TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—Students attending Sarasota County public schools might be wondering, “Where’s the beef?” The answer won’t be found between two buns, at least not on Mondays.
Sarasota County Schools kicked off a Meatless Monday campaign last week, nixing traditional protein-packed food items for vegetarian substitutes.
The program is part of “a popular international movement … to promote abstaining from meat one day a week for personal health and for the health of the planet,” reads a statement from a school district spokesman.
The program will continue every Monday for the rest of the school year, and vegetarian dishes will be offered alongside meats on other school days.
“In Sarasota County, we strive to provide a variety of food choices and saw this as an opportunity to showcase meals with legumes and other meat-free protein sources with which they may be unfamiliar,” said Karla Dumas, the district’s food and nutrition manager.
Meatless Monday is a project of the nonprofit Monday Campaigns, an initiative associated with Johns Hopkins, Columbia and Syracuse universities. It’s taken root in other parts of the country—mostly New York City and California—and has high-profile endorsements ranging from Michelle Obama to the U.S. Humane Society to vegetarian celebrities. Even Paul McCartney has advocated meat-free Mondays to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sarasota is the first school district in Florida to partially ban meats from school menus, according to the Meatless Monday website.
On Mondays, as many as 42,000 students eating in the county’s 52 school cafeterias will choose between hummus, vegetable subs, veggie pasta bakes, spaghetti marinara and fiesta taco salads, along with other approved items.
The initiative was brought to Sarasota County Schools by Kristie Middleton, according to MeatlessMondays.com. Middleton is a San Francisco-based manager of corporate policy and supply chain strategy at the Humane Society of the United States, according to her LinkedIn page.
“Participating in Meatless Monday, now a popular international movement, is a simple and effective way to help animals, go green, and become healthier,” says the U.S. Humane Society, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.
In Texas, Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples called the program an “activist movement” and said in an editorial last month, “restricting children’s meal choice to not include meat is irresponsible.”