The New York City public school system, which is the largest in the nation, announced earlier this week that they will be introducing “Meatless Mondays” to fight climate change and child obesity.

Starting in the 2019 school year, Mayor Bill de Blasio says that all New York City public schools will begin serving up free, healthy vegetarian breakfast and lunch menus every Monday.

Following a successful trial period in 15 Brooklyn schools last year, the weekly menu change will now be implemented in all 1,800 city schools.

“Cutting back on meat a little will improve New Yorkers’ health and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We’re expanding Meatless Mondays to all public schools to keep our lunch and planet green for generations to come.”

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This shift in options to a more plant-based menu is seen as a win-win situation, with School Chancellor Richard A. Carranza saying: “Meatless Mondays are good for our students, communities, and the environment. Our 1.1 million students are taking the next step towards healthier, more sustainable lives.”

The Meatless Mondays initiative is not the first step taken by the City to ensure access to healthy and sustainable food for their students, either. The initiative will be part of New York City’s “Free School Lunch for All” program, which launched in the 2017 as a means of providing free, nutritious, healthy breakfasts and lunches to all participating New York City schools.

In the 2017-2018 school year alone, more than 150 million breakfasts and lunches were served free of charge.

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Until recently, discussion surrounding solving climate change has been centered around innovation in energy infrastructure and transportation. The realities of climate change, however, are more complex than that and have forced communities to rethink their diets as well.

“Meat and other livestock products we eat are responsible for nearly 15 percent of global climate change emissions,” said NRDC Senior Attorney Margaret Brown. “The good news is, even small changes in our diets can have a big impact.”

The positive impacts of Meatless Mondays also goes far beyond the planet; health concerns for today’s youth was reportedly a strong motivator for the city’s public school system adopting the program, as childhood obesity has often been mentioned as a growing issue among New York City legislators.

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Andrea Strong, the founder of the NYC Healthy School Food Alliance, does not sugar coat the health epidemic in the city. Obesity rates in kindergarten classes now affect about 1 in 5 children – but Meatless Mondays are being hailed as a progressive step forward in the fight against child obesity and climate change.

“It’s noteworthy to point out that if New York City public schools swapped out a beef burger for a plant-based protein once a month, the city would emit 375,000 pounds less of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere per year,” said Strong. “This promises to be just the beginning of a very significant shift in the way we feed our children.”

(WATCH the video below) – Photo by USDA, CC

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