ProVeg take to Parliament to spread our School Plates message!
Philip Mansbridge Mon 22.07.2019
The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for School Food is a mixed party group of MPs and important stakeholders that work within or campaign around the field of school food and child nutrition. The APPG meets three to four times per year and this month I was delighted to be invited to present to the group about the impactful work that ProVeg does in this area.
My presentation title really encapsulated what School Plates is all about: How Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference Towards Healthy Children and a Happy Planet.
Starting with a brief overview of who ProVeg is, what we do and what we stand for, I then went on to talk about the need for schools to decrease their reliance on meat and increase the uptake of plant-based or vegetarian meals. There are so many reasons why this is a good idea, including for the planet, for animals, and for health, and there are so many pieces of robust data and research that fully backs this up.
The use of language and layout in menu design was a big focus of the presentation. For us at ProVeg who examine menus from schools the length and breadth of the country, the importance of language and layout is obvious, but for many in the catering and school meals world, it seems that this isn’t an area that has been fully explored or analysed. When it comes to language and layout, it’s important to step back and to think about how ignoring these critical parts of menu design can and will lead to children choosing more meat-based dishes and discouraging them from choosing healthier and more sustainable meat-free alternatives.
The basics are simple – by the giving vegetarian meal options unappealing or restrictive names (ie. Vegetarian Sausages), by making them appear secondary on the menu (ie. Main Course vs Vegetarian Option) and by not offering children meaningful meal choices (ie. offering Spaghetti Bolognese and Vegetarian Spaghetti Bolognese on the same day), bad menu design can be actively working against the sustainability goals of the school or the caterer, albeit unwittingly on the part of the caterer!
There’s lots of data on this subject, but my personal favourite (and something I shared with the audience in Parliament) is the example of data lifted from a fascinating World Resources Institute (WRI) report (It’s All in a Name: How to Boost the Sales of Plant-Based Menu Items) about British retailer Sainsbury’s experimentally changing the name, and only the name, of their ‘Meat Free Sausage and Mash’ to ‘Cumberland Spiced Veggie Sausages and Mash) in one of their cafes and seeing an uplift in sales of 76%!
The APPG meeting was chaired by Sharon Hodgson MP (Labour, Washington and Sunderland West) and also in attendance was Emma Lewell-Buck MP (Labour, South Shields). Both MPs work actively in the area or school meals, child nutrition and food poverty. Also presenting was the passionate Founder of Magic Breakfast, The Food Foundation, and more. In the audience, there was a mix of key stakeholders from large caterers, teachers, schools and lead charities working in this area.
I was overjoyed by how engaged the audience was, even running out of time for all the questions following the presentation – something that’s always a good sign!
It’s great for ProVeg UK to be getting directly to those who make the decisions, especially when it’s in the magnificent surrounds of Parliament.
About the author
Executive Director for ProVeg UK. Philip has extensive knowledge of plant-based food and related animal welfare issues. Philip has previously headed up leading animal welfare and conservation charities, including in the role of UK Director for at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), and Care for the Wild International, as well as working in senior positions at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, Guide Dogs and Cats Protection, and is a regular at animal and plant-based events up and down the country.