One vegan school menu speaks volumes about the natural products dilemma
I don't know how I feel about this one.
James Cameron, famed director of the Terminator, Titanic and Avatar films, founded a school with his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron. MUSE School CA is located in Calabasas, California with a forward focus on environmentalism as evidenced by recycled construction materials, renewable energy systems and—here's where things get interesting—a "resident falconer whose hawks eat rodents and eliminate the need for pesticides."
That quote comes courtesy this profile from NPR's food blog, The Salt. MUSE made the news of late when it decided to go full vegan in its school cafeteria. Within a year or two, MUSE plans to elimintate meats and dairy from the menu, as well as supply up to 50% of the plants in its plant-based diet from gardens on site. Thus the falconer. It's a private school still in search of accreditation, so these nutrition decisions come quicker and easier than most.
Here are two choice quotes from Amis Cameron in NPR's article:
"The school she was going to—that touted itself as an environmental school—was teaching my child to count with M&M's. And everything in my life came to a screeching halt."
I experienced a similar epiphany when my first born went to daycare and feasted on bacon and Pop-Tarts for her morning snack. I was bummed. I got involved with the board and worked to upgrade the menu. I promoted scratch-cooking and hired chefs who knew how to do it. My life did not come to a screeching halt. I'm afraid it takes more than sugar and artificial colors to make that happen for most parents.
And another quote from the article:
"You can't really call yourself an environmentalist if you're still consuming animals. You just can't."
There's something to this, as we see again and again in the trends and data pushing plants over animals across any number of product categories in the industry. Still, there's also something perennially tone deaf about these stark promulgations from the elite about the necessity of social change in the masses. I applaud statements like this, even while I know they fall flat with 90% of the population.
And that 90% matters. Boulder is not Denver. Berkeley is not Sacramento. Austin is not Dallas. This is why, as natural products move mainstream with reckless abandon, accessibility is fast becoming a real identity crisis in need of fast therapy. There is a culture of food that exists across this country. It's rooted and woven throughout society, and too often it turns a deaf ear to the proferred wisdom of hipster farmers and superfoodists on a mission.
So like I said, this is a tough one. I applaud the Camerons for their philanthropy, for advancing healthier school food, for creating a school with resident hawks—How cool is that!—but I also know that there are schools inside communities right now starving for less starkness and more cultural sensitivity in our rhetoric as they grapple with kids that don't eat at all over the weekend.
I know these schools exist because that first-born of mine goes to one. It's a vital community of parents, teachers and kids caught in a struggle that looks nothing like the photo inset above. Until we lift up that school and the thousands like it—schools without Hollywood benefactors and birds of prey soaring above—we're falling short on our promise.