California’s Legislature considers providing Universal Free School Meals

17 March 2021

Two Bills are being considered by California’s Legislature: one to provide universal free school meals (UFSM) and one to incentivise healthy, plant-based food.

If passed, Senate Bill 364 will see The Golden State become the first to provide UFSM. While some US cities, including New York and Chicago, already have this provision, no state has so far followed suit. Researchers from Syracuse University have found the policy in NYC to be linked to better attainment in tests. The Bill also promotes California-grown produce, in a bid to improve the local food market.

A second bill, Assembly Bill 558, will incentivise the provision of vegetarian and vegan food. Procurement decisions will be expected to give preference to plant-based food and plant-based milk. Local education agencies will be eligible for reimbursements for making these healthier, more environmentally friendly decisions. Grants will also be provided to agencies for catering staff’s professional development and for pupil engagement and education on plant-based options. It follows a 2019 bill to increase vegan meals and plant-based milk substitutes on California school menus.

These progressive moves follow a year where the prevalence of food insecurity and inequality has been brought into particular focus. Let’s hope these Bills pass and inspire more progressive legislation across the USA and on this side of the pond.


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