June Food Is Climate Newsletter

Posted on June 5, 2023


Marielle Williamson on the left with short brown hair, a serious and professional look on her face, wearing a white long sleeve blouse with three buttons down the center. The photo cuts off at her waist. To the right sits Deborah Dubow Press with shoulder length dark brown hair. She has the same expression as Williamson. DuBow Press is wearing a navy blue top with sleeves that cut off at the elbow. At the bottom of the screen is a text box that displays: "Got Milk? High school student sues district for allegedly silencing her about alternatives to cow's milk"
Source: NBC News

Questions for Marielle Williamson

DeMarines: Marielle, tell me how long have you been plant-based or preferred plant-based milk?

Williamson: I transitioned to a plant-based diet nearly three years ago. I have always preferred plant-based milk over cow’s milk.

DeMarines: Do you find many or most of your classmates do not prefer or cannot tolerate cow’s milk? 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 your school district in California?

Williamson: While not plant-based or vegetarian, the majority of my classmates prefer non-dairy milk to cow’s milk. Having the product in its raw form rather than curdled into cheese or yogurt, allows for what I believe to be an easier connection to the real product—the lactations of a mother cow. I’ve also heard this view from peers.

This lawsuit aimed to highlight all of the issues associated with dairy milk, but most significantly the impact the promotion of this product has on students. We wanted to bring awareness to the stronghold the dairy industry has over schools participating in the NSLP, while also discussing the prevalence of lactose intolerance in LAUSD schools. We have not directly received a response from any of the defendants.

DeMarines: I know Deborah Dubow Press filed the lawsuit on your behalf—were you frightened of taking such a visible and bold action ??

Williamson: There was most definitely some anxiety with taking this step. Nonetheless, the Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine is an incredible, supportive network I knew would be able to aid me in handling any unexpected concerns. The fear that came with taking this step was overshadowed by support, as well as knowledge of the impact this lawsuit could possibly have for the plant-based movement.

Read the rest of the interview here >>

Questions for Deborah Dubow Press

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

DuBow Press: PCRM has been fighting the dairy industry’s influence in our federal nutrition programs for decades. We met Marielle while working with students in California, raising awareness on health and equity issues regarding requirements that dairy milk be offered at every school meal. Many students, especially students of color, cannot digest lactose, while other students simply do not 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 these students might not be allowed to criticize the dairy industry at school. The National School Lunch Program prohibits interference with 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.

Read the rest of the interview here >>



Categories: News Release