Scottish Parliament Drops Petition for Vegan Meals in Public Canteens, but Vegan Campaigners Secure Provision at Local Authority Level
The Scottish Parliament Petition Committee has unceremoniously dropped its consideration of a Petition calling for vegan food provision in public canteens, without any action being taken. This is despite the fact that the Petition garnered over 8,000 signatures and many hundreds of supportive comments, and despite evidence having been provided to the Committee about the failure of Scotland’s public canteens to provide for vegans and the impact that has on people.
Given the failure to take any action at a Parliamentary level, we have been working with vegan parents and Local Authorities, to secure suitable food for vegan pupils and to press for vegan options to be added to regular daily menus in schools, so that they are available for all.
General Provision in Scotland
Generally, Scotland’s schools do not have meals on their daily menus that are suitable for vegans, i.e. containing no animal products. Given the increasing scientific consensus on the health benefits of plant-based eating, as well as the recognition that plant diets are the most sustainable and have the lowest carbon footprint, this is quite shocking in and of itself. More problematic still is the fact that this means that pupils who are vegan are not catered for at all in many Scottish schools.
While some parents have managed to secure suitable food for vegan children through discussion with their school or by contacting the Local Authority and pressing them to provide, many have been refused provision in a number of different Local Authority areas, and often over a period of many years. We know this from discussion with vegan parents and from having been contacted by them for assistance.
In some cases, parents have been informed that vegan pupils will not be provided with suitable food in school because veganism is a “lifestyle choice.” In fact, the vegan moral conviction that it is wrong to use and kill other animals is a protected belief under human rights and equality law, with the same status as a religious belief and so vegans have the right to access suitable food including when in school.
For vegan children it is essential that they have access to suitable food, as they have made a moral commitment not to consume animals or substances taken from animals. That moral commitment has protection in law, as people must be able to live according to their fundamental moral beliefs. It is unconscionable that there are children in Scotland who hold that moral belief and yet are put into a situation whereby the only food available to them in school contains animal products.
In addition to a failure, and in some cases outright refusal, to provide suitable food for vegan children, we are also aware of many instances of children being misinformed in school that they need to consume animals flesh and other animals products for health, despite the fact that the NHS and the British Dietetics Association recognise that we can get all the nutrients we need on a vegan diet. We are even aware of vegan children who have been pressurised by school staff, including teachers and head teachers, to consume animal products against their moral convictions.
Petition for Guaranteed Options in Public Canteens
In light of the failure to provide for vegans in breach of their legal rights, and given the urgent need to increase plant-based provision generally for the environment and climate change, a petition was launched seeking to have it made a legal requirement that at least one fully plant-based (vegan) option be made available in all of Scotland’s public canteens every day. This would have followed the example of Portugal where such a law was introduced in 2017.
The petition secured over 8,000 signatures, one of the largest responses for a Scottish petition as we understand it, and extensive evidence was provided by Go Vegan Scotland (a volunteer advocacy group) regarding the impact on vegan families of the failure to provide suitable food, and from the Vegan Society on health, nutrition and the environment (the evidence session can be viewed here) and the statements submitted in support of the petition here. Nevertheless, the petition was unceremoniously dropped by the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee on 5 September 2019 with no action taken.
Although the Petition Committee undertook to write to NHS Health Boards, the Scottish Government, the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body and to Local Authorities, given that schools were covered by the petition, no responses appear to have been received from Local Authorities confirming what vegan options they offer in schools. We have reviewed the websites of Scotland’s LA’s ourselves to locate what information is available about daily school menus. Not all Councils share the menu on their website, but from those that do it is clear that there are no options marked suitable for vegans.
Our Work at a Local Authority Level
Given the failure of the Scottish Parliament to take up the opportunity to recommend legislative action, we have been working with vegan families on an individual case-by-case basis, to secure suitable food for children through special arrangements. In each case a vegan parent has contacted us to let us know that they have been refused suitable meals for their child in school, in spite of their legal rights.
Through rounds of correspondence and meetings we have secured vegan meal provision for families in five Local Authority areas:
In each of these areas we have also gone on to secure confirmation that the Local Authority will provide vegan meals on request to other children. Similarly, a vegan mother in West Dumbartonshire has recently secured suitable food for her child and confirmation that this would also be provided to others on request in that Local Authority area.
Given the previous refusal to provide for vegans, this has been a considerable step forward and we have contacted the other 26 Local Authorities in Scotland to ensure that they are aware of the legal rights of vegans and to secure confirmation that they will provide food that is suitable for vegans on request.
However, what we would really like to see are meal options that are suitable for vegans on every school canteen menu every day, across Scotland, available to all pupils without prior arrangement. To that end, we are pressing individual Local Authorities to add vegan options to their standard menus, offering them assistance in doing so, and at the same time calling on the Scottish Government to encourage this. We have written to the Cabinet Secretary for John Swinney and that letter can be viewed here:
Why Special Arrangements are Not Enough
The Public Sector Equality Duty, applicable to all public bodies in terms of the Equality Act 2010, requires them to remove disadvantages and advance equal opportunity with a view to creating a truly inclusive environment.
Where vegan children have to make special arrangements to secure suitable food they face barriers to access: they and their parents may not be aware that they can request vegan food; requests for special provision depend upon a child having supportive and attentive parents/carers who are able and willing to make a special request and follow up to ensure it is being implemented properly day to day. They are also singled out as different, often having to notify the school canteen each morning if they intend to have a school meal that day and/or wear some form of identification so that the canteen staff know they are to receive a vegan meal, such as a differently coloured wrist band. Given that we know vegan children often experience bullying and harassment, not only from other pupils but in some cases from school staff including teachers, these arrangements are far from ideal and do not foster an inclusive environment.
In addition, special arrangements increase the likelihood of error, as they often involve modifications being made to standard recipes. As the provision of vegan options on request is not accompanied by any training of school canteen staff or teachers about veganism, it is not surprising that mistakes are made due to misunderstandings.
A truly inclusive environment for vegan children, in terms of food provision, would be one in which suitable food was available every day on the regular canteen menu, clearly identified as such, available to all children. This would avoid the need for arrangements being made in advance or singling out vegan children as different, and it would minimise the risk of error as the recipe would be the same for the whole batch of that meal. It would also make food delivery more straightforward for those involved in preparing and serving food in schools, as they would not have to manage special arrangements for vegan children.
In addition to ensuring inclusive provision for vegans, adding vegan options to daily school canteen menus would promote environmental and climate change objectives as well as health and nutrition.
Health and the Environment
There is increasing consensus among the scientific community that a plant-based diet is optimal for health and sustainability and so we must make urgent changes to transition to plant-based production and consumption. In recognition of that, in October this year Imperial College London produced a report for the UK Committee on Climate Change: Behaviour change, public engagement and Net Zero.
The report notes that as the public sector provides 30% of all UK meals it has a critical role to play in the transition to plant-based food consumption, but that currently the sector is seriously lacking in the provision of vegan options:
“Supermarkets, food manufacturers and restaurants in the private sector are responding to this surge in consumer interest in plant-based foods with innovative products. But ….policy and the public sector are trailing far behind.
“schools, hospitals, prisons and other public-sector catering outlets do not routinely offer any purely plant-based menu options. Vegan options, if they are available, are prepared if specially requested and are not available to other diners. Schools in the UK serve between 6-7 million school lunches per day. Most schools will provide a vegan meal on request but this requires submitting a ‘Special Diet Request Form’ to the catering company and the child is then restricted to only vegan options and these vegan options are not available to other pupils who might want to try them…
In addition, cow’s milk is subsidised and, like water, is included for free with school meals while fruit juices and plant milks, if available, cost the pupil extra.” (Section 4.2).
The report recommends the introduction of legislation “requiring that all public-sector catering menus offer a fully plantbased (vegan) option that is available to anyone every day without special request.” That is precisely what was being sought from the Scottish Parliament through the petition which has just been dropped with no action taken.
As was set out in the evidence put to the Scottish Parliament Petition Committee in support of the petition, introducing vegan options on everyday canteen menus would not only ensure that the rights of all vegan children and parents are respected, it would also be a significant step in recognition of the role of our consumption of other animals on the environment and climate change, and in ensuring that healthy food is made available to children.
Help With our Campaign: Contact Your MSP
If you agree with what we’ve said in this piece, please send it on to your MSP and ask them to confirm:
- if they have read the report prepared for the UK Climate Change Committee by the Centres for Energy Policy and Technology and Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, and
- what their views are on the recommendations for plant-based (vegan) options in every public canteen – see Section 4.2
- if they will raise this in the Scottish Parliament.
You can find your MSP here.
To our knowledge there are no Local Authorities in Scotland that currently have meals suitable for vegans available daily on their regular menu. If you are aware of a school that does currently offer this, please let us know by emailing Barbara.firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com if possible with a picture of the menu.
For more information on our work in Scottish schools see:
On the rights of vegan parents and children see: