FORT WALTON BEACH — Robin Brown, the cafeteria manager at Fort Walton Beach High School, has a special bond with many of the students she interacts with each day.
So when a vegan student began emailing her every morning to figure out if he could eat lunch that day, she knew she needed to do something.
“This kid is great, I love talking to him, but he doesn’t need to be emailing me every day to know if there’s something that fits his diet,” Brown said. “From here on out, he and anybody else will find something in this cafeteria they can eat.”
Currently, Fort Walton Beach High School is the only school in the county that provides vegan options for lunch. Brown is trying to convince other schools to follow suit.
“We are working hard to make it the standard for Okaloosa County, and not the exception,” Brown said. “There have been other schools with an interest, but we have been working with making it compliant to the state standards.”
Brown says the meals are more popular than she thought they would be. There are even some non-vegan kids coming in and asking for the food.
Other than four types of vegan burgers — made with red, white, black and refried beans — the cafeteria also offers three types of chickpea curries, rainbow wraps, salads, pizza, chili, stew, shepherd’s pie, stuffed peppers, falafel, burritos, enchiladas and rice bowls.
Brown is responsible for all of the vegan options, from coming up with the ideas to concocting the recipes themselves. She’s even thinking about starting to offer vegan food for breakfast.
“She’s creative,” said Aneita Sutton, the nutrition supervisor. “She’s got a definite gene in her that likes to create new things and has a taste for combinations. She sees it in her head, and we just help her get there to make it come to life.”
It’s not only students that benefit from the plant-based food options. There are several teachers who enjoy the food, including science teacher Keegan Wheeler.
“There’s a handful or more teachers who are vegan or vegetarian here,” Wheeler said. “It’s really nice that we can come in as teachers and not worry about packing our lunch with everything else we have to worry about.”
Wheeler says many students don’t even realize the vegan food is available, so she tries to get the word out to her classes.
“They just think since it's school cafeteria food, they won’t have an option so they don’t even go in (the cafeteria),” Wheeler said.