City Council Considers Cutting Meat from School Cafeterias

Reykjavík Housekeeping School Kitchen

Reykjavík City Council is considering reducing or eliminating meat in the city’s school and municipal cafeterias, RÚV reports. City Councillor Lif Magneudóttir says the move would be in line with the city’s goals to reduce its environmental impact. An open letter from the Icelandic Vegan Society calling for the elimination of animal products on school menus has city councillors, parents, and farmers debating what’s best for the environment – and children’s health.

Vegans call for change

The Icelandic Vegan Society published an open letter last week addressed to Iceland’s Minister for the Environment, as well as the government and local councils across the country calling for eliminating or significantly reducing animal-based products on school menus in light of their impact on the environment. “Agriculture accounts for 13% of Iceland’s emissions,” the letter reads. “About 50% of these agricultural emissions are methane emissions due to animal farming, and methane gas is a greenhouse gas 25 times more harmful to the environment than carbon dioxide.”

Council considers

City Councillor Lif Magneudóttir says the council is considering significantly reducing animal-based products in Reykjavík’s primary school cafeterias. Lif, who represents the Left Green Movement, also sits on the City’s School and Leisure Committee, says the move is in line with the city’s climate action plan. “I think it makes sense and I think it’s clear to everyone that we plan to take some action,” Lif stated. “We adopted a food policy last term that we are implementing now and we are going to review the climate action plan and this fits in with that very well.”

Lif says primary schools cafeteria menus were updated a few years ago, and their staples are currently vegetables, fruit, and milk, offering fish twice weekly and meat once or twice per week. “It’s very unanimous in this majority to look at these issues comprehensively and secure the resources needed to truly implement what we have agreed upon and is good for people and the environment.”

Opposition councillor Eyþór Arnalds of the Independence Party does not agree with Lif. In a Facebook post about the matter, he stressed the importance of eating local food and saying “fish and meat in Iceland is in a class of its own. No, if left-wing members of the city council want to lessen their carbon footprint, it would be appropriate for them the start with themselves. But let our children have good and varied food.”

Vegetables and variety

Hólmfríður Þorgeirsdóttir, a nutritional specialist at the Directorate of Health, also emphasised the importance of a varied diet when asked about the menu changes. “It’s quite possible to put together a menu without meat and then increase milk, eggs, and fish. But the more foods are excluded the more difficult this becomes,” she stated. “Increasing plant-based products is positive, both in terms of health and environmental issues and in accordance with the directorate’s recommendations.”

Free Hot Meals for Schoolchildren an “Equality Issue”

The elementary school in the East Iceland village of Eskifjörður is working to reduce the cost of school lunches for its students and hopes to soon make all hot meals free, RÚV reports. The principal considers free hot lunches a “very important equality issue” facing the Fjarðarbyggð municipality as a whole.

Currently, students in the Fjarðarbyggð municipality pay ISK 450 [$4.06; €3.49] a day for lunches, which in Eskifjörður, generally include fish. This comes out to roughly ISK 9,000 [$81.23; €69.91] a month per student. Principal Birgir Jónsson says that it’s come to the school’s attention, however, that not all families can afford the monthly cost of school lunches and so choose to send their children with bag lunches instead. Some parents may have other reasons for sending their kids to school with bag lunches, he acknowledges, but there are special occasions where eating a hot meal together is more of a social event, and all students should be able to take part then. “We’ve noticed that especially when there’s something like pizza or things like that, then, of course, everyone wants to [have the hot lunch].”

As a first step to addressing the problem, therefore, the school will be reducing the cost of school lunches to ISK 300 [$2.70; €2.33] starting on October 1, 2018. The intention, says Fjarðarbyggð town council foreman Eydís Ásbjörnsdóttir, is to ensure that “…all kids are sitting at the same table and have the chance to get a hot and nutritious meal.”

The municipality is taking steps to make school lunches completely free within the current election cycle.