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Why The Youth Steering Committee Wants Politicians to Support Plant-Based Foods

Youth Steering Committee at Washington DC

Youth Steering Committee members urge government officials to promote plant-based foods and stop pushing pro meat and dairy policies that threaten their futures by worsening the climate and human health 

Youth Steering Committee lobbying
Youth Steering Committee lobbying

Los Angeles, September 14, 2023 — For a second year, a group of students belonging to the Youth Steering Committee (YSC) have traveled to Washington DC to talk to Senators, House Representatives, and other government officials urging them to stop subsidizing animal agriculture and start allowing more plant-based foods and dairy-free milk into America’s school systems. The students explained animal agriculture’s horrific impact on the environment and human health.

Who Listened & Who Dismissed Them?

The students told UnchainedTV that, while some elected officials listened intently and respectfully, they felt dismissed by US Department of Agriculture officials who told them they did not represent enough students for their opinions to have weight. No shock there given that the USDA is run by a former dairy industry trade leader. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is the former CEO of the US Dairy Export Council.

The Youth Steering Committee is made up of students who are passionate about promoting climate-friendly, plant-based food for the betterment of our planet, people and animals. The YSC members work together to strategize and implement campaigns aimed at influencing federal policies. The students want K-12 schools to adopt plant-based, sustainable menus and they want to put an end to factory farming practices. Through their efforts, the YSC hopes to create a healthier, more sustainable future for generations to come.

The YSC was formed in a partnership between Chilis on Wheels and Friends of the Earth. Eloisa Trinidad, Executive Director of Chilis on Wheels, and three of the YSC students who went to Washington DC this year, Nitya Hakka from Illinois, Nancy Zhang from Indiana and Jasmine Hsieh from California, spoke with UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell about their latest lobbying efforts. You can watch it here:

The Youth Steering Committee Is Lobbying for a New Federal Bill

Eloisa Trinidad
Eloisa Trinidad

Eloisa Trinidad is the Executive Director of Chilis on Wheels and the Founder and Executive Director of Vegan Activist Alliance. She is also a leading force in The Youth Steering Committee and has achieved prominence and national attention for her unique and creative programs and campaigns, like New York City’s Plant-Based Community Fridge.

The YSC is working to advance a federal bill that would provide plant-based school food, including plant-based milk, encourage plant-based food policies in federal programs, and shift USDA guidelines to support plant-based food and plant-based milks. Trinidad explains more about this bill:

“The Healthy Future Students and Earth Act was first introduced in the 117th Congress and is in the 118th Congress now. This bill  would support those schools that want to implement plant-based menus. Also, that money could be used to train the food service workers. It would support organic foods that are plant-based in those schools. It would support any of the programs that could facilitate us moving towards a plant-based food system through the educational institutions that we have in this country.”

The YSC selects 12 students from across the country each year. They go through a program that runs between three and four months, learning how to lobby professionally. Then, they actually get to talk to politicians, air their concerns and ask them to support certain legislation. Trinidad explains other demands the students have:

“Of the things that the Youth Steering Committee is really demanding is that there be a youth advisory council at the USDA so they can directly speak to the students to see what the students want, how they’re being impacted by these decisions that our federal government is making, and to really involve the stakeholders, the students.”

“If we go into these schools and we talk to them about humane education, about the animals, about the planet, and then they go to the cafeteria and the only choice that they have are the bodies of other animals, then we’re failing them”— Eloisa Trinidad, Chilis on Wheels

Will Politicians Do Anything About This?

Youth Steering Committee with Staffers at Washington DC
Youth Steering Committee with Staffers at Washington DC

The students’ experience of talking to the Washington DC politicians and their staffers, as well as officials from USDA, was mixed. They were grateful for having been heard and by finding some sympathetic ears, but also disappointed by the dismissal of their concerns, and by the lack of commitment to do something concrete. Nancy Zhang said:

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“I was there at the USDA meeting, and we were super fortunate and appreciative that they were even willing to hear our perspectives. So, when we shared some of our testimonies, they were all super powerful, we come from a very diverse group of students, with all different reasons for being plant-based, religious reasons, ethical reasons, environmental reasons, health reasons, etc. I feel, and many of us felt, that when we shared all those testimonies, we were sort of dismissed.”

Nitya Hakka was disappointed that the Senate staffers she spoke with were unwilling to promise a NO vote to defeat the infamous EATS Act, a dangerous bill that would wipe out most animal protection laws that exist for farmed animals at the state level. She said:

“I brought up the EATS Act to the officers of the Senators that I met with for the Illinois area. I did receive some input about how the staffers that I met, who are themselves vegetarian, agree with going against the EATS Act. But, they were unable to provide any information about how their Senator will vote on the act. So, it was a very indefinite statement that they made to me,  a student going all the way to DC to lobby for that. It was a little bit discouraging to hear that coming from their office.”

Jasmine Hsieh was able to talk to staffers for her two senators for California, Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla. She said this about her meeting:

“I’m very lucky to be able to be in a state that values environmental issues. All the things I talked about, how the animal industry and dairy industry correlate with environmental issues, these staffers really took to heart. And, I also talked a lot about the importance of giving students a choice, especially students with different needs, health needs, religious needs, or cultural background needs. So, they really took me seriously, and I’m very grateful for that.” 

“There are a lot of people who are working against us and are making it pretty difficult for us to get these plant-based options in schools. But, there are always people who are working with us as well.”— Nancy Zhang, YSC member

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