Students petition for plant-based lunch options

Sofie Zalatimo and Jonathan Chen

Junior Max Chang orders lunch from the Palo Alto High School cafeteria Friday in the Student Center. Due to the lack of plant-based food options currently available, a group of students, including junior Margot Blanco, are petitioning for change. Blanco said she hopes the movement prompts other students to explore a more plant-based diet. “I hope I’m just sending a message and allowing others to realize that they can also support this [plant-based] diet, and they can also make changes to support a more just world,” Blanco said. (Photo: Jonathan Chen)

Citing environmental benefits and students’ dietary needs, a group of students is petitioning to increase plant-based lunch options in the Palo Alto High School cafeteria.

According to junior Margot Blanco, who helped start the petition, adding plant-based options will allow the district to serve a wider range of students.

“Students aren’t given enough resources to eat as they should,” Blanco said. “So many students have dietary needs and religious and cultural needs that aren’t being met by the school properly.”

Junior Morgan Greenlaw, another student leading the petition, said she hopes this petition will help students communicate their support of plant-based options to the district.

“To me, having more plant-based options at Paly means that we’re going to be a more environmentally conscious school, because it [eating vegetarian] is a choice that people can make in their daily lives that is really impactful to the environment and individual health and animals,” Greenlaw said.

According to PAUSD Student Nutrition Director Alva Spence, the higher cost of plant-based options makes them difficult to include at the ideal level, particularly following California’s decision in July to offer free lunch to all students.

“Plant-based items run well above the cost that the Food Service Department is budgeted for,” Spence said. “With supply chain issues and all students eating for free, I don’t see this happening unless the district chooses to subsidize the Food Service program.”

According to Spence, ​​the spicy black bean burger, which is available every day, is currently the only vegetarian item on the school’s lunch menu due to its low cost. Spence said adding plant-based options is dependent on additional funding.

“While we are under the Universal School Meals Program, plant-based entrees are cost prohibitive,” Spence said. “We will begin to explore additional options when the Universal Meals reimbursement rate allows for more premium options.”

Blanco said she believes the district should work with environmental organizations such as Friends of the Earth to introduce economically feasible options.

“Buying plant-based, vegetarian meals can be a lot cheaper if you have the right providers,” Blanco said. “They [Friends of the Earth] have consultants that are experts in this, and they’ve done this in so many districts, so they know what providers they’re looking for.”

Blanco said she hopes this petition leads to a broader effort for more plant-based food in schools.

“​​We’re starting in Paly, but we’re hoping to expand more to other PAUSD schools,” Blanco said. “We’re going to reach out to Gunn, and hopefully their Eco Club … will also support us with the campaign.”