What happened in Parliament this week – and why we’re feeling positive.
October 18, 2018
On Wednesday this week, ProVeg UK went to Parliament! We were there for the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Vegetarianism and Veganism to discuss whether public authorities have a duty to supply plant-based food.
We were honoured to have a place on the panel, alongside special guest Nuno M. Alvim (president of the Portuguese Vegetarian Association), and the opportunity to share the success we have had so far with our School Plates programme.
Nuno spoke on Portugal’s triumph, last year, in changing the law ensuring the legal obligation for hospitals, schools, universities and prisons to provide fully plant-based meal options on all menus. Nuno attributed their success to having a large support network including many non-vegans keen to diversify their own diets, civil rights campaigners, and having the media on side. They also had the backing of the Health Minister and the firm support of numerous health professionals.
We heard from Vegetarian for Life’s chief executive, Amanda Woodvine, on the provision of plant-based meals in public sector care homes. There may only be two fully vegetarian care homes in the UK, she told us, but HC-One – who have over 300 care homes – have recently introduced vegan options at mealtimes. The uptake in these meals has surprised caterers, with 10% of residents now requesting plant-based alternatives.
Dave Oliver, head of catering for Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service, was also in attendance. We learnt that plant-based meals are available to all inmates who request them but are not, as yet, a default option. He explained that, with a daily budget of £2.02 per prisoner, the perception that plant-based meals are more expensive may be the reason.
This is just one of many myths which must be dispelled; beans, wholegrains, fruit and veg are far more cost-effective than animal-products and are nutritional powerhouses – something of fundamental importance in a typically undernourished population. Furthermore, Bidfood – national food suppliers to the prison service – now provide over 200 fully plant-based options. As Amanda stated: “It has never been easier for public authorities to offer vegan alternatives”.
Mark Banahan, campaigns and policy officer for The Vegan Society, detailed the provision of plant-based meal options in our hospitals. A survey by Go Vegan Scotland revealed some woeful offerings including crisps (as a meal substitute) and a plate of potatoes, salad & plain toast for a new mother anaemic after birth. Others go above and beyond, and are surely worthy of praise, but it’s currently a post code lottery. Mark stressed the importance of widespread availability of healthy plant-based meals for all recovering from illness and healing from surgery, and urged us to follow in the positive footsteps of Brazil, New York and California.
Our own Amy Odene, campaign manager at ProVeg UK, was last up, but by no means least. She spoke passionately about the importance of improving the health of our nation’s children. With obesity at an all-time high, it is paramount that children are introduced to healthy eating at a young age. Provision of plant-based meals for all encourages familiarity and inclusion.
Close to 100% of schools serve processed red meat, yet only 10% of children are currently getting their 5 a day and parents are having to fight local authorities to ensure their child can receive a hot plant-based meal. However, Amy was able to tell the panel of the success of the School Plates programme so far with over 3.1 million meals committed to change from meat-based to meat-free in the next 12 months.
Overall there was a strong sense of possibility in the room, with most being confident that this was a result that we could achieve with the UK government, it was just a matter of time and working out the strongest messages to take forward. As we all strive forward and continue to progress the movement from within our own areas of work, we are ever closer to making plant-based food in all public institutions a reality, and maybe it’s not that far around the corner…
Chair MP Christina Rees closed the meeting stating that she felt “optimistic” about the future.
Watch this space.