Why are school serving kids lethal lunches while refusing to offer healthy alternatives? 14-year-old vegan activist Lila Copeland speaks about her taking on the school board and the fight for kids’ right to health.
We expect our schools to be places of childhood enrichment, where kids acquire the knowledge they need to make sound choices in life. But what happens when the system designed to nourish their minds endangers and damages their bodies?
With school cafeterias continuing to serve food that has been scientifically proven to cause disease, while refusing to offer healthy alternatives, it’s time to ask the seemingly absurd yet unfortunately necessary question: are school lunches killing our kids? [tweet this]
The sad reality of our current system is that the very professionals charged with educating the public about nutrition are themselves either woefully uninformed, or incentivized to spread misinformation, despite ample and ever-mounting evidence of the dangers of animal product consumption.
Well there’s one kid who’s demanding accountability and pushing for serious change. Fed up with the lack of healthy lunch options and the plethora of misinformation in schools, 14-year-old vegan activist Lila Copeland has launched the “Healthy Freedom” campaign for the implementation of vegan food choices in schools. Lila’s starting in her own school district with her sights set on providing a model and impetus for nationwide change. [tweet this]
Having founded her own organization, the Earth Peace Foundation, at the age of 10, Lila is no stranger to putting in the long hours in an effort to educate and enlist support. After months of outreach and hundreds of emails, Lila addressed the LA school board with the backing of vegan physicians, cardiologists, athletes, dieticians, and even celebrity activist Pamela Anderson.
Before we hear highlights from each expert, let’s open it up with Lila’s own words. If you want to see full 40 minutes of compelling testimony, click link to the full video here on my Patreon page.
Lila: The World Health Organization, Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the UN, and Harvard University among many others have concluded with hard science that consuming animal products causes heart disease, diabetes, cancer, bone loss, stroke, and obesity. Why on Earth would we continue to feed our children these products? Because an outmoded USDA, driven by special interests, keeps telling us year after year in the face of evidence that it is good for us. Because our parents since the Stone Age have gone along with culture and conditioning and fed it to us. The most dangerous words in the English language and human language are, ‘We have always done it this way.’
The health message of Lila’s campaign was strongly voiced by such experts as Dr. Michael Klaper, who grew up on a dairy farm himself and spoke to the impact of dairy consumption on early-onset puberty, acne, and breast & prostate cancer.
In light of the dire health consequences of dairy, the school system’s current policy, which Lila elaborated upon when we spoke, is all the more absurd and irresponsible:
Lila: Kids have to have a permission slip or doctors note in order to have any plant milks at schools, and we’re trying to make it so that kids have an open option every day to choose plant milk over animal milk. [tweet this]
In addressing the school board to achieve this goal, Lila was also joined by Dr. Heather Shenkman, an interventional cardiologist, ultramarathoner, Ironman triathlete, and vegan of 11 years:
Dr. Heather Shenkman: The best way to not have a heart attack is through a healthy lifestyle. And in fact, lifestyle alone, including a healthy plant-based diet with regular exercise, reduces the risk of heart disease by 80%, reduces the risk of diabetes by 90%, and reduces the risks of cancers by 60%.
Registered Dietician Sharon Palmer:
Sharon Palmer: When I first started practicing as a dietician we used to call it adult-onset diabetes, because it happened over 40. Now we have to call it Type 2 because it even happens in children.
Torre Washington: I went vegan in 1998 and started body building in 2008. And so, as you can see, I had no problem building muscle on a plant-based diet.
Lila: It is up to us to start a healthy future for the children being born on this planet. And for the ones you have responsibility over now. By embracing healthy change we know to be sound, you can change the course of more than 600,000 students’ lives every day. Including the 83% of your students who are at the federal income limit to receive free food and who may never see vegan options in their neighborhoods.
This vital issue of accessibility central to Lila’s campaign was further elucidated by author, community activist and vegan mother of three Kawani Brown:
Kawani Brown: I realize that we are the minorities within a minority. I grew up in the LAUSD and this is my community and I know first hand that not every family, or child, has the knowledge about plant-based foods, or health, or do they have the access that many others do to the healthy vegan foods. The majority of these students live in neighborhoods that are classified as food deserts – where access to foods come from stores that rarely have fresh fruits and vegetables. School could be the place where they not only learn about these foods, but also have access to them every day. We could be setting these students up for a lifetime of good health as opposed to a lifetime of preventable diseases.
Lila also highlighted the environmental impact of animal agriculture and the humane myth, as evidenced in the district’s “good food policy.”
Lila: We have responsibility to the planet. We know from the UN, NASA, and scientists all over the world that more than 51% of methane and other greenhouse gasses are made by animal agriculture. Your good food policy talks about only using animals who are humanely killed for food in the district. There is no such thing as humane slaughter or animal agriculture. No animal wants to die to become our food.
Several campaign supporters spoke further to the environmental and ethical impacts, including Pamela Anderson
Pamela Anderson: Violence and suffering is common in the meat industry. But offering kids the chance to choose meals that are free of cruelty encourages compassion. The average Californian uses 1,500 gallons of water per day. Nearly half of that can be attributed to meat and dairy products. Giving 600,000 students the ability to make eco-friendly decisions every single day gives them the tools and the power to help reverse climate change, conserve water, prevent pollution, and fight obesity.
A powerful aspect of Lila’s message, which she shared in the opening clip, is the corruption inherent in the system itself. This was further explored by Lisa Karlan of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who spoke to the struggle to change governmental dietary recommendations that are so heavily influenced by the animal products industry. And a surprise speaker of sorts, journalist Jane Velez Mitchell, who offered an impassioned contribution:
Jane Velez-Mitchell: I decided to speak because I need to give you the larger cultural perspective of why you’re getting this information from us and not from the news media. The World Health Organization says processed meat causes cancer. Twenty-two experts from ten countries reviewed more than 800 studies to reach their conclusions. They found that eating 50g of processed meat every day increased the risk of colo-rectal cancer by 18% – that is the equivalent of about four strips of bacon or one hotdog.
And the reason I’m reading it to you is that right after that study came out, it was business as usual. Why? Well, I can tell you because I’m in the media. The media is controlled by the meat and dairy industry. That’s why there’s no media here today. I know the organizers of this event called all the media. They’re not here because they’re not going to cover that.
The food that’s being fed to kids in this school district and around the country causes cancer. [tweet this] But we’re living in a culture where the meat and dairy industry not only controls the media, it controls congress, and it certainly controls agencies of government like the USDA, which are hell-bent on bringing more meat and dairy into our school systems, not less.
We’re not even asking you to stop feeding cancer-causing foods to your students, which is ideally what we should be asking. All we’re asking is give them an option to choose food that’s not cancer causing. And I will wrap it up by saying what happens in Los Angeles spreads to the rest of the country. You are at a turning point in history and you can make a very sane decision that is going to have repercussions throughout the world and it will save lives. Thank you.
Lila certainly covered her bases, with this monumental effort, providing the board members with gift bags containing donated copies of Dr. Michael Greger’s book “How Not To Die” and the documentary “Cowspiracy.”
In speaking with Lila about her campaign, she shared what may be her ultimate secret weapon for reaching through to the board:
Lila: The executive chef of Gardein, Jason Stefanko, gave all of the board members vegan food samples. We had a whole menu and they all got a little bit of each food from the menu. And we actually heard from them and the food blew them away, they loved it, and I really think it helped take our campaign a step in the right direction. I ‘m really, really grateful for him helping us out.
[continuing in board meeting] the Earth Peace Foundation has always been about education for young people. We would be here to bring the free education about eating with compassion to your entire student body. I am committed to that.
While the board does not deliver an immediate response, member Dr. George J. McKenna III broke with format and shared some personal feedback after hearing Lila speak:
Dr. George McKenna III: You opened my eyes to some things. I’m impressed with what I’ve learned. I’ve been eating all of the things that you probably would tell me not to eat all my life. I just ate a ham sandwich. I don’t think that’s keeping me healthy. I’m only 22 years old. But I’m enlightened. And I think you make the case extremely well for healthy children, in particular. So, I’ve had my eyes opened up about some things. I’d like to have another discussion about what I can learn and possibly change our behaviors, and maybe mine. Maybe I’ll make it to 25.
For more information and updates on The Healthy Freedom Campaign, visit Earth Peace Foundation’s Facebook page, linked below, and take action in your own community. Just take a page Lila:
Lila: Any area that the animals need your help in that you feel the most passionate about, make sure to take that road. Even when you’re faced with obstacles and people saying no, just think about the animals and just overcome that because through all the struggles, it’s going to be people who are going to support you.
If you were inspired by Lila’s activism, give this video like and share it around to spur action. Meet more upcoming world-changers in my animal hero kids video series and subscribe to the channel for more vegan content every Monday, Wednesday, and some Fridays. To help support Bite Size Vegan’s educational efforts, please see the support page or join us in the Nugget Army on Patreon.
Now go live vegan, fight for what’s right and I’ll see you soon.
— Emily Moran Barwick