Why do we need guaranteed vegan options in all state entities? Because the existing system isn’t working.
October 3, 2018
In 2017 Go Vegan Scotland carried out a survey to find out what issues Scotland-based vegans were facing in terms of their ability to live vegan when dependent upon the state / government.
This arises when we're in hospital, school, prison, care homes and other contexts. The responses from some 480 Scotland-based vegans highlighted a lack of understanding of the moral conviction that vegans live by, what it means to be vegan in terms of avoidance of all forms of animal exploitation and killing, and how vegan convictions should be taken into account by our state entities.
In terms of food provision, NHS Respondents who had experience of vegan provision in Scottish hospitals reported the following experiences, among many others:
- I was in for two weeks when my son was born and they said they couldn't cater for me. My partner had to bring in all my meals. I wasn't allowed to use their fridge or microwave or bring in hot food and he was only allowed to come twice a day at visiting hours. It was 30 degrees so any fresh food was spoiling. It was truly awful!
- They offered me the vegan menu but often the food was unavailable. This included pieces of fruit. I was given a halal chicken curry at one point. I was so tired and hungry and weak after my labour experience and had nothing to eat. My husband brought me snacks to keep me going but I desperately wanted to leave the hospital and go home and get proper meal so told the staff I was ready to leave when I didn't feel ready to leave at all.
- I was in hospital for three days recently. I asked a number of times for vegan food options and was told they could not provide anything vegan. I had to arrange for my wife to bring in food for me. Some people will not be able to rely on family.
- After delivering a baby, the only food available to me was potatoes, salad and toast. This was very difficult as I had anaemia following childbirth, and needed to discharge myself to get a healthy balanced meal at home.
- After an operation I was given the same plate of food as everyone else in the room. Even after stating multiple times that I am vegan. All I had to eat in 12 hours was a banana.
- I was in hospital for 2 weeks and all I ate from the hospital was baked potatoes and vegetables. My mum had to bring me food and soya milk. I actually discharged myself as soon as I could as it made my admission more difficult and felt unhelpful.
- I've never obtained vegan food in hospital and have had to rely on family and friends bringing food in for me. In one case where I was told this was not allowed I was unable to eat until I left the hospital.
- A particular issue is that it is not possible to pre-book dietary requirements and once in the system, you are at their mercy (and presumably not well enough to deal) Not everyone has friends and family to help out.
- Refused vegan option, given meal with cheese and I have anaphylaxis to milk! Family brought food.
- The chef said he was under no obligation to provide me with my dietary requirements. Veganism is a lifestyle choice, not a dietary requirement were his exact words.
- Had an overnight stay a few weeks ago. Toast with jam was all I was offered.
- No vegan option after operation. Nurse had to go to cafe for me to get soup.
- Been in hospital a few times over the past 7 years. They don't have a clue what to feed vegans. Cream/butter/ham all offered. Usually have a plain baked potato and bring food with me. Not good.
- Took days to identify there were vegan options and then they were ready meals that all tasted the same. No fresh food, no plant milk etc.
- Menu usually has one vegetarian option containing dairy or egg but no vegan option. The go to was plain baked potato or with beans if available.
- A vegan menu existed and was usually sorted eventually but it took a lot of nagging staff to remember to ask about it on my behalf and get it ordered on a daily basis, which I found very stressful and was often made to feel like a nuisance. But if I didn't make sure to ask, then it was often forgotten about and I had to rely to asking visitors to bring me something in.
- When I gave birth the only vegan option I was given was a plate of lettuce and apricots. I had to bring in my own spread and milk for toast and tea. They had advance notice I was coming as it was a booked induction.
A number of respondents reported instances of hospitals referring to limited resources and the fact that vegans are a minority and the priority of the hospital must be to provide for the majority. Aside from this approach failing to acknowledge the rights of vegans, who have a protected moral conviction with the same status as religious beliefs, it ignores the fact that vegan options on a menu are totally inclusive; vegan food can be consumed by everyone.
We would like to highlight that the issue is not with NHS staff, who work very hard and have stressful jobs. The issue is that the system is not in place to provide for vegans.
We are aware from talking with vegans throughout Scotland that children who are vegan are not catered for in Scottish schools unless special provision is made, and many people have reported to us that their school has refused to make such provision.
Children and their families are told that “vegan is a special diet that needs NHS approval”, that the school food nutritional guidance does not allow for vegan meals, and/or that “veganism is a lifestyle choice” and the school does not have to make provision.
People with children in school reported the following experiences, among many others:
- Our local primary has vegetarian but not vegan options. In order to obtain 'other' dietary requirements you have to prove medical need.
- Only vegan school dinner option is dry baked potato with beans. They do not do school dinners for this reason. This means that my youngest misses out on the free school meals for p1-3 and is therefore the only child out of 7 classes who is packed lunch.
- Primary school - no specifically vegan options on the lunch menus. My child takes a packed lunch (when he was in p1-3 with free school meals, he was the only packed lunch child).
- Lack of vegan options so eats a baked potato and salad each day as his free meal for children P1-P3 despite me contacting the caterers and sending details of vegan options.
- I contacted the council to ask what was vegan on the school menu. Their initial response was to say that veganism was a lifestyle choice and not a belief system so they would not provide vegan meals. I responded to that by clarifying that I wanted to know what on the existing menu was suitable for vegans - to which they responded "Soup".
- Food provision for vegans is non-existent other than bread or chips or salad.
A guaranteed vegan option on every menu every day in all of our state entities, schools, hospitals, prisons etc, would mean we would have consistency, it wouldn’t be a postcode lottery if you would be provided for or not, children wouldn’t miss out on free meals and would be able to eat in the canteen with their friends and people in hospital wouldn’t be left to fend for themselves, discharge themselves early or try to find the energy to have a lengthy back and forth trying to obtain suitable food.
It would cut through the bureaucracy and make provision consistent for all. It wouldn’t only be a good thing for vegans, as tasty, nutritious plant-based meals can be enjoyed by everyone, are better for us and better for the environment.
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Petition background statement:
Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.
More people of all ages are making the decision to live vegan, with the number in the UK doubling twice in the last 4 years. More people are also choosing plant-based food for health, environmental and ethical reasons.
Plant-based food can be enjoyed by everyone. The British Dietetic Association recognises that well-planned totally plant-based diets are suitable for every age and life stage.
The UN has urged a global move towards a meat and dairy free diet for the benefit of our planet, and Scotland has the opportunity to lead the way.
Veganism is still widely misunderstood. Many still think of vegans as people who choose to follow a restrictive diet. In fact, veganism is not about food at all. Vegans are people who live in recognition of the fact that animals are sentient beings, just like us, and so consider it wrong to use them as commodities, unnecessarily bringing them into existence in order that we can take things from them and then kill them. Vegans are morally opposed to the commodification of other animals and so live their lives, in so far as they possibly can, avoiding any involvement in the use and killing of animals.
This vegan moral conviction has been found to come within the scope of international human rights provisions and vegans in the UK are protected under human rights and equality law. This means that service providers have an obligation to provide for vegans and a responsibility under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid any discrimination on the grounds of veganism.
All state entities must act in accordance with these rights and the Government must pass such laws as are necessary to secure our rights. State entities also have a positive duty to advance equality and remove or minimise disadvantages faced by vegans on account of their protected convictions.
Providing vegan options does not just protect the rights of vegans. Plant-based food can be enjoyed by vegans and non-vegans alike and so guaranteeing these options improves inclusivity. A good vegan option provides for everyone, including vegetarians, those with religious dietary needs and those with allergies. Plant-based options are also often preferred by non-vegans due to health and environmental considerations.
Increasing vegan food provision could support environmental initiatives. A vegan diet can reduce food related carbon emissions by 50% and the new land used every year for each person would near-halve. (Peer-reviewed study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine & WWF Livewell Plate both 2017).
Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transport combined. (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock 2013). An average cow produces around 700 litres of methane per day, equivalent to the emissions produced by a 4 x 4 travelling 35 miles a day. (Dr David Davies. Aberystwyth University - Documentary: Meat The Truth 2007)
Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction - forests are destroyed to grow feed for animals (far more soy is used to feed poultry, pork, cattle and even farmed fish, not for vegan products). As well as destroying wildlife habitats, deforestation contributes to climate change, removing valuable CO2 absorption and storage that trees provide. (World Bank - Causes of Deforestation of the Brazilian Amazon 2004)
Consuming animals and things taken from animals is a very inefficient food source and form of nutrition - we're in a bizarre situation where for every 100 calories we feed to animals we only receive 12 calories back by consuming their flesh and milk. (Cassidy, E. S., West, P.C., Gerber, J.S. & Foley, J.A Redefining agricultural yields 2013) In June 2018, researchers from Oxford University conducted a landmark study and suggested that eating a vegan diet could be the "single biggest way" to reduce your environmental impact on earth. (Poore, J., Nemecek, T. University of Oxford - Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers 2018)
Both the British Dietetic Association and the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognise that totally plant-based diets are suitable for every age and life stage.
To get the most out of a vegan diet, it should include plenty of whole grains, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables, which are packed full of beneficial fibre, vitamins and minerals.
It’s easy to produce tasty options that include these foods, which are rich in fibre and low in saturated fat, and there are lots of online resources and recipes which can help organisations ensure they are offering healthy, balanced and tasty vegan food.
In addition, a considerable body of research has linked vegan diets with lower blood pressure and cholesterol, as well as lower rates of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer.
(Sarah Alexander, Robert J Ostfeld, Kathleen Allen, Kim A Williams. A Plant Based Diet & Hypertension 2017) (Yoko Yokoyama, Ph.D., M.P.H., Susan Levin, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., and Neal Barnard, M.D., F.A.C.C Meta-analysis of dietary cholesterol 2017). (Michelle McMacken & Sapana Shah. A Plant Based Diet For The Prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes 2017)
The UK is woefully short of meeting the five portions of fruit and veg a day recommendation (estimates are around three and a half portions a day according to the National Diet and Nutrition Survey). Building familiarity of plant-based foods in public sector settings could help address this.
Making it Happen
Changing our food system will inevitably result in longer term implications for our farming system. The Vegan Society are working with researchers and farmers to propose sustainable alternatives to animal farming. Their Grow Green campaign outlines how climate change can be tackled through plant-protein agriculture, and the policies required to encourage such transition. They also point to other forms of diversification to support farmers out of animal farming.
Improvements in Plant-based Provision Elsewhere
The Vegan Society’s ‘Catering For Everyone’ campaign has been encouraging public sector institutions (schools, hospitals, councils and prisons), to increase their vegan options.
The campaign has been well received with many public sector institutions recognising that improvements can be made and agreeing to increase their provision for vegans.
An English county council, universities in Manchester and London, and a Welsh health board are among the many public sector institutions making positive changes to their menus due to this campaign.
In 2016 Portugal introduced legislation compelling all public sector canteens to provide a vegan option on their daily menus. This followed a successful campaign and shows that legislative changes, just like we are calling for, can be successfully implemented.