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UK Vegetarian discrimination in UK schools

Discussion in 'The Vegetarian Forum' started by Abbey, Feb 4, 2019.

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  1. Abbey

    Abbey Not-So-Newbie

    I have an 8 year old child currently in year 3. He has been a vegetarian all his life (as have I). As per his request, he has school lunches rather than a packed lunch. The main reason for his desire to have this is because the children who have packed lunches must stay in the classroom to eat while the children on school meals go to the hall,the majority of his friends do this.

    The provider of the school meals has created an individual vegetarian menu with the alternative mains usually being vegetarian also. When they took over as the meal providers for the school parents were invited to a tasting session. Unfortunately, the only thing that was provided for vegetarians was garlic bread and a cookie so we were not able to get a full sense of the menu. However, the head of the distributor was present and so we were able to speak with him and get the reassurances we needed that vegetarian diets were taken seriously with food prep and distribution.

    2 weeks ago my son was given a prawn cracker with his lunch,obviously not vegetarian. He was not told what it was and being 8 he had no reason to believe that the cracker was not vegetarian. When my son informed me of this incident I contacted the school and spoke with the receptionist who informed me that she would look into the situation and get back to me. When I spoke with her again I was informed that the head of the meal distributor would be calling me ( I did attempt to speak with him after making first contact with the school but was not able to get hold of him. He did indeed contact me eventually and apologised for the incident but stated the school kitchen staff had allergen lists for all the meals and was surprised that they didn't automatically think that prawn crackers were not suitable for vegetarians. He informed me that he would be going over the entire menu again to make sure everything was vegetarian as stated 9 he did do this and assured me everything was).

    I have not had any member of staff reach out to me in regards to this situation. I had to go into the school myself and request to speak with the business manager of the junior school ( the school is separated into infants and juniors and works as a federation). The business manager told me that it was an innocent mistake and was most likely caused by the bank staff member on that day who was not aware that my son was a vegetarian. I asked her why the cards all students carry with different colours to indicate main or vegetarian meal, she said most of the other children who had vegetarian meals were not in fact vegetarian but instead simply disliked meat and so they would have assumed that he was the same. I asked why they weren't able to put strictly vegetarian on the card to indicate who is or isn't a vegetarian and she informed me that would probably be a good idea ( I have confirmed with my son that they have indeed done this). I then spoke to the business manager of the infant side ( the meals are served on this half of the school) and was informed that the staff counted the prawn crackers and as there was the same amount as the number of children,they assumed one was to be served to each of them. At no point did any member of staff think to check the allergens list. I asked whether the kitchen staff would receive further training to ensure this did not happen again and the response was 'probably'.

    The deputy head and head of the federation have not reached out to us to clarify the situation or give us confidence that it would not happen again. I have just requested a meeting with them which they have reluctantly agreed to.

    This incident was the second occasion where my son was given a non vegetarian food item. When he was in year 1 he was given a pork pie during a tasting session in the classroom for a project they were working on. When i became aware of this I immediately spoke to his teacher at the time but she blamed him for the situation, saying he should have known ( this individual was aware he was a vegetarian but chose to give it to him anyway). My son was 6 years old at the time and as Quorn have imitation pork pies and the teacher was calling them 'porky pies', he had no reason to believe he was eating a non vegetarian product. We made a meeting with the head and deputy head ( again,they did not approach us) and were told they were sorry and would make sure vegetarian students would be put onto the list in class of students with allergies ( as mentioned earlier, his teacher was well aware my son was a vegetarian but chose to give it to him anyway). They also informed us that in future events of food being in the classroom, an email or text message would be sent out the day before informing parents this was the case so they had an opportunity to discuss it with the teacher if needed. This has not happened and despite asking the deputy head and head why they have not followed through with this second change, they still refuse to implement it.

    After the second incident recently, I contacted environmental health with the local council. After not getting back to me for over week, I finally spoke with someone who informed me that the school followed the law so he would not be investigating. He also told me that schools do not take vegetarian/vegan diets as seriously as allergies or diets based on religious beliefs.

    With this information, I went back to the school and as mentioned above have finally arranged a meeting with the head and deputy head of the federation, the head asking me why I even wanted the meeting.

    My question to you is this: we feel we have and are continuing to be discriminated against because we are vegetarians and they have no interest in ensuring our son is given the correct food at all times or not given something non vegetarian in the classroom. We would feel awful if we had to tell our son he would no longer be able to have school lunches because we did no have confidence in the abilities of the staff. Is there anything we can do to further address this issue, any other suggestions?

    Thank you
    • Appreciation Appreciation x 2
  2. Andy_T

    Andy_T Addicted Poster Forum Moderator

    Hannover, Germany
    Hello Abbey,

    welcome to the forum!

    Very sorry to hear what has happened to your son, but I am afraid that this is not an isolated incident.

    As a matter of fact, most vegans and vegetarians I know have had that happen in the past, and only ongoing vigilance will likely help. In a nutshell - meat eaters don't really care. Very often, they don't even understand why we "make a fuss" about it.

    I would not go so far to call it active "discrimination", I suspect thoughtlessness, and that, unfortunately happens every day :(
    On a "Veganuary" group I am following on FB, right now there is not a single day that goes by when vegans or vegetarians post pictures of their new "McDonalds Vegan Wrap" with pieces of chicken inside :mad:

    Wish you luck,
    • Agree Agree x 1
  3. Brian

    Brian Mad Bard

    This is an awful situation. I don't know why they can't just let people with packed lunches eat in the hall with everybody else, after all, it's not a cafe. I am a Christian and a vegan and both are extremely important to me. There really isn't much difference between the importance of one's religion and the importance of one's ethics and there is no reason for them to discriminate like this!
    • Agree Agree x 1
    • Appreciation Appreciation x 1
  4. blues

    blues World Class Member

    Abbey, is there any way you can talk with whoever runs the lunch program and explain you and your sons concern and point out that all his mates go to the hall for lunch you want to provide his own lunch and you want your son to join them.
    • Agree Agree x 3
  5. Jamie in Chile

    Jamie in Chile Veteran Member

    Try and get other parents on your side in some way or form, make sure you are not the isolated troublemaker (from their perspective).

    Be polite and be prepared to spend time on it. Try and help the school in some other way (volunteer to do something) so you are not just a hassle for them (again, from their perspective).

    Good luck!
    • Like Like x 1
    • Agree Agree x 1
  6. shyvas

    shyvas Deity Forum Moderator

    I would contact the Vegetarian Society and the local council and see what kind of support and suggestions they could offer. There is a real demand for veg*an options in public places such as schools, hospitals, care facilities, etc.

    However, you need to be part of a group to have more power when seeking a specific request.

    I think that a young boy who is only 8 has every right to enjoy a vegetarian meal without enduring any form of discrimination or hassle. You need to win more people on your side to help you promote hassle free, vegetarian options at school.

    UK Food Plan - Schools
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2019
    • Agree Agree x 2
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