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School Food Menu Slashes Greenhouse Gas

Milan cuts its greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by reducing meat consumption in the city's school canteens.

A plant-based diet may make for a healthier lifestyle but it can also go a long way in preserving our planet’s health too. At least, that’s what the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) aimed to highlight in its October report: The Restorative Power of Planet-Based Diets.

As this report, and a growing number of other expert studies suggest, shifting our diets towards more plant-based meals can have a profound impact on reducing humanity’s global carbon emissions.

The city of Milan was an early mover in this philosophy when, in 2015, it decided to test the benefits of this thinking and reduce its CO2 emissions by lowering meat consumption in one specific sector: the city’s school canteens. Five years after tweaking schools’ cafeteria menus, the Italian city managed to achieve a 20 percent reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions - the equivalent of taking about 13,000 cars off the road. The city’s vice-mayor for food policy, Anna Scavuzzo, hailed a “great result.”

Fundamental to achieving this was working with Milano Ristorazione, Milan’s largest school canteen supplier, to create meals that are both healthier for the children and better for the planet. Menu adjustments involved transitioning meals away from red meats towards plant-based ingredients or meats with a lighter environmental footprint, such as poultry.

“Among the main changes introduced are the carrot pie, the turkey stew and the soy ragù for lasagna and pasta - dishes appreciated by children who eat lunch every day at school,” says the Chair of Milano Ristorazione, Bernardo Notarangelo, whose organization serves 85,000 meals every day to the city's children.

The endeavour was supported by the World Resources Institute’s Cool Food Pledge, which helps member organizations, including cities, restaurants, and universities, to track and reduce the climate impact of the food they dish up. Milan has been a leader in transitioning to green food policies and is recognised as the most sustainable city of those participating in the Pledge.

“With the support of World Resources Institute, it was possible to certify the 20% reduction in CO2 emissions from school canteen menus in 5 years,” says Vice Mayor Scavuzzo. “It is an exciting result and a working method that we want to propose to the collective catering of the city to reduce the emissions of the Milan food system.”

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