Over 200 high school students explore the “power of the plate” with Wholesome Minnesota

by Jodi Miller Gruhn, Wholesome Minnesota Director, March 20, 2023

My visit to Armstrong High school was one of my favorite days working for Wholesome Minnesota. The FACS (Family and Consumer Science) teachers had promoted my “vegan” visit and the students in the seven classes I visited were incredibly curious. Some because they are interested in plant-based eating, others because they thought it was unbelievable that someone would choose a plant-based lifestyle. These two curiosities made for interesting conversations and a real dialogue between myself and the students.

I shared a short presentation about  the power of our plates in terms of health, the environment, animals and inclusivity. The most powerful moment of the day occurred when a Muslim student approached me upset that they couldn’t make or eat the sausage I’d brought because of their religion. After I explained the sausage was entirely made from plants, and that I would never bring food that one cultural group couldn’t eat, a larger conversation including the entire class occurred. We talked about the power of inclusivity and what it feels like to be excluded due to dietary reasons. The student who’d raised the issue left the class beaming.

We made pancakes with oat and chickpea flour focused on the importance of fiber and easy ways to up the protein in almost any recipe. I shared substitutes for eggs like aquafaba, applesauce, and flax and chia seeds.

Impossible Foods donated Impossible Sausage which gave students the chance to try a meat alternative- which most had never had before. They were stunned by the taste and most said they would choose it if it were offered in the lunchroom or in their homes.

These presentations are so impactful because we ask students to think about food intentionally. Where it comes from, how it was made and at what cost. We created a safe, non-judgmental environment (everyone is trying it) which removed the stigma of them doing something “weird” or different.

After the presentation day, I followed up with the students by providing a list of vegan influencers and celebrities, movies to watch, and websites with recipes they might like. Last year after I presented to students, Nutrition Services for the Robbinsdale School District added vegan nuggets to the menu. This year they reported that they are looking at adding pea protein crumbles for nacho day. From zero to two vegan product additions in one year? I’ll take it!

What is Wholesome Minnesota?

Wholesome Minnesota is a program of CAA which helps Minnesota’s food service leaders simplify the process of creating culturally inclusive, healthy, money-saving, and climate-friendly menus. Their mission is to accelerate plant-based food offerings in Minnesota’s institutions and create a healthier community. For more information go to https://www.wholesomeminnesota.org/