friends as a focus group
It’s period six at John Jay High School and Austin Omin and some friends are having lunch together, as usual. The sophomores joke with one another and catch up on news as they eat.
The topic at the table recently was what they eat. Austin had eggplant parm on a roll, Craig had a ham sandwich, Rohan had chicken—no bread, and Matt had two sandwiches—turkey for lunch, and a PBJ for before baseball practice.
“Look at us,” said Matt, noting the ham, chicken and turkey. “Do you really think Meatless Mondays is going to work?”
climate action in the cafeteria
district's commitment to sustainability and to supporting students' initiatives
He was referring to Austin’s efforts to get vegetarian-only lunch options one day a week at John Jay High School, in line with a nationwide initiative known as Meatless Mondays created to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Meatless Mondays—a shift that New York City schools implemented in 2019—will be piloted at John Jay High School beginning Monday, May 1.
Austin’s advocacy and the menu modification show the district’s sustainability goals in action: considering the environment in decision making and supporting students as they strengthen their change-maker muscles. He's been working on the initiative since September with Krista Munger, science research teacher and advisor to Earth Rise, John Jay’s sustainability club. "Austin is a strongly self-directed student," said Munger. "He has been particularly successful at including various stakeholders in the planning of Meatless Mondays."
Wins 2nd place at Greenlight Awards
Luke and Austin Present Meatless Mondays at District's Sustainability Celebration
Luke Pinney, another member of Earth Rise, joined forces with Austin several months ago. Working as a team, the students took second place at Bedford 2030’s Greenlight Awards, a competition for “great green ideas,” for Meatless Mondays. Luke and Austin also presented the project to the community at the District’s Sustainability Celebration on April 25.
The sophomores explained to a large group of parents, teachers and students that meat—particularly beef—drives climate change through cows’ emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
“Reducing the amount of meat that we consume is a small step we can take now and in the future,” said Austin. Luke framed Meatless Mondays as a solution to a problem: “There are no viable protein options for vegetarians in John Jay’s cafeteria.”
Students find allies in adminstration
Meatless Mondays isn’t Austin’s only environmental work. He’s also a member of the Town of Lewisboro’s Sustainability Committee and involved in their food scrap recycling program.
He cites Munger as a tremendous influence on his environmental activism. “She supported me with everything.” Steve Zoeller, who led Earth Rise last year, helped him connect with Andy Waild, Katonah-Lewisboro’s Food Service Director. The meeting prompted Monday lunch options including a quesadilla with zesty beans and cheddar, fried rice with tofu, and hummus with flatbread, carrot sticks and grape tomatoes.
Assistant Principal Dr. Samir Biswas, who has honored Meatless Mondays for the past decade, made it possible for Austin to distribute a survey about food options to all John Jay High School students recently. The results indicate that of the students who buy lunch, 67% are open to trying free samples of vegetarian options.
Luke and Austin will measure Meatless Mondays’ impact on John Jay’s carbon footprint through the number of students who buy lunch in the cafeteria on Mondays.
Some results are harder to measure, they know—like Austin’s conversation around the lunch table, the initiative also builds awareness and educates others in how they can take action amid the climate crisis.
“Meatless Mondays will allow me to make a change in my life that is not so drastic but still makes a significant impact,” said Austin.