“More than one in a hundred people in the UK are now vegan, and the proportion is growing every year. It’s time our schools catch up and make sure all their pupils feel safe, welcome, and valued.”
A vegan pupil’s mother has been campaigning to add vegan options to school menus across the UK.
According to Oldham-based Ruth Jenkins, who started the campaign: “Veganism is growing in the UK, but being a vegan pupil in school can still be challenging” because of a lack of understanding of ethical veganism in UK schools.
She also pointed out that vegan children miss out on educational trips to zoos and farms, because of their diet.
“More than one in a hundred people in the UK are now vegan, and the proportion is growing every year. It’s time our schools catch up and make sure all their pupils feel safe, welcome, and valued,” Ruth Jenkins told The Oldham Times.
“School trips to zoos and farms, dissection policies, hatching projects, and even nursery rhyme choices have big impacts on vegan-inclusion.”
Negative impact of traditional teaching
As a mother to a six-year-old, Jenkins said that vegan children are inadvertently made to experience discrimination and exclusion at school every day as well as subjected to teachings that run counter to their understanding and beliefs.
For instance, nutrition lessons are still often presented as ‘you need meat for protein and milk for calcium’, although the British Dietetic Association has confirmed that well-planned vegan diets can support healthy living in people of all ages.
“The funny thing is that overall I’d say my son’s school is a hugely inclusive place,” Jenkins revealed in Vegan Life Magazine.
“The teachers have Stonewall training, and it’s a wonderfully religiously and ethnically diverse school that I’m proud to send my son to.”
“However, veganism is often poorly understood, and until someone explains the ways in which vegan children see the world to their teachers, it’s understandable that they don’t see the negative impact of their teaching approaches.
“I want this campaign to support schools to release the tension that vegan pupils carry to school each day.”
Vegans bullied for their beliefs in school
Findings of her survey on 233 vegan pupils capturing their day-to-day experiences as vegans in school showed that while only 13% of respondents felt valued, fewer than 40% felt welcome and safe in their school.
She further added that 72% of pupils have been teased, and 40% have been bullied for their vegan beliefs at school.
Although the Equality Act 2010 mandates that schools must make reasonable changes to ensure vegan pupils are not inadvertently or intentionally discriminated against, there is no legislation that requires schools to provide vegan meals for pupils.
Benefits of plant-based diets
Apart from ethical beliefs, numerous studies extol the health benefits of plant-based meals and they are also one of the easiest, cheapest, and most effective ways of reducing the environmental impact of food on the planet.
Rohini Bajekal, a Nutritionist and Head of Communications at Plant-Based Health Professionals UK said: “Schools play a crucial role in setting healthy eating habits for children at an early age.
“Only 18 percent of children are currently meeting the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day in the UK.
“More plant-based meals in schools would help improve schoolchildren’s access to nutritious foods as well as promoting planetary health.
“A healthy plant-based diet is suitable at every age and life-stage and can also reduce one’s risk of chronic diseases.”
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