How to advocate for vegan meals at your local school

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Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer Amanda Baker reports on how you can encourage schools to provide vegan-friendly catering.

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere with fair access to education, this is the 'back to school' time of year. That means new schools, or new teachers... and new menus for school lunches.  

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of every human person. The Declaration also affirms that everyone has the right to education (Article 26); and that everyone has the right to freedom of thought, and to manifest their beliefs in practice and observance (Article 18). In this sense, living vegan is considered to be practicing the belief of veganism - whether as a philosophical or religious belief. 

These rights are translated into law and practice to a different extent in each country in the world. Globally, nearly 60 million children (equivalent to most of the human population of the UK) still lack fair access to education. In a third of countries, boys have preferential access to secondary education. 

Even for those young people who are in school, there are still inequalities. Let's take a look now specifically at the rights of young people to vegan-friendly food, which is vital to support their education.

Getting schools to provide adequate vegan catering

Everyone agrees, properly fed people learn better. Schools have a duty to care for their students during the teaching day, too. Enter: tasty, nutritious and inclusive vegan-friendly food! Suitable for just about anyone, plant-based menus are a great solution for school catering. 

Students sitting down to enjoy delicious, healthy food together can bring many benefits. With a little thought, planning and testing, schools can help just about everyone enjoy their meal break. Good vegan-friendly dishes - from bean burgers, to lentil pasta sauces, to mild chickpea and vegetable curries - are easy additions to the main menu. These will appeal particularly to vegetarians, and those following many religious diets, as well as vegans.  

But how do we convince schools of this fact? By stressing that plant-based food is inclusive. With the help of vegans, many non-vegans are now finding this out! You can point schools to our recipes for free inspiration for new vegan-friendly dishes. 

Don't forget that you have a right to ask for inclusive catering. In terms of human rights, living vegan means you are practicing your ethical belief of veganism - and that is protected. You may be asked to fill in a 'special diet application form'. If so, remember that for food needs based on belief - whether philosophical or religious - you do not need any kind of 'doctors note' to back up your request.

What if your school needs to improve their catering? Whether you're a vegan student, or looking after vegan students, asking for vegan-friendly school catering is a really constructive step. If you are able, do some research, try to stay calm and positive, and be patient and persistent. You are helping the school with their healthy eating and environmental aspirations, as well as with equality for all. Experts agree that well-planned vegan-friendly, plant-based meals can support healthy living throughout childhood. At the very least, the school must let students bring in healthy, appropriate packed lunches. Working together, though, we can bring exciting, appealing vegan-friendly hot lunches to as many more schools. 

We wish everyone an inclusive, vegan-friendly school experience!

Action points

  • Send us your stories of schools with good vegan-friendly catering to info[at]vegansociety[dot]com
  • Ask for vegan-friendly catering as soon as you can - giving caterers time to plan can give you the best results
  • To help you talk through the issues and know your rights, check out our self-advocacy tips here
  • Ask to talk to the Registered Dietitian or other fully trained and qualified expert on nutrition who is advising the caterers
  • If you get stuck, write to your local elected representatives - for example, in the UK just enter your postcode here to easily do just this
  • Widely share the BDA - The Association of UK Dietitians - official support for well-planned vegan meals here.

By Amanda Baker, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at The Vegan Society

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