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New York City Public Schools to Join ‘Meatless Mondays’ Movement

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New York City Public Schools to Join ‘Meatless Mondays’ Movement
The SOAR Charter school in Denver, Colorado has been serving vegetarian meals for years. Helen H. Richardson / The Denver Post / Getty Images

For students in the United States' largest school district, "Meatloaf Monday" in the cafeteria will soon be a thing of the past.

Instead, New York City public schools will be adopting "Meatless Mondays" for the 2019-2020 school year in an effort to improve public health and reduce the city's environmental footprint, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced this week.


Each Monday, all breakfast and lunch food served to students will be entirely vegetarian, though students are still welcome to bring pack lunches with meat in them. According to the Department of Education, Food and Nutrition Services officials will meet with students to receive their input before the menu is finalized.

The program was successfully piloted at 15 Brooklyn schools in Spring 2018 and the decision to expand it to the more than 1,800 schools citywide was based on positive feedback and metrics. The program will be cost-neutral, officials said, and school lunch is already free for all 1.1 million public school students in the city.

"When you're talking to a 10-year-old and they know this is good for their body and good for the earth, that proves we're going in the right direction," de Blasio said in a video posted to his Twitter account. "There's a lot of enthusiasm."

New York City joins a national movement of more than 100 other districts across the U.S. that participate in Meatless Mondays, according to Grist. Other organizations are getting on board too: New York City hospitals launched a Meatless Mondays initiative this year, while the City of Berkeley, Calif. now requires all food served at official meetings and events on Mondays to be vegan, The Hill reported.

Four school districts in northeastern Brazil recently went a step further: the cities voted to become the first in the world to serve only plant-based meals in order to reduce their environmental footprint and boost healthy eating habits.

A large body of research suggests that a plant-based diet can lower an individual's risk of diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer, registered dietician and author of "Plant-Powered for Life" Sharon Palmer told CNN. Meat can be a good source of protein, but most Americans eat more than 1.5 times the recommended amount. Excess red and processed meat consumption is linked with increased risk of the same diseases plant-based diets can help prevent, research found.

Eating less meat also appears to be beneficial for the earth.

A 2018 study published in the journal Science found that animal husbandry related to meat and dairy produces 60 percent of agricultural greenhouse gases and is responsible for 83 percent of all farmland use while only providing 18 percent of all global calorie intake. In other words, reduced meat consumption can lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions and more efficient use of farmlands.

"Reducing our appetite for meat is one of the single biggest ways individuals can reduce their environmental impact on our planet," Mark Chambers, director of the NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability, said in a press release. "Meatless Mondays will introduce hundreds of thousands of young New Yorkers to the idea that small changes in their diet can create larger changes for their health and the health of our planet."

This trend toward "reducetarianism" has met some resistance, however. The U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled its support for Meatless Mondays in 2012 after complaints from livestock industry lobbyists and GOP legislators, The Hill reported.

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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