Each year government officials at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) release a list of around 200 foods that will be available or expected to be available at a discounted rate or no cost in public schools across the country. This list is called the USDA Foods Available List and is created for school districts to utilize for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) throughout the term. This spreadsheet includes all foods in a school kitchen, including fruits, vegetables, animal-based meat products, legumes, egg products, nuts/seeds, yogurt, cheese, oil, and grains.
Lactose Intolerant Students Being Left Behind
Though the USDA Foods Available List offerings have changed over the years, some products are blatantly missing for a large portion of the 49 million K-12 students in the United States. Out of the 49 million students in the public school system in the United States, around 12%, or 410,000, are lactose intolerant. Those figures don’t even include children with other types of milk allergies, calorie limitations, cholesterol concerns, or those who come from families who follow a vegan or plant-based lifestyle. Consuming animal-based dairy products when lactose intolerant not only causes negative health effects but also stops the body from absorbing nutrients. That’s why it is concerning that no plant-based milk products are available on the USDA Foods Available List.
Lactose Intolerance by the Numbers
Globally around 68% of the population is intolerant to lactose-based products like milk, cheese, and other animal-derived dairy products. Lactose intolerance is more common in Africa and Asia, but around 36% of the United States population cannot digest dairy products. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states, “You are more likely to have lactose intolerance if you are from, or your family is from, a part of the world where lactose malabsorption is more common. In the United States, the following ethnic and racial groups are more likely to have lactose malabsorption:
- African Americans
- American Indians
- Asian Americans
Because these ethnic and racial groups are more likely to have lactose malabsorption, they are also more likely to have the symptoms of lactose intolerance.” There should be safe and healthy, plant-based food options available for all students that use the National School Lunch Program.
Ask The USDA To Add Plant-Based Milk Products for Schools
That’s why FARM Animal Rights Movement, a 501(c)(3) national nonprofit organization, has launched a campaign to urge the USDA to add plant-based milk products to the Foods Available List for 2023 and beyond. The Change.org petition has gathered almost 50,000 signatures at the time of this article, and we hope to keep gathering support throughout the year.
“The high number of signatures in the first three weeks of this campaign shows how many people care about this issue, and how many children could benefit from seeing it actualized,” said Addison Lantz, FARM’s Program Director. “We contribute the success of this campaign to the simple messaging: it’s time that plant-based milk products be added to school cafeteria menus nationwide.”
To get involved or to sign the petition, please visit change.org/plantbasedusda.