How to Get More Plant-Based Options on Menus

How to Get More Plant-Based Options on Menus

When we think of heroes for animals, we often think of people like the pioneering philosopher Peter Singer or primatologist Jane Goodall. Indeed, those are some of the heroes for animals out there. Yet there are some other heroes for animals who you may have never heard of.

I’m talking about people like Miguel Villarreal, the director of food and nutrition services for Novato Unified School District, who has implemented a Meatless Monday policy in his cafeterias for the last eight years. Serving exclusively meatless meals on Mondays to 2,500 students, Villarreal also offers community plant-based cooking classes to parents and students in his community.

There’s also Ken Chadwick, the director of dining for American University, who after hearing student complaints about not having enough plant-based options decided to forgo animal products himself. He dropped nearly 100 unwanted pounds, inspiring others on his staff to eat similarly. Chadwick later opened an entirely plant-based restaurant on the college campus and instituted Meatless Monday campus-wide.

And then there are heroes like Teresa Squibb, the director of child nutrition at Tustin Unified School District, who serves students exclusively meatless meals each Monday, including veggie chili with quinoa and spaghetti with Beyond Meat crumbles and marinara. As someone who has been advocating for farm animals for almost two decades, I would have found this vast increase in meatless options almost unfathomable even just a few years go.

Indeed, institutions have the purchasing power to make changes that, because of their scale, can result in massive changes for animals—and make it easier for people to sustain meat-free and less-meat diets.

How To Get Started

If you’d like to help bring about these changes in your or your child’s cafeteria, here are a few steps to help you get started:

  1. Build support. Odds are you’re not the only one at school or work who wants plant-based options. If you’re a student, find out if there is a vegetarian, animal protection or environmental club on campus. Reach out to these groups and determine if they’re willing to work with you.
  2. Connect with the HSUS team. We have representatives across the country who can help with recipes, resources and potentially even join you for meetings. Email us at [email protected] and visit humanesociety.org/mmtoolkit for resources.
  3. Find out who’s in charge. Usually, the person who oversees food services is the director of dining services or nutrition services. Start at the top and the director may refer you to someone on their team. Send a polite email asking to meet. It should be professional, respectful and concise. Mention who you are (if you’re part of a group, say so!) and what you’re asking for. Close your message with a thank you and include your contact information. If you don’t hear back within a week, follow up with an email or phone call until the meeting is scheduled. Patient persistence is key.
  4. Meet in person. Congratulations—you have a meeting scheduled! Dress professionally and show up 10 minutes early. Bring a thank you gift. If you have support, bring a couple people from your group and assign a spokesperson. Ensure your supporters stay on message about the reason you’re there. Start the meeting by introducing yourself, thank them for meeting, tell them why you’re there, and ask for the changes you’d like. Be reasonable in what you’re requesting: If your campus only has one dining hall, ask for more plant-based options daily. If your campus has multiple dining halls, you might additionally ask if one entire dining hall can be converted to meatless. Offer recipes and offer to help market their improvements. Schedule a follow-up meeting to put the plan into action.
  5. Follow up. Send a thank you card and email. You may not get all you ask for in the beginning, so be prepared to negotiate towards an acceptable solution. Be friendly, yet persistent, speak with your contact frequently and don’t get discouraged. You can and will make a difference.

As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

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