocacy that they’re interested in and reflect back on what’s most effective. They have hosted FFAC to give presentations to environmental groups, and have done vegan taste tests. They often hear comments about how students are interested in trying vegan food but it’s not accessible to them so having more access through school lunches would be really valuable. There’s a lot of excitement about helping the environment. Having options would be a great way to get people excited, especially if there’s education about how it’s good for the environment and good for people’s health.
Amy Higgs gave an overview on Eco-School Network. ESN is a great partner for Greener World Lunches as they have a broad network, support and resources for parents and students shaping sustainable schools. There are ESN parents and students in most of our schools who are involved in the cafeteria on different food waste, recycling, reusable silverware projects and more.
Next, Katie Cantrell, Factory Farming Awareness Coalition/Green Monday discussed how even one vegan meal a week makes a big difference.
My organization, FFAC, provides free presentations to schools, community groups, and businesses about the power of our food choices to help animals, the environment, and our own health. We are partnered with Green Monday, an international food sustainability initiative based in Hong Kong. I’m going to talk very briefly about the potent connection between food choices and the environment, and then provide some examples that have worked for other schools. As the other speakers here tonight have done a great job of explaining, and as National Geographic summed up, “When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet.” Eating less meat and dairy is the single most effective way that we can take action on a daily basis to help stop climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, and a host of other environmental problems. Young people are the ones who are going to have to bear the brunt of this, and we’ve seen an incredible movement of students here in Portland and around the world taking action to demand that the older generations leave them a habitable planet. We want to empower them so that they can take meaningful action on a daily or weekly basis with the support of their school and community. Green Monday recognizes that for many people, the idea of going vegetarian or vegan overnight is overwhelming, and so people give up and don’t even try. Rather than presenting it as all or nothing, Green Monday encourages lots of people to work together to make small changes to their diet, adding up to a huge cumulative impact. In Hong Kong, Green Monday works with 800 schools to offer plant-based meals to over 600,000 students. In the US, we work with schools and businesses on both supply and demand. We work with dining services to ensure that one day every week (doesn’t have to be Monday), the featured special of the day is plant-based. We don’t advocate for removing meat from the menu entirely, because that tends to cause a backlash. Rather, we ensure that delicious plant-based food is available and use marketing to make it appealing. To increase demand, we empower students to take this campaign on for themselves. They can encourage fellow students to pledge to go Green Monday by choosing that special option in the cafeteria. They can also do art contest, host cooking demos, have speakers, movie screenings, there are lots of ways to use this as a platform for education and empowerment around sustainable eating.
Then Chlöe Waterman from Friends of the Earth told us how other schools have successfully transitioned to more plant-based meals. Some of the Case Studies she referenced are here.
Lastly, Whitney Ellersick, PPS Nutrition Director spoke. She has kindly provided us her slides and permission to post them here: PPS-Presentation 5-20-19
Recap: PPS has 50,000 students in our district, 90 feeding locations, 9,000 school breakfasts, 19,000 school lunches, 1,800 suppers (38 sites), 5,000 summer meals (60 sites), 23 schools with fresh fruit and vegetable program grants. Approximately 240 staff.
Values and vision: Farm to school is huge, big interest in local purchasing. If you follow any of our activities we’re often talking about supporting farm to school bill efforts. OR was the first state to initiate and has put the most money towards it, which is very helpful to fund our purchases for school food. In 2016-2017, had $4.9 million in federal funding reinvested in the local economy. We also try to minimize the number of ingredients and make sure school lunches are for everyone. I hear about the increase in satisfaction and participation and it warms my heart because it means students feel supported in choosing school food. There’s often a stigma that goes with it and our staff works very hard to make sure that it’s for everybody. A bill that just went through the legislature will expand our ability to offer free breakfasts and lunches and increase the poverty level to 300%. It’s huge, never been done in the country, it’s a very big move. Currently, 13 schools offer free breakfast and lunch to all students. If this goes through, looking at expanding to 36-40 schools starting in 2020.  What does local mean? Within 400 miles of Portland, includes OR, WA, NorCal, and Western Idaho. Where does the money come from? None of it comes from PPS general fund, comes entirely from federal reimbursement from USDA. They provide $3.39 for each free and reduced meal and 39 cents for each paid lunch sold. That includes all of the ingredients, labor costs, supplies, everything. We have a central distribution site. All the partners we purchase from deliver to one site. Then we have a team of 9 drivers and warehousemen that deliver the ingredients for the next day or two’s menu. One of our initiatives is to reduce delivery as much as possible to reduce carbon footprint, so most sites will get delivery every other day. Equipment: The team only has ovens to prepare food in. Most equipment is old from 1950s off of WWII ships. Trying to replace it so that they’re able to do more effective cooking and better quality cooking. With new schools they’re able to add new equipment that’s safer to use but requires training over time. Most kitchens have warmer for holding hot food after it comes out of the oven and a service line. Some sites have sinks, some have dishwashers. That varies from site to site. One of the things that’s been limiting is the electrical capacity loads. I’m having to figure out what equipment I can keep in the Llewellyn kitchen because they have a low electrical availability. Some of those limitations that we have to work with are not apparent or visible. Environment - we’re talking about a very short period of time to feed a lot of kids and have kids eat lunch. That’s really taken effect because of the pressure for academic time during the school day. We’ve seen a reduction in the time allocated to eating and enjoying meals together. That’s a hard one for us to navigate because we’re often told to have the kids come through the line quicker. We can get 12-15 kids per minute but we’re asked to speed it up. Depending on the size of the cafeteria, sometimes we can only fit one grade at a time. My team doesn’t always have the amount of time to interact as much as they would love to with all of their students. That’s the number one feedback we get from families is not enough time for lunch, and unfortunately, that’s not something I can control. Each principal sets their own schedule, and there’s so much they’re trying to navigate. That impacts food waste, when students are eating on the way to the garbage can. Local suppliers: Finding suppliers is always a challenge. We had this great hummus meal but the hummus producer is no longer supplying K-12, so we have to look for new hummus supplier. That’s one challenge we’re facing. Purchasing rules from the federal government: Because they have so many meals we’re serving, we have to do formal procurement and bid process that takes longer. New this year: Added lentils to the menu in February. In a pasta dish as a protein source, and served a lentil salad. In January revisited the Indian curry and had garbanzo beans instead of chicken. That was our focus this year, to have a local option be plant-based in January and February. In the past, the local lunch has usually focused on meat and/or fish. Offered at every school. Most recently, had a new menu item out of Richmond Elementary with yakisoba with organic, locally-produced, women-owned business providing the yakisoba. We talked about the fact that we really want to blend the excitement with culturally-relevant food. We have a very diverse community that can offer up recipes that are naturally plant-based and have good flavor. Also, have been trying to highlight mushrooms over the last several years on the menu. They’re organic and out of Oregon, have had them in salads and on pizza, trying to expand student palates. Challenges: One hiccup I’m trying to navigate is regulations around beans. In the USDA world, beans can be either a vegetable or a meat alternative. But they can’t be both on the same day. I have to navigate because I’m required to have beans as a vegetable weekly on the menu. On the same day, I can’t serve beans as a protein in a vegetarian or vegan dish. One of the things to navigate is how to plan that out and meet the requirements, otherwise, we won’t get the reimbursement. If students take 4 carrots instead of 5 we have to give back money. It’s for real, that’s the level they look at. If you hear me hem and haw, it’s because I’m trying to navigate all of these requirements and regulations. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I was even able to purchase tofu. Prior to that, it was not a recognized food according to the USDA child nutrition program. It’s a great equity and diversity conversation for sure. Just last week I got a memo about how to credit tempeh. So we’re getting there but we have to have the backing for that in order to get funding from USDA. How we can help:
  1. Parents and others supporting school meals, it’s amazing what that means to other students who participate in school meals. If students hear adults saying bad things about school food or school meals they’ll choose not to eat or make different choices. It makes a lot to have the backing and have students feel they have support for good food choices.
  2. One of the things that’s very helpful is being able to have adults in the cafeteria to allow students the chance to taste the foods, either before or while they’re standing in line. There’s so little time that it makes it less risky if they can sample the food first before they choose it.
  3. Spend time at the schools (with permission), either just to see what it’s like or working in the cafeteria. Experience it, then give me some of the honest feedback about what you experienced and saw.
  4. Advocate at the state and national level for child nutrition reauthorization. Write your congressman. The more parent voices we have behind what we want to see in school meals helps. In particular, Suzanne Bonamici is chair on that and she’s been very good at listening to what works and what doesn’t. On a national level, that’s huge. There’s always a threat to school meal funding, particularly when there’s talk about block grants. The more students choose lunch, the more I can do. 
  5. Local partnerships. Have had partnerships with slow foods and Growing Garden and OSU Extension snap services to bring in samples of different vegetables to get them to try new foods and be more adventurous. Stuff my team doesn’t have the time or capacity to do as much as they would love, so that’s where it takes these partnerships to make it happen.

Finally, Q&A was at the end, and unfortunately, we ran out of time to get to everyone's questions. Here are a few:
Q. When it comes to cost, meat and dairy are subsidized and fruits and veggies are not. How does that situation affect serving non-dairy and non-meat foods? A. Within child nutrition programs right now, I have access to over 200 foods, so they’ve expanded it. Includes garbanzo, black, pinto beans, PB, other vegetarian protein sources, as well as fruits, vegetables, and grains. One of the limitations that still exists is the distribution of that food. Because OR is such a small state, we have to fill a truckload of that food item in order to get it here. That limits us to about 30 common items out of those 200. What I would like to have doesn’t always match with what my colleagues at other OR school districts would like to have. USDA is working to change how they distribute the foods. That’s a shortfall because CA can order tons of truckloads of items because they’re a larger state with larger truckloads of items. But we do have access to things outside of meat and dairy. That’s why it can take 1-3 years to roll out a new recipe district-wide. Local procurement is a two-year conversation. It took 2 years of conversation until farm to school funding came through to buy local ketchup. One thing that concerns me right now is tracking weather impacts on food purchases. Floods in the midwest are delaying planting of legumes, so that might mean delayed sourcing or increased costs for beans. Q. Is there a way to creatively restructure how you put the ingredients together so that there’s a way to serve at least one plant-based option without adding new options? My son for medical reasons cannot eat dairy, and all of the vegetarian options have dairy in them. If there were a way to take the pasta dish and remove cheese and add chickpeas, that could be a more immediate and practical thing to make change while working on the bigger picture. A. That was the play with the lentils. Definitely work with my team because we should be able to work with you to make appropriate substitutions if you have a student with allergies. Q. Is it true that students have to take milk with school meals? A. No, that’s not true and has never been true Q. What about soy milk? A.  Right now the district only allows Pacific plain soy milk as the only acceptable meat substitute, and also lactose-free milk. That’s all that I’m able to work with right now. We have tried serving soy milk as an a la carte option years ago but it was not as popular because it was plain. Q. Could Green Monday be a reality in the near future, as a stepping stone towards more plant-based? A. One thing that’s hard to capture is the variety of programs we’re responding to. We menu throughout the week, and we try to look at where can we plug in the variety of options throughout the week. From a school standpoint, could be a particular school or community initiative, but not one that I could promote from a district standpoint. I try to menu things that match these various initiatives so that students can take this on themselves. Q. We worry about other types of waste, like plastic. Don’t understand why it’s falling on parents, seems like an education opportunity. Is there overlap between nutrition services and curriculum? A. Ties into work with Betty. NIH grant submission is specifically trying to integrate food waste into STEM electives, first targeting middle school. Integration both studying food waste in cafeterias and in the home with teachers providing an avenue for students to explore research-based questions about what that looks like for them in their environment. That would be the first time that we’ve had that type of integration. It’s often something that comes out of our district, we tend to work in a siloed environment. Really excited about this opportunity, learning a lot about the academic world. Becoming a behavior that’s embedded in the culture of our schools is so much richer and hopefully can carry through as students advance in each grade. Q. Want to acknowledge and appreciate the creativity in the menu and the fact that you still serve whole grains. I’ve worked at different schools and they’re such different experiences that it’s amazing to me that it’s the same system. You mentioned that the equipment and school culture are different. Is there a way for the kids to give feedback so that they feel more empowered? Just takes a few bad experiences for students to stop choosing school lunch, especially when it’s free because then they’re not valuing it. A. We love to get feedback from students. Students will often say bad things about the food before you can say it. At high schools, when school lunches are free they saw participation go up to 50% even though they have open campus policies. I met with Alliance High School at Meek, so they can tell me what they do like and want to see more often and what doesn’t sustain them through the day. Beyond the Richmond cultural events, we also did it at Woodstock and we’ve done 2 events at George. Did Hispanic cultural, and black history month. PPS let them choose what foods they wanted to serve. Q. How can students give feedback? A. The easiest way is via email, all contact info is listed on the website, also have So many different avenues, have done focus groups on select food items, have done other feedback forums like surveys at certain schools, trying to tailor it to what the students are doing so there’s a presentation coming up on plastic in school meals. Q. Parent and pediatrician at Bridlemile, have been trying to get parent-sponsored salad bar. Do you have any type of pathway or plan on how PTAs can get salad bars installed? A. We’ve had salad bars since 1995 and always offer unlimited fruits and veggies with them. In 2012 there were new regulations rolled out. One was that students had to select a ½ cup of fruits or veggies for their meal and all of that had to happen before the point of sale. Most of the salad bars were out in the cafeteria, after the cash register. During that time, we also had health inspectors tell us that we needed to get rid of the physical salad bars because it was a safety hazard. So we’ve transitioned to having all of the fruits and vegetables in the service line along with the entrees as part of the actual service line. We’ve found a reduction in waste where it’s moved onto serving line because they can keep them restocked but not too much so that it’s creating waste at the end of the day. That’s in transition in all sites to move away from a physical salad bar. Q. Was there a change in the amount of fruits and veggies taken? A. No, not really. We haven’t seen so much a decrease in consumption, more a decrease in the amount of waste that’s being produced. Always exceed the number of fruits and veggies required of us, and always offer unlimited as part of our meals, it just might look different. Q. Who’s the decision-maker on using reusable plates? A. In middle school, reusable is a little tricky. Elementary is easier because they’re a captive audience, they only eat in the cafeteria, raise your hand to get up, etc. In middle school, kids eat in various locations throughout the school. When we first piloted the reusable trays they would go missing and not make their way back to the cafeteria. Or there was less coordinated effort to separate and stack trays and silverware. One of the conversations is how do we change what sustainability looks like with plastic use in middle and high schools because they’re larger populations that are less regulated. Don’t want to buy those options only to see them thrown away and disappear. Nutrition services makes the decision as to whether or not a school has reusables. To date it’s a community initiative to do a silverware drive, if they have it they’ll wash them and use them. Q. With Green Monday, you said to get involved at the school level but if all of the food is coming from central distribution, how can we decide by school? A. What hopefully will come out of this, what I need help knowing, is what to add on to our menu. How the menu gets shaped takes time, making a bunch of changes on our menu can cause fights and boycotts if it’s done too quickly. Because I’m federally funded and asked to be part of a lot of initiatives I have to be careful about which ones I sign onto. From a community standpoint, I can help build menus that allow schools to take place in their initiatives. Having that voice helps me know how to better meet the needs of the community.
Thank you to Katie Cantrell for taking such great notes! Next steps to follow. Sorry for the quality of the photos, will try to replace with better ones. [caption id="attachment_1871" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Thank you, Higher Taste![/caption] [caption id="attachment_1872" align="aligncenter" width="768"] Thank you Oatly![/caption]