7 things NYC Mayor Eric Adams is doing to create a plant-based city

New York City is a world leader in implementing plant-based solutions to address the climate crisis and improve peoples’ health. It is introducing climate friendly food in schools, hospitals, jails, and community events throughout the city. Mayor Eric Adams, dubbed the ‘plant based mayor,’ was a strong advocate before being elected mayor, and has kept his commitment with a stream of major plant-based initiatives in New York City since he took office on January 1, 2022.

Eric Adams was born in Brooklyn on September 1, 1960 to a working class family. Six years ago, he was diagnosed with advanced type 2 diabetes. He started his journey by googling “reversing diabetes” and learned how a whole food, plant-based diet can reverse the disease. After shifting from a processed food diet, consisting of fast food and donuts, to a whole foods plant-based diet, he noticed remarkable results: “​​When I switched to a plant-based diet, I saw an immediate difference in my health. Within three months, I lost weight, lowered my cholesterol, restored my vision, and reversed my diabetes.”

“A plant-based diet restored my eyesight, put my Type 2 diabetes into remission, and helped save my life.” – Mayor Eric Adams

In a 2020 interview with Forks Over Knives, Adams said, "In the past, my entire meal was built around my life, now my life is built around my meal" (FOK interview). He chops his carrots and other veggies for the week. "90% of what I eat is what I cook." When he was ill, Adams visited 5 doctors in New York City and none of them suggested a plant-based diet to help reverse his health issues, instead they all looked to prescribe medication. It shouldn’t be this way; people should be aware of the powerful positive health benefits a whole foods plant-based diet can bring. Adams was inspired to write a book to help people take charge of their own health, Healthy At Last: A Plant Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and other Chronic Diseases (Hay House, 2020).

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7 trailblazing NYC initiatives under Mayor Adams’ leadership that could be rolled out where you live too:

1. Plant Powered Fridays

NYC’s Department of Education launched Meatless Mondays in all schools in 2019. At the beginning of February 2022, Mayor Eric Adams added Plant-Powered Fridays, requiring that the main entree served in all public schools each Friday to be vegan, benefiting the lives of close to one million children in the NYC public school system. The NYC website says a vegan option is available as the "primary" meal option on a Friday and "students may also select from non-plant-based meal options, and milk is always available."

Despite the mayor's best efforts, Plant-Powered Fridays aren't entirely vegan due to a federal requirement under the US Department of Agriculture guidelines, public schools are required to serve a carton of cow’s milk at all school meals. Prior to becoming mayor, Eric Adams tried unsuccessfully to push the city’s Department of Education to ban chocolate-flavored dairy milk. Adams said, “We should be encouraging them to drink more water.”

Example of Plant-Powered Meals:

  • 3 Bean Chili
  • Pasta Primavera
  • Big City Bean Taco
  • Black Bean and Plantain Power Bowl
  • Mediterranean Chickpeas
  • Zesty Chickpea Stew 

Throughout the week, the menus also offer plant-based options like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a hummus pre-prepared meal.

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2. Serving Plant-Based food at events

Plant-based foods are exclusively served at NYC’s cultural events hosted by the Mayor’s Office, including heritage events  such as LGBTQ Pride, Juneteenth Celebration, Greek Heritage, Puerto Rican Heritage, Jewish Heritage, and Asian-Pacific American Heritage.

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Just some of the delicious vegan food served at the Mayor’s holiday party. Photograpy/Patrick Kwan

3. Consumption-based inventory for greenhouse gas emissions with C40 cities

On May 9, 2022, at a joint press conference with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Mayor Eric Adams announced New York City will be signing onto C40’s Good Food Cities Declaration.  One of the first projects is a collaboration in developing emission inventories for London and New York City.

“This initiative will pioneer new ways for our cities to calculate and reduce emission from urban consumptions, including the food we eat, often left out of the conversation. How we deliver our food, the food we eat, how we raise our food is contributing to our environmental crisis. This is the first step towards bringing food, construction materials, and consumer goods into our decarbonization strategies. Never been done before, we are doing it for the first time, London and New York City.” – Mayor Eric Adams

This new project is being underwritten by American Express’s Good Corporate Community Partnership. The C40 cities website states: “American Express will support the development of consumption-based emissions inventories in New York City and London.” According to the report, London’s food footprint: An analysis of material flows, consumption-based emissions, and levers for climate action: “Associated emissions are highly dependent on the type of food consumed. They are lower for plant-based products and higher for meat and dairy products…”

At the C40 cities World Summit, Mayor Adams announced that NYC has lowered the carbon emission of the food purchased as a city by 37 percent. This was achieved by the collective actions of Meatless Mondays and Plant-Powered Fridays in schools, and making plant forward meals the default in New York City Health + Hospital facilities.

4. Default plant-based in hospitals, 60% stick with the plant-based option

“From launching Plant-Powered Fridays in all public schools, to expanding Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Clinics in NYC Health + Hospitals facilities to all five boroughs, we are implementing transformative changes in the meals we serve and the food we source.” – NYC Mayor Eric Adams 

New York City Health and Hospitals, NYC’s public hospital system, has partnered with The Better Food Foundation and Greener by Default to make plant-based meals the default option for all inpatients in their network of 11 hospitals. Greener by Default provides behavioral strategies to “nudge” patients towards making sustainable, healthy food choices without restricting their options. All eligible patients are now offered two vegan Chef’s Special meals by default and can opt out of both if they want a meat based entree. The hospitals report that 60% of eligible patients are opting to stick with the plant-based options, which are delivering significant greenhouse gas emissions savings, as well as ensuring patients are eating healthier food.

In a press release, Mayor Adams said, “We are proud to announce the successful rollout and expansion of default plant-based lunch and dinner options at all H+H sites. This transformative program is already changing lives, empowering patients to take control of their own health, and further cementing New York City as a leader in preventive medicine.” In a letter to the editor in the Washington Post, Kate MacKenzie, executive director of the New York City mayor’s Office of Food Policy, estimates, “The city anticipates serving 850,000 plant-based meals to hospital patients in 2023, with a projected food savings of $500,000.”

5. Lifestyle medicine expansion to 6 of NYC’s public hospitals

In February 2022, the lifestyle medicine program at hospitals was extended from one hospital to six public health care sites across New York City — the most comprehensive expansion of lifestyle medicine programming in the U.S, in an effort to make New Yorkers healthier.

“As a practicing clinician, I know that making lifestyle changes can do far more for my patients living with chronic illnesses than many medicines.” – Dr. Ashwin Vasan, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner

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6. Training for 200,000 NYC health care professionals

In addition, on December 5th 2022, the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) announced a $44 million training program, the city’s 200,000 doctors, nurses and dietitians are now eligible for the world’s largest lifestyle medicine training program, which uses evidence-based, therapeutic lifestyle interventions to treat, and in some cases, achieve remission, in heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.

The much-needed training will help address structural issues in the lack of knowledge in lifestyle medicine. Only about 14% of physicians reported that they had the training to counsel their patients on nutrition. Only 27% of medical schools in the United States offer the requisite 25 hours of nutrition education in their programs.

The preventative medical training applies the six pillars of lifestyle medicine: a healthy plant-based diet, physical activity, stress reduction, sleep health, avoidance of risky substances, and positive social connections.

The official press release describes the training: “5.5 hours of online, self-paced coursework, available for one year, and participants will be eligible for continuing education credits.” The rigorous online course includes plant-based trainings such as an Introduction to Lifestyle Medicine, Food as Medicine: Nutrition for Prevention and Longevity, and Nutrition for Treatment and Risk Reduction.. ACLM is sharing best practices in high-value care from other national health systems and inviting their participation in their Health Systems Council.

We’re setting the standard for the rest of the nation, giving practitioners new tools to combat chronic disease and health disparities, and investing in a healthier city for generations to come,”– Mayor Adams.

“We are excited to now give back and invest in our health care professionals across the city to help fight health inequities in every community and to go upstream [which addresses root causes rather than symptoms] with our approach.” – Anne Williams-Isom, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services

Dr. Anne Williams-Isom draws the connection between the use of lifestyle medicine and efforts to address social barriers. This entails improving the health of individuals and poorer communities who often don’t have access to health care, yet often eat poor diets which results in greater demand for health care. If people were able to eat healthy whole food plant-based diets, then their dependency on health care would be greatly reduced.

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7. Good Food Purchasing Program and other health-promoting policies

Good Food Purchasing Program
NYC joined the Good Food Purchasing Program in 2017 which has five core values: local economies, nutrition, valued workforce, environmental sustainability, and animal welfare. The core value guiding the nutrition program is: “Promote health and wellbeing by offering generous portions of vegetables, fruit, whole grains and minimally processed foods, while reducing salt, added sugars, saturated fats, and red meat consumption, and eliminating artificial additives.” The animal welfare program helps to: “Provide humane care for farm animals by improving overall wellbeing through better rearing practices and/or reducing total numbers raised.”

In February 2021, the office introduced the first ever NYC 10-year food policy plan, called Food Forward NYC. This plan outlines a comprehensive policy framework across all city agencies by expanding plant-powered options in all public schools; “reimagining DSS’s [Department of Social Services] food distribution program based on community feedback to include fresh produce for the first time in its history; and rolling out six new NYC Health + Hospital Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine clinics.” In addition, the Mayor is signing executive orders: “We are driving systems change by signing executive orders that formalized the Good Food Purchasing program and required the promotion of healthy foods in City publications.”

“It’s time for all New Yorkers to have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a delicious, affordable, and plant-powered diet. We are making that happen!” - Mayor Eric Adams Food Forward NYC: A 10-Year Food Policy Plan

Groceries to Go
NYC did a pilot program of “Groceries to Go”, a subsidized grocery program, from December 2021 to December 2022. The updated program is designed as a Food Is Medicine intervention which aims to improve health outcomes, reduce food insecurity, and decrease long-term health care costs. NY Health Foundation proposed an amendment on January 13, 2023: “The proposed amendment will provide Health + Hospitals New York City Care members and eligible program enrollees who have a diagnosis of hypertension or diabetes and are at risk of food insecurity with access to healthier food through an online marketplace of local grocery stores. The Groceries to Go program is based on growing research that shows that the right kind of diet can help prevent and manage disease, while the wrong kinds of food can contribute to disease onset and worsen health conditions.”

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
The incentive from Mayor Adams doesn’t stop there: “The city is matching money that New Yorkers spend on fruit and vegetables through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. He also calls for more urban agriculture establishing the city’s first ever Office of Urban Agriculture, and including rooftop gardens and hydroponic systems.” NYC provides a map of farmers markets locations and offers incentives to low income people purchasing fruits and vegetables.

Check out NYC’s Nutrition Tips and Adopt a Shop Guide.

FRESH program
NYC’s FRESH program is offering financial incentives to neighborhood grocery stores designed to bring fresh grocery food closer to communities that often have limited access to fresh grocery food. A New York zoning resolution notes, in order to be a FRESH food store, 6000 plus squarefoot stores need to provide: 25% of floor area needs to be allocated for perishable items including dairy, fresh produce, frozen foods and fresh meats, with at least 500 square feet dedicated of retail space designated for selling fresh produce, which includes fruits & vegetables. Improving access to fresh foods in underserved communities is a crucial step in moving food systems healthier, more equitable and more sustainable.

Farmers Markets
On NYC’s website, under health topics, there is a Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables Stellar Farmers Markets program. It provides free nutrition education workshops and cooking demonstrations at select farmers markets throughout NYC from July to November. The program builds participants’ knowledge and skills about how and why to prepare healthy meals using fresh, seasonal produce. Workshops are open to the public and are provided in multiple languages. All participants aged 18 years and older will receive a $2 Health Bucks coupon for attending and completing a survey.

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Calling on NYC to endorse Plant Based Treaty 1.5

In 2022, Councilmember Shahana Hanif, District 39 of New York City, tweeted her support for the Plant Based Treaty.

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Endorsing the Plant Based Treaty will help create bottom-up pressure for a global treaty to halt the expansion of animal agriculture and attributed deforestation, promote a shift to sustainable and healthy plant-based diets, and restore key ecosystems.

Plant Based Treaty has been upgraded to PBT 1.5 in 2023. City councils are invited to endorse the Plant Based Treaty initiative while also introducing meaningful commitments to address rising greenhouse gas emissions. New York City serves as inspiration to help other cities meet the commitments laid out in the Paris Agreement of limiting global temperature rises to 1.5C.

The PBT 1.5 campaign has developed a playbook and set of policy briefs for city councils, universities and colleges, schools, hospitals, prisons, retirement homes, community groups, restaurants, corporations, and other institutions. For example, NYC can also focus on retirement homes where there are over 1.2 million people in NYC over 65.

Cities have substantial influence over food emissions. Many cities and towns have jurisdiction over community education, food served in schools, hospitals, prisons and care facilities, as well as street festivals, and city catered events, meetings and functions. There are a number of tools at your disposal to move cities away from animal products and towards plant-based foods.

Take Action

➜  Please share this blog
➜  Sign the NYC petition 
➜  Send an email action to NYC City Council
➜  We need to replicate these amazing initiatives in New York City in cities across the world. You can help by filling out the PBT form on our website and joining one of our introductory, onboarding calls which take place every Friday at 10am and 2pm EST (Zoom Link)
➜  Join our PBT Slack account to communicate with our team   
➜  Read or listen to Eric Adams book Healthy At Last: A Plant Based Approach to Preventing and Reversing Diabetes and other Chronic Diseases (Hay House, 2020).
➜  Listen to Mayor Adams interview on the Rich Roll Podcast
➜ Read the transcript of Mayor Adams speech to the C40 summit. “Not only is our food harming our mothers and fathers, but it’s harming mother nature.”

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