World School Milk Day 2017

On September 30, Seed the Commons held the first counter-celebration to World School Milk Day (WSMD) in the Mission neighborhood of San Francisco. This was the first time that WSMD was opposed or that an event was organized specifically around the problems with school milk. Launched eighteen years ago by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, WSMD is a barely-veiled day of pro-dairy marketing that is currently celebrated in more than forty countries. From farm visits and cow costumes to writing competitions and free milk distribution, activities are fun and diverse. Schools and other participants pour their creativity into bolstering school milk programs, with their goal of turning impressionable children into life-long milk consumers.

Dr. Payal Bhandar, family physician and mother of two, spoke powerfully about the damaging effects of milk on children's health..

Dr. Payal Bhandar, family physician and mother of two, spoke powerfully about the damaging effects of milk on children’s health.

At our event, speakers included a family physician, a schoolteacher, community organizers, vegan moms and health and nutrition educators. They made it clear that mandatory school milk exacerbates health inequity in the Bay Area and they discussed the need for school meal policies that serve children, not the dairy industry.

Dr. Payal Bhandari is a family physician and mother of two who was named San Francisco Examiner Reader’s Choice 2016 Winner for Best Pediatrician. She spoke of the health problems caused by milk consumption and of her personal path to learning about the connection between dairy and disease. Due to the lack of nutritional training for physicians, she was initially unequipped to deal with the effects of dairy consumption on her daughter, but this experience led her to a more holistic and diet-based approach to her practice. As she spoke of the systemic effects that milk consumption has on our bodies, she reminded us that these are not limited to those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to milk.

Tamaya Garcia of Spanglish Vegan Kitchen, Eliseangela Young of Pristine Health and Reina Montenegro of Nick’s Kitchen are all vegan moms who spoke of their path towards plant-based parenting and of the work they do in their communities to improve the health of all. Kevine Coleman, Director of Policy at Coleman Advocates and Corey Rowland, a teacher at Berkeley Unified School District, described some of the economic and health issues facing the local student body and the inadequacy of school meals. Everybody rallied around the removal of milk from school meals as a means to better serve all school children and as a step towards local food sovereignty.

Gathering signatures WSMDAnd indeed, this event was also the launch of Seed the Commons’ campaign to #GetMilkOut of San Francisco public school meals. We gathered signatures for our petition to the San Francisco Board of Education and we were delighted to find that most passersby supported it. A few days prior, on World School Milk Day, our Thunderclap campaign had already reached up to 364′ 000 people with its call to #GetMilkOut of school meals. We will continue to build awareness around school milk by conducting outreach to community and parent groups in San Francisco throughout 2018.

The day wasn’t all politics and information; we tasted a variety of delicious foods and offered samples to the people to whom we spoke on the street. These included plant-based cheese and yogurt as well as dishes that are naturally rich in calcium, such as chia seed pudding. We also had a vegan Filipino and Chinese lunch, highlighting the fact that San Francisco’s ethnic groups already have an abundance of tasty, healthy plant-based foods.

Our food was a wonderful demonstration of the spirit of the campaign. We oppose policies that mandate that milk be served in school meals, but we especially oppose the underlying message: that milk is irreplaceable, unique and necessary. Since we reject the normative role of milk in our culture, our campaign does not call for cow’s milk to be replaced by plant milk. Instead, we ask that milk be replaced by water and that meals include calcium-rich, whole foods. The promotion of milk through school meals relies on the myth that dairy completes an otherwise deficient diet. To put forth an image of plant foods and non-European food cultures as nutritionally adequate is seemingly simple, but it’s a truly radical first step in changing school meal policies. In our vision, school gardens and school kitchens would become spaces that tap into and help preserve the rich culinary traditions of our city. For a healthy San Francisco, all we need is to start working with what we already have.




Many thanks to the following companies and organizations for their generous donations: 

A Well-Fed World, VegFund, Nick’s KitchenLoving Hut Inner SunsetOnce Again Nut ButterPunk Rawk LabsMiyoko’s KitchenCalifia FarmsKite Hill, Follow Your Heart

Learn more about school milk.