Alumna Lila Copeland (’14): Climate Activist is Leading a Vegan Revolution in California Schools

teenaged girl

Lila Copeland (’14) founded Earth Peace, a 501c3 organization in California, while she was still attending UCLA Lab School in the 6th grade. Lila created Earth Peace as an outlet to share the story of how animals suffer in animal agriculture, and how the industrial production of animal products is hurting our planet. Current information from the United Nations, NASA, the University of Oxford, and Harvard University shows that animal agriculture contributes more greenhouse gas toward the heating of our planet than all forms of transportation and fossil fuel combined.

What began as a vehicle to educate and share ideas with other students in schools and clubs throughout Southern California soon turned into a grassroots activist movement. Vegetarian since birth and vegan since the age of 11, Lila had been concerned by the meals and snacks she saw students eating at school, whether brought from home or offered on the lunch menu.

“Seeing the meat and cheese based food around me at the Lab School… and knowing parents and school administrators were carrying down unsustainable traditional eating habits” moved her to want to start a plant-based food revolution, she said. A diet based on meat and cheese is not healthy or sustainable in the current climate crisis, she noted, and yet these foods are the main options for students in both public and independent schools in Los Angeles.

So in 2014, Lila started the Healthy Freedom campaign with the goal to get a vegan lunch option in every school in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) every day of the school year. Working alone for the first year, Lila recruited the support of vegan doctors, dietitians, athletes, and even actress and activist Pamela Anderson. In 2016, just before the campaign’s kickoff event, a group of student activists joined in the Earth Peace mission from schools across the city.

The lobby group was strong, but making progress was a challenge until then-School Board President Steve Zimmer, a longtime vegetarian, jumped on board with the students and wrote a resolution calling for the installment of the vegan meal plan. In June 2017, the plan was finally accepted unanimously by the LAUSD board and put into place.

Lila and the Earth Peace team are still working continuously to see vegan lunch options expanded throughout all 1,100 LAUSD schools. To date, the daily options have expanded from 7 schools in the original pilot to about 100 schools district-wide. This is due to the success of the 2017 pilot, which saw an average of 13.7% of students choosing the vegan option at lunch across test schools.

“It’s a long effort, and food is a political hot button,” Lila said. “But thanks to the mighty Greta Thunberg, politicians are getting an invitation to stand out on anything relating to the climate crisis. Right now, our main focus is educating on how there is no cost involved for school districts to implement this one basic change.”

In recognition of their work on the Healthy Freedom campaign, Lila and her Earth Peace team were awarded the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in July 2019.

“This project has made a real difference and benefitted students across Los Angeles County,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator Mike Stoker in announcing the award. “We are honored to recognize the next generation of environmental stewards who will help create a more sustainable future.”

A high school senior, Lila plans to continue her activism in college and beyond. “I started Earth Peace to help educate,” she said. “I hope to revolutionize the way we think about food and how we deliver it to people in the future.”

Learn More About Earth Peace and How to Support Their Work:

Earth Peace Foundation
http://www.earthpeacefoundation.org

Facebook
http://www.facebook.com/earthpeacefoundation

Twitter
Lila Copeland (@lila_evolveveg) | Twitter

Food Revolution Network

Vegan Teen

Forks Over Knives