At lunch time at Sylmar Charter High School Monday, students eating from the cafeteria could have yogurt and granola, a chef salad with turkey meat, garlic cheese bread or a toasted cheese sandwich. Or they could opt for the vegan choice: vegan chili.
Sylmar is one of seven high schools where the Los Angeles Unified School District is testing out a new vegan menu. Besides the vegan chili and tortilla chips, the weekly menu, with one vegan choice each day, has a teriyaki veggie patty sandwich, a bean tamale, a veggie burger and an Italian (soy) sausage sub sandwich.
Now that it’s being tested at the seven schools, school district staff will keep collecting comments from students about the vegan food until Nov. 17 and bring those results to the school board soon after. At that point, the school board members could decide to expand the program to other campuses.
Much has been made of the vegan menu pilot program, which the LAUSD board approved last May, after then-Board President Steve Zimmer, a vegetarian, introduced a resolution for the program. A group of vegan students, the Earth Peace Healthy Freedom Campaign, pressed the board to adopt a vegan menu, even enlisting the support and personal appearance before the school board of “Baywatch” actress Pamela Anderson, a vegan and animal rights activist.
But how do the students at the pilot program schools like the food? Definitely the vegan chili is a hit. And the teriyaki burger? Maybe not so much.
“This is the first time trying it, actually. I want to try something new,” said Jasmine Avina, in the 12th grade on Monday as she dished from a bowl of the vegan chili. “I actually do like it!” Avina isn’t a vegan, but she does eat vegan food outside of school from time to time, she said.
Next to Avina, 11th-grade student Francisco Giron said he’s all about the vegan menu. He was the only full-fledged vegan at the table and said he eats a lot of beans, rice and salads, including at home.
“I started becoming vegan because I saw a lot of documentaries and did some research on how meat can affect you and all the things that they put in meat,” Giron said. “I’m an athlete, myself. So I’ve been noticing that when I was eating meat – and I would eat meat a lot because whenever I’d go out, In-N-Out or anything like that – and after I played, my joints would hurt and stuff like that, and it would just be painful. After I turned vegan, my joints wouldn’t hurt as much and I’d feel great.” Giron said he’s been a vegan for about two months.
“It tastes good to me,” Giron said of Monday’s meal. “Honestly, I like this one the best. The teriyaki burger? It tastes good. Some people have told me they’re expecting a burger taste, but it doesn’t taste like a burger, so maybe that’s why they’re giving bad reviews on it,” he said of reports from friends about that meal.
Delylah Vazquez in the ninth grade picked the vegan chili Monday and said she tried the teriyaki burger last week. “It’s pretty nice,” she said of the burger, but then revised her opinion. “It’s OK. It’s edible.” The vegan chili fared better. “I love this chili. I think it’s pretty good. It tastes like a meal that my mom would make me, but without meat.” Vazquez said she learned in health class that a diet high in vegetables and with less red meat can decrease the risk of heart disease.
“It tasted good, for a vegan item,” Adrian Gomez, in ninth grade, said of the Italian (soy) sausage sandwich he tried last week. “I always like meat.” Even so, he had the vegan chili on Monday. “It tastes like chili. It tastes like an all-natural kind of recipe, like all I see in there is beans and vegetables.”
Sylmar Charter High School Principal James Lee asked for volunteer students willing to take the vegan option at Monday’s lunch and talk with a reporter about the vegan menu. But in truth, a walk around the courtyard where approximately 700 students ate school lunch Monday showed many chose the vegan chili.
At the end of lunch, the cafeteria had run out of the 200 vegan chili servings kitchen staff had prepared, said Angela Nicholas, area food service supervisor for the northeast district. “We’re going to serve more,” perhaps even upping the number of vegan meals to prepared to 250, she said.
Christian Cisneros, in the 11th grade, said the more he’s tried vegan food, the better he does in sports and class. “It’s pretty good. Vegetables. It’s still good, though. I eat meat, but sometimes I like to mix it up. Once in awhile, I’ll try some vegan food. Once in awhile, I’ll try some meat. I want to keep a balanced diet. I don’t feel like other schools have that.”
This is only the second week of the vegan menu trial, Lee noted. “It may take some time before the word gets out, or once students continue to eat it and try it, they may get accustomed to it and eat more of it,” he said. “Or they may not!” he added, laughing.