ProVeg is going to Parliament! ‘Change can’t come soon enough’, Dr Hannah Short.
On Tuesday 16thOctober, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Vegetarianism and Veganism will meet in Westminster to discuss whether public authorities have a duty to provide plant-based meals on every public sector menu, every day, as standard. This is on the back of The Vegan Society’s current “Catering for Everyone” campaign, with the hope of emulating Portugal’s recent success in securing legislative change making it mandatory to supply strict vegetarian meals in public sector buildings.
Taking School Plates to Parliament
Rather excitingly, our very own Amy Odene will be on the panel next week and will be speaking about the School Plates programme with the aim of showing how small changes can make a big difference. We are pleased to have already had great success, with 3.1 million meals committed to change from meat-based to meat-free over the next 12 months. We want to share this in Westminster and show how small menu changes can have a big impact, on health, budget and the planet!
More and better plant-based options please!
I, personally, am hopeful and, as a medical doctor, believe this change can’t come soon enough – not only for our schools, but for our hospitals, care homes and prisons too. My local hospital does, in fact, provide a separate plant-based menu for in-patients; however, employees have a trickier time accessing nutritious vegetarian food. Chips and beans are often the only available “plant-based” option in the hospital canteen; the vegetable soup is usually made with butter, pasta dishes are loaded with cheese, the salads are slathered in mayo.
A standard canteen hot breakfast offering is bacon, sausages, scrambled egg & hash browns (granted, there may be a mushroom or two floating around but, again, usually in butter); ravenous medics chow down after long night shifts when dry toast and a banana just won’t do. Even in my pre-vegan days it never failed to astonish me that NHS canteens were always awash with the very foods we know can cause us harm.
The UN recently stated that the use of animals for food is the biggest environmental problem. With this in mind, the provision of universal plant-based meals actually represents a business opportunity and makes sense from both an environmental and public health perspective. It can be no coincidence, therefore, that The Vegan Society’s “Catering for Everyone” campaign was launched on March 22nd: NHS Sustainability Day.
Many of us are overfed yet undernourished.
A recent patient encounter brought home to me just how far removed many of us are when it comes to nourishing and sustaining ourselves (and our planet). A hurried mother arrived for her appointment, three children in tow. More accustomed to seeing young hands and mouths sticky with chocolate and pop, I remarked on the fact that they were happily nibbling on carrot sticks and apple slices. Their mother smiled wearily and replied: “Well, I am glad someone approves. Their nursery has told me these are not appropriate snacks and that ham and cheese sandwiches would be a better choice …”. Flabbergasted. We have a long way to go.
And, yet, I remain optimistic.
I believe this an exciting time for the plant-based movement and the fact that this issue has garnered enough attention to warrant a Parliamentary meeting in its own right speaks volumes. In these times of austerity, this also makes economic sense: after all, fresh fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and legumes are kinder on the wallet than animal products have ever been. The beauty of plant-based food is that everyone can enjoy it, regardless of dietary need, culture or faith; no one need feel left out and, in a modern world where feelings of isolation are soaring, this is no small consideration. A plant-based diet automatically excludes numerous common allergens, such as milk and eggs, and additionally reduces the risk of food-borne illnesses.
Along with Amy, I will be attending the APPG next week and look forward to no-doubt lively discussion. We need to normalise plant-based meals and show that they can be delicious and celebrated in their own right. Ensuring easy access to nutritious, healthy vegan meals in public sector institutions would be an enormous stride forward and, with Portugal’s success, I believe this is now within our reach.