Fine Print: Christie Vetoes Adding Vegetarian Options to School Lunches

John Mooney | May 8, 2015 | Education
Governor says he supports concept but legislation would bring extra costs and burdens to school districts

vegan school lunch
What is it: Gov. Chris Christie yesterday vetoed a bill — approved overwhelmingly in both the Senate and Assembly — that would have required middle schools and high schools to create advisory committees to help develop alternate menus for school lunch, including options for vegetarian or vegan students.

What it means: The final bill in itself was a compromise measure to provide, at minimum, for an advisory committee to seek student input, and it had widespread and bipartisan support. That apparently wasn’t enough, although Christie stressed he wasn’t against the intent, just the means.

What Christie said: “While school districts should endeavor to provide nutritious meal options that their students prefer, the bill would unnecessarily burden hundreds of school districts in New Jersey. The burden includes the creation, distribution, and review of food surveys to every student enrolled in a middle school or high school and the formation of an eleven-member food advisory committee if even one student in the entire district expresses any displeasure.”

Sponsor’s intent: The bill was spearheaded by state Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt (D-Camden), who said one of her friend’s daughters had faced ridicule in her school lunch line when asking for vegan meals.

“We are seeing more and more students who are growing up vegan or vegetarian,” Lampitt told NJ Spotlight last fall. “We are just asking schools to look at the menus and how to adapt them for these children.”

Personal experience: In her day job, Lampitt oversees food services for the University of Pennsylvania.

Not universally backed: As it traveled through the Assembly, the bill drew the scrutiny of school district lobbyists and advocates who questioned whether the requirements were too onerous.

Passed overwhelmingly: The bill still passed the Assembly 58-16, and the Senate 34-5. The Legislature’s leadership gave no indication yesterday as to whether it would seek an override.

Final word, for now: “In light of the many challenges school districts already encounter in order to provide an education worthy of our children’s future, I cannot support the additional costs and burdens this bill would impose,” Christie wrote in his veto.

“Instead, local school officials should be encouraged to work constructively with students and parents to offer meal options that reflect their students’ dietary preferences. In the event students and parents are dissatisfied with the responsiveness of school officials, they can raise their concerns to the local board of education or elected officials.”