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WJHS adds vegetarian, vegan plans to its menu

By Evan Cook

evan.cook@jessaminejournal.com

West Jessamine High School junior Anna McElhannon recently started a petition for vegan and vegetarian meals to be implemented into the school lunch menu.

As a member of the Youth Leadership program of Jessamine County, McElhannon was required to complete a service project of her choice by the end of the year. The project she chose was to recreate the school lunch menu to accommodate vegan and vegetarian diets.

McElhannon said she took initiative by reaching out to Food Service Director for Jessamine County Schools, Lee Ann Conner.

Connor, McElhannon said, requested a petition in order to visualize student interest. She also set up a meeting between McElhannon, Interim Principal Marci Smith, and herself. McElhannon attended the meeting with a signed petition with 169 signatures and a list of requested foods from the students, including Kosher meats for those whose diets aligned with their religious beliefs.

“Anna had compiled the list of requested foods students are interested in having including pasta, salad bars, vegan pizza, vegetable wraps, and hummus to name a few,” Conner said. “The only challenge we have is meeting the requirements of the National School Lunch Program. It is a bit difficult to find a variety of ‘vegan friendly’ options, but it can be done by looking at sources other than our main supplier.”

Connor said while working on creating vegan and vegetarian options for the school lunches, the food directors also have to abide by another set of school standards for lunch menus, including providing a set amount of protein for the students.

“I definitely want to do what I can to have the meals offered at our schools meet the needs of our students,” Connor said. “I feel that if a student is choosing to eat vegetarian/vegan meals, we have a responsibility to make sure the student does this in a way that their nutritional needs are still being met.”

Acceptance of the new menu and responses to the petition that was sent around varied, McElhannon said. There was the occasional negative response from students saying that they were not rabbits, or signed the petition with words such as “bacon” or “beef.” Though some opposed, McElhannon said there was still support all around.

“I hope that the school feels a little more accepting of the students who cannot eat meat or dairy,” McElhannon said. “Fewer students who buy their lunch have to worry if there will be anything they can eat left by the time they go through the lunch line.”

Julie Herman, the newest staff member in the JCS food service, was requested to present several menu options to McElhannon and the students. McElhannon said she was sent a list of eight menu options.

Since the school only needed five menu options, McElhannon sent the menu around, asking students which menu options they would prefer. McElhannon said the menu she was shown looks very healthy and that the options look delicious. With all the positive feedback and efforts from McElhannon, the menu was set into place.

“We will begin offering the vegan meals on Feb. 20,” Connor said. “We have agreed on a six week trial, then will revisit the topic. We will meet again with Anna and Ms. Smith on March 28. At that time we will look at how many vegan meals are being purchased each day by the students and gather comments from students on acceptability.”

With the accomplishments that McElhannon has been making, the administration has taken notice.

“I am so proud of our students, and, in particular, Miss Anna McElhannon, for taking the initiative to help us better meet the needs of vegans and vegetarians in our schools.” said Superintendent Matt Moore. “We believe strongly that students should have a voice in everything that impacts them.”