In a win for Washington state public schools, kids, the environment and animals, Pasado’s Safe Haven successfully helped secure $150,000 in grants and pass-through funding for interested school districts to implement a plant-based lunch pilot program for 2023 during this year’s Washington legislative session.
The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will administer individual grants to school districts who’d like to participate, with funding going toward expenses that will increase access to plant-based school meals, such as food supplies, delivery costs, equipment purchases and education. The animal protection nonprofit worked closely with Rep. April Berg to achieve this goal, removing barriers to allow kids more access to plant-based foods.
“I hope districts use this as an opportunity to teach students about plant-based proteins that grow near them – whether it’s a legume farm in Eastern Washington or a tofu plant on Vashon Island,” Berg says.
Founded in 1997, the Sultan-based organization is named after Pasado, a donkey who was violently tortured and killed at Kelsey Creek Farm in 1992. Honoring Pasado’s memory, and the community that loved him, the nonprofit has been instrumental in pushing for legislative change for animals, such as the definition of animal cruelty including the neglect of animals and the retail pet sales legislation aimed at stopping puppy mills.
In addition to their policy and rescue work, Pasado’s Safe Haven is also invested in education and teaching children about animals and the environment. Advocating for a plant-based school meals program is an organic next step for the organization, which has learning opportunities for students from prekindergarten through college.
According to data from Northwest Harvest, the state’s leading hunger relief agency, food insecurity affects many Washington households, with one in six Washington kids living in a home that struggles to provide enough food. Many of these children rely on schools to provide their meals on a consistent basis.
“I’m a state representative, but I’m also a school board director and eat a plant-based diet. I know first-hand that many of our students rely on public school cafeterias for their only meal of the day,” Berg says.
“One of the primary goals of this program is to create more equitable access to healthy, climate friendly, plant-based food,” says Brenna Anderst, Pasado’s Safe Haven education and advocacy director and certified humane education specialist. Anderst also notes research shows consuming less animal-based foods, especially processed meats, can reduce the risk of certain illnesses, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Plant-based foods have other advantages as well. For example, plant-based meals are more inclusive of a variety of diets and can be consumed by kids from a wider variety of cultures and religious backgrounds. Additionally, more plant-based options also offer simpler preparation, such as grab-n-go and cold lunches, for schools experiencing staff shortages and supply chain issues.
“Removing the barriers to plant-based food options lets students practice personal choice,” says Anderst. “It also gives students the autonomy to think critically and make decisions based on their individual values.” As young people face a world increasingly affected by climate change, more plant-based, nutritious options empower children to make more active decisions in what they consume. After all, the environment and animal welfare are linked.
“Many people are shocked to learn that the largest source of animal cruelty comes from our food production system,” says Anderst, and many of these systems and agricultural practices further contribute to climate change. “We need to invest in creating a more sustainable and environmentally conscious food system. Eating more plant-based foods saves water, reduces our greenhouse gas footprint, preserves biodiversity, protects our oceans, rainforests and other habitats — and saves animals.”
Plant-based choices aren’t just about physical health and nutrition, but also about fostering empathy by making more conscientious decisions. As Anderst points out, children are naturally drawn to animals and people as young as 18 months have the capacity to feel and develop empathy.
“Through Pasado’s Safe Haven’s education programs, we want to tap into the natural empathy that we all possess and encourage others to open their circles of compassion to include all beings. Animals can really teach us how to exercise our empathy muscles and that is good for everyone,” says Anderst.
Though the organization advocates for a vegan lifestyle, Anderst says they know that every person’s starting point is different and that it’s important to meet people where they are at. “Whether it’s one meal a day or one meal a week, choosing plant-based foods can support meaningful change for animals, humans and our planet.”
Pasado’s Safe Haven has a comprehensive approach to fighting animal cruelty. In addition to investigating crimes against animals and providing sanctuary to abused animals, they advocate for better laws to protect animals and educate the public about how they can help.