July 3 2024 08:55 AM

Vegan and animal rights activists are pushing for “plant-based” menus in a growing number of schools.

Meat is on the menu . . . but for how long? Vegan and animal rights crusaders are ramping up efforts to increase “plant-based” offerings on the menu at K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. The University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and most recently, Western Oregon University are just a few of the schools who have allegedly made “plant-based” menu commitments. Most of these pledges are made in partnership with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to reduce the number of animal-based choices.

The increased focus and attention on forcing dietary change via school systems was a topic of discussion at the recent Animal & Vegan Advocacy (AVA) Summit, held in Washington, D.C., in mid-May. In one session, a speaker from HSUS discussed the current landscape of “plant-based” menus in schools. HSUS has set a goal to have 50% of the total meals offered in institutional dining programs in the U.S. to come from “plant-based” sources by 2027. According to HSUS, “plant-based” offerings currently make up 20% to 30% of most college and university menus but only up to 20% of school district menus. Notable quotes from the session include:

  • “We do think we will get there [2027 goal] because we are collaborating with the food service industry . . . We view ourselves as consultants, and we’re working really hard to basically hold the hands of these operations through every menu change.”
  • “From the commitments we have secured to date, there are 2 billion institutional plant-based meals now being offered annually.”
  • “Know your argument. Are you approaching an ag school in the Midwest? Probably you shouldn’t lead that conversation with animal welfare . . . Read the room. Speak to what they know. It might not be exactly what you’re passionate about but meet them where they’re at.”

Speakers at the event also discussed the need to reach younger people to get them involved in the vegan and animal rights movement. Panelists argued activists needed to reach children as young as kindergarten-age to indoctrinate them in the animal rights belief system so they can start young in lobbying for “plant-based” meals and animal rights. To gain interest in the movement, speakers recommended hosting tables at events on university campuses to reach students, using social media outreach, and partnering with youth-targeted brands.

As you can probably tell from the quotes and session takeaways above, targeting of students and youth is a tactic that probably isn’t going to go away anytime soon. However, knowing that this is happening at schools across the country, there are things you can do to mitigate their influence. Signing up for or helping to spread the word about the Animal Agriculture Alliance’s annual College Aggies Online (CAO) scholarship program is one example. Hosted every fall, this program connects college students from across the country who are passionate about sharing positive, factual information about agriculture online and with their campus community. When it comes to communicating with curious consumers, it’s always been said to meet people where they’re at. There’s no better place to meet and engage with college students than on their campus. Learn more and sign up (or check out the sponsorship opportunities) before the 2024 program kicks off on September 9!

Emily Ellis

Emily Ellis is the manager of communications and content at the Animal Agriculture Alliance. In her role, she works to execute the Alliance’s issues management and communications strategy.