Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Help America's School Lunch Program Make the Grade - by Gene Baur

Discussions about our health care system reached a fevered pitch recently in Washington, D.C. with Congress addressing a massive health care bill. Disagreements abound on various policy matters, but there is no question that our nation’s health has deteriorated and health care costs have increased substantially and are not sustainable. We cannot continue accepting poor health and disease as normal, and depending on pharmaceuticals to treat preventable illnesses.

It is critical to promote healthier plant-based eating habits and to lower the risk of disease in the first place. Politicians and the mainstream media have been slow to address the importance of disease prevention; however, the concept is finally beginning to surface, at least in general terms. Shortly after the U.S. House of Representatives voted on the health care bill, an ABC News commentator spoke to a national audience about the need for “fundamental” change and discontinuing our “bad habits,” and on CNN, Dr. Andrew Weil highlighted the importance of “disease prevention” and “health promotion.” Meanwhile, Michelle Obama has planted an organic garden at the White House and is urging school children to exercise and eat more fruits and vegetables to combat obesity and other lifestyle related health problems.

Congress will begin discussing the federal school lunch program soon, and this provides an opportunity for parents and others concerned about our nation’s youth to weigh in and to challenge a system that allows factory farms to profit by selling unhealthy food to children. Each year, the federal government spends more than $1 billion on animal products for programs like the National School Lunch Program. The Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act will prevent the federal government from spending any of this taxpayer money on products from animals raised in veal crates, gestation crates or battery cages.

In addition, the Healthy School Meals Act would provide financial incentives to school districts that provide their students with plant-based food options and non-dairy beverages. By educating students about the dramatic benefits of adopting a plant-based diet for the animals, the environment and their health, this law would have a tremendous impact. Contact your legislators now and ask them to support the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act AND the Healthy School Meals Act. Agribusiness will fight to maintain the status quo, but citizens also have a voice in our democracy, and if we speak up, we can make a difference. The future, individually and collectively, is in our hands.

I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Baur at a vegan pot-luck in Rhinebeck, New York, where he gave one of his inspiring speeches.  The man is truly a hero to all farmed animals.  His vision and action to start Farm Sanctuary has helped open peoples hearts and minds about what we eat, and how animals have every right to live a happy life without being exploited for human palates.

Gene Baur is President and Co-Founder of Farm Sanctuary.

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