by Stephanie Teuber – 2L, UCLA Law
Many K-12 students in Los Angeles, as well as throughout the U.S., rely on public schools for at least one meal each day. Although school lunch programs serve an important purpose, they are often left out of legal conversations. On February 27, with the support of a grant from the Semel Healthy Campus Initiative, the Food Law Society and Education Law Society at UCLA Law teamed up to host Is Pizza Still a Vegetable? What’s Next for School Lunch.
Through a panel conversation, moderated by Dr. Wendy Slusser, an Assistant Clinical Professor of Child Health Policy, Pediatrics, and Health Equity at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine, students learned about the history of school lunch programs, their current state, and (of course) whether pizza qualifies as a vegetable.
Each panelist contributed a unique perspective to the conversation. Following Dr. Slusser’s historical overview of these programs and a short video, Diana Winters, Assistant Director of Scholarship at the Resnick Center for Food Law and Policy, provided background on the trajectory of school lunch programs under the Trump administration, and the role of the federal government in administering these programs. Ivy Marx, a Senior Nutrition Specialist with LAUSD, explained how school lunch programs are administered in Los Angeles, and voiced the challenges presented by both budget constraints and picky children. Paula Sirola, the Executive Director of Seeds to Plate, stressed the impact of nutrition education on a child’s overall well-being, and how Seeds to Plate’s interactive gardening program helps foster a more holistic learning experience. Cheryl Leahy, General Counsel at Compassion Over Killing (COK), explained COK’s animal-welfare focused approach to school lunch reform, articulating concerns regarding the role of industrial agriculture interests in school lunch policy, and highlighting the organization’s efforts to reduce meat consumption in schools through legal and policy advocacy.
Over 100 students RSVP’d for the panel, and feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Law students appreciated that they were exposed to the diverse perspectives of the panelists, and found the conversation both lively and productive. As finals season approaches and meal-prep takes the backseat, the most reassuring news of the day was perhaps at the close of the event, when Ivy Marx answered the most obvious outstanding question: yes, pizza is still a vegetable.*
*LAUSD pizza has whole wheat crust and no added sugar.