Brazilian School Districts Make Historic Switch to 100% Plant-Based Meals
Four cities in Brazil have pledged to transition all of the meals served at its public school cafeterias to 100 percent plant-based by the end of 2019, with the mission of reducing the cities' environmental footprint (especially water consumption), aiding local produce farmers and fostering humane and healthy eating habits for students.
The cities of Serrinha, Barroca, Teofilandia and Biritinga in the northeastern state of Bahia will soon be home to the world's first school districts to make such a commitment, program organizers touted.
The "Escola Sustentável" (Sustainable School) project—spearheaded by Humane Society International (HSI) in Brazil and the local Public Prosecutor Office—covers 30,000 students and will impact more than 23 million meals a year. It will reduce meat, dairy and egg consumption by an estimated 25 percent per semester.
The program kicked off last week and included four days of plant-based culinary trainings for the cities' school cooks, led by HSI's chef André Vieland. The vegan cook shared cost-effective and nutritious recipes made with accessible, local ingredients.
School meals in those cities typically feature animal proteins such as beef, lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, milk and butter, Brazilian publication Correio reported. Under the new, two-year experimental program, lunches will consist of soy, rice milk, peanut butter (instead of butter), vegetables, root vegetables, grains, and whole-wheat bread.
Definitive implementation of the program will depend on health outcomes of the students after the trial period, according to Correio. Students will undergo periodic tests that count blood, ferritin, vitamin B12, total cholesterol, triglycerides and blood glucose levels. Weight, height and body composition will also be measured.
Families who do not agree with the newly imposed diet can send their students to school with packed lunches from home, Escola Sustentável leader Leticia Baird, the Brazilian public prosecutor for the environment in the state of Bahia said.
"Providing our school districts with plant-based meals will help save environmental and public financial resources, allow for a future of healthy adults, and build a fair world for the animals," Baird said in a statement.
In addition to animal welfare concerns, animal agriculture uses up massive amounts of water, land and energy. Raising animals for food is one of the biggest contributors to man-made greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change.
20% of U.S. Diets Responsible for Almost Half of Country’s Food-Related Emissions, Study Finds… https://t.co/ycz5S6teTz— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1521657655.0
Cutting down on animal-based proteins and increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains has known health benefits, from lowing cholesterol and blood pressure to reducing risks of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Program organizers noted that half of Brazil's population is overweight or obese, including one in three children between the ages of 5 and 9.
In 2014, the Brazilian Ministry of Health's dietary guidelines stated: "Opting to consume various types of plant-based foods and a limited consumption of animal products indirectly results in a food system that is more just and less stressful on the environment, animals and biodiversity in general."
This shift to plant-based diets is not unusual in Brazilian schools. The São Paulo city school district, the country's largest school district, has participated in Meatless Mondays since 2009, serving more than a half-million plant-based meals every two weeks, organizers pointed out.
"We applaud the cities of Serrinha, Barroca, Teofilandia, and Biritinga for becoming the world's first school districts to commit to going 100 percent plant-based," Sandra Lopes, food policy manager for HSI in Brazil, said in a statement.
"It's an honor to have worked with city authorities, nutritionists and school cooks on the adoption and implementation of this initiative, and we're excited to continue working closely with them to ensure the success of this program."
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By Kristen Fischer
It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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