Apr 11, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

Experts have long attested to the many health benefits of plant-based diets. Now comes news that four Brazilian cities have committed to being 100 percent plant-based with their public school cafeteria menus by the end of 2019. Here’s a closer look at the initiative, as reported by EcoWatch.

The Plant-Based Plan

The cities of Serrinha, Barroca, Teofilandia and Biritinga in the northeastern state of Bahia have pledged to make a shift to serving all plant-based meals. All in all, the change -- spearheaded by the country’s Humane Society International (HSI) -- will impact approximately 30,000 students consuming more than 23 million meals annually.

Currently, typical school meals in these cities feature animal proteins. Under the two-year, experimental "Escola Sustentável" (Sustainable School) program, schools will cut meat, dairy and egg consumption by roughly 25 percent a semester, while simultaneously restructuring lunches to include more soy, rice milk, vegetables, peanut butter and whole grains. The program has already started with school cooks receiving plant-based culinary training by vegan chef André Vieland.

Health Benefits and Beyond

Whether or not the program continues past the trial period depends on the health outcomes of students, who will undergo testing across a number of measures. (Currently, a third of Brazil’s kids between the ages of five and nine are overweight or obese.)

However, the benefits aren’t limited to student health. Improving animal welfare, reducing schools’ environmental footprint, and helping local farmers are also drivers. Escola Sustentável leader Leticia Baird said in a statement, "Providing our school districts with plant-based meals will help save environmental and public financial resources, allow for a future of healthy adults, and build a fair world for the animals."

The program is heralded as the first of its kind. Said HSI food policy manager Sandra Lopes, “We applaud the cities of Serrinha, Barroca, Teofilandia, and Biritinga for becoming the world's first school districts to commit to going 100 percent plant-based...It's an honor to have worked with city authorities, nutritionists and school cooks on the adoption and implementation of this initiative, and we're excited to continue working closely with them to ensure the success of this program.”

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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