School food footprint

Shrinking the Carbon and Water Footprint of School Food:    A Recipe for Combatting Climate Change

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As schools across the nation grapple with how to feed kids healthier, more sustainable food on tight budgets, an inspiring story from Oakland Unified School District provides a roadmap for change. Friends of the Earth’s new case study shows how the district was able to significantly reduce its carbon and water footprint by replacing a share of its meat, poultry and cheese purchases with plant-based proteins. These actions also saved the district money and improved students’ access to healthful food.

Despite the growing trend towards serving more plant-based meals, shifting institutional food purchasing towards less and better meat has rarely been tapped as a climate mitigation strategy. We hope this report inspires more public institutions to track their animal foods purchases and serve less and better meat and more plant-based foods as a cost-effective way to achieve environmental and public health goals. We also hope policymakers will begin to consider meat reduction as a powerful, cost-effective climate mitigation strategy.

If institutions across the country made similar menu shifts to Oakland Unified School District, we could achieve dramatic reductions in carbon emissions and water use with no additional cost to schools. This is a rare silver bullet solution that can address many challenges simultaneously!

Resources for Creating Climate-Conscious Menus

Here are resources for institutional food service directors and advocates that will be helpful to shift purchasing from meat to low-carbon plant-based foods that are better for our health, the environment and our pocket books.

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Food shifts matter chart

Climate conscious menus chart

OUSD chart

The carbon footprint for animal products at OUSD was three times higher than all of the other food categories combined. This shows that the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of institutional food service is to focus on reduction of animal products.

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