Deborah Dubow Press Interview

Posted on June 3, 2023

< Back to the June Newsletter 

Questions for Deborah Dubow Press (print interview) for Sustainable Earth Eating,  (Food is Climate June newsletter)

 Jane DeMarines, Executive Director

DEMARINES: Deborah, how did you happen to bring this lawsuit against the school district and the USDA?

Dubow Press: PCRM has been fighting the influence of the dairy industry in our federal nutrition programs for decades. Earlier this year, we were working with a group of students in California to raise awareness about the health and equity issues associated with the requirement that dairy milk be offered at every school meal. Many students, especially students of color, can’t digest lactose. Other students simply don’t want to drink dairy milk for environmental, health, or ethical reasons. Given the dairy industry’s protected status under USDA’s laws and policies, we knew there was a chance that these students would not be allowed to criticize the dairy industry at school. The National School Lunch Program prohibits any interference with the marketing of milk in schools. That’s exactly what happened at Marielle’s school—her principal and the LA Unified School District said she could not criticize milk unless she also distributed pro dairy information. So PCRM filed a lawsuit on her behalf to protect her First Amendment rights, but also to raise awareness about the ridiculous and unjust laws in place to market milk to school children.


DEMARINES: What was the hardest part of moving forward, and is fighting a federal government agency a bit on the bold size, not to mention a massive school district?

Dubow Press: The school district isn’t really the problem here. USDA provides protections to the dairy industry at every turn—through direct subsidies, by sponsoring advertisements through USDA-run checkoff programs, and by giving the dairy industry free rein to treat American school children as a captive market. The school district is dependent on our federal meal programs and has no choice but to follow its rules—their hands were tied here. USDA is the real target. We’re fighting decades of agency policy prioritizing dairy industry profit over the health of kids.

DEMARINES: We know many people are lactose intolerant. Your lawsuit was about freedom of speech, but it was also about discrimination against these students, correct? Have you received any response from the Dept of Agriculture or the school district in California?

Dubow Press: Exactly. Our federal food programs have a long, shameful history of providing unhealthy, culturally inappropriate food to school kids. The majority of the world can’t comfortably digest lactose. That means those students, mostly students of color, have to either consume a product that makes them feel sick or not take the milk—or take the milk and throw it away—and receive less value from their meal. That’s very marginalizing. It tells those kids that these programs aren’t meant for them.

It’s too soon to have received a response from USDA or LAUSD. But we feel very confident in the strength of our case.


DEMARINES: I know you work for PCRM—so assume you have filed suits in the past that favor animals, if so please name 1 or 2 significant or interesting ones.

Dubow Press: Right now, we’re suing the University of California, Davis in order to obtain photos of cruel experiments performed on monkeys at the behest of Elon Musk’s brain implant company, Neuralink. We also just filed an administrative complaint with USDA about an ad campaign sponsored by the USDA dairy checkoff program that maligns plant-based milk. The ads violate laws intended to prevent USDA from promoting one agricultural product to the detriment of another. This is another example of dairy industry protectionism at USDA.


DEMARINES:  How has the media responded to your suit and other actions? Has their coverage resulted in the right kind of attention?

Dubow Press: The media response has been uniformly positive. Journalists are particularly appalled by the freedom of speech issue. The LA Times editorial board even published an editorial praising Marielle for speaking out and condemning USDA’s unjust, antiquated promotion of dairy milk at the expense of student choice and student health.


What else would you like to mention?

Dubow Press: We need more advocates like Marielle in our schools. I know it can be exhausting for students and parents to fight unjust policies at every turn. No one has to do it alone. Anyone interested in fighting the influence of dairy and other foods in our federal meal programs that harm our health and the planet should visit our website, for resources and please reach out to PCRM! We’re here to help.



Categories: Uncategorized