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What do Bill Clinton, Oprah and Wolfgang Puck all have in common?

Iíll give you a hint: Itís not politics.

All three made headlines when they announced they were embracing a plant-based diet, and many communities are following their lead.

The movement toward healthier plant-based meals is taking root in public schools across the nation. Locally, schools in Arlington and Baltimore counties are leading the charge with their commitment to the Meatless Monday campaign.

This campaign encourages Americans to dedicate one day every week to avoiding meat products and instead try the increasing variety of delicious, healthy and environmentally-friendly plant-based foods that are widely available in groceries and restaurants.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the rate of childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. Studies have shown people who eat fewer animal products not only gain less weight but also have lower rates of dementia, arthritis, high blood pressure, kidney disease — the list goes on. Meat-free diets even are being used to reverse chronic diseases: Opening clogged arteries and curing type 2 diabetes.

These figures and studies take on an added importance because the 2012 Fairfax County budget estimates 25.5 percent of county students are eligible for the Free and Reduced Price Meal Program. For many of these students, the school lunch is their primary source of nutrition.

In addition, many communities are encouraging plant-based food options as a way to reduce their carbon footprint. Last year, the City of Alexandria passed a green food resolution. This citizen-led initiative will work to increase access to locally grown fruits and vegetables among school children and low-income community members. Since its passage, several schools and public housing developments have developed thriving community gardens.

To its credit, Fairfax County Public Schools had at one point recognized Meatless Mondays, marking the day on its school lunch calendars. Midway through the school year, however, the county veered away from the campaign and soon thereafter, began to eliminate veggie burgers and other hot vegetarian options from its menu.

Iím urging the school system to follow its peers and committing to this campaign by adding more vegetarian options to its school lunch menu. Adopting positive eating habits at a young age will help lead to a life-long commitment to the childrenís own health, expose them to other cultures and allow them to care for the environment.

Aashish Bhimani, Fairfax,