We need early plant-based learning

| 11th December 2018
Ensuring access to plant-based foods in our public institutions could have a long term positive effect on our diets - and the planet too.

Building familiarity with plant-based options, and challenging traditional perceptions of the meat and two veg option could have huge benefits for our future society – for our health, environment, and of course animals.

Lasagne first came to the UK back in the 14th century, but growing up in the 1980s I remember well when it first arrived in our house.

No one even knew how to pronounce it, but we quickly realised it was a delicious dinner option and it became a staple, meaning that the dreaded liver and bacon dropped a place down my Mother’s menu repertoire.

It’s interesting to see how our diets have changed even over the last forty years, and how our ideas of what “a meal” means can be challenged. And it’s also worth looking at how some of these ideas are formed at an early age.

Plant-based in the public sector

The Vegan Society has recently been campaigning for public institutions to provide a plant based option on every public sector menu. Vegans reliant on the state to feed them would be then be guaranteed a decent meal.

But there are also a host of benefits for wider society. It’s easy to produce tasty options that are rich in fibre and low in saturated fat, provide multiple servings of fruit and vegetables, and exclude processed meat, which the World Health Organisation has classified as a cause of cancer.

In addition, some 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.

Plant-based diets can reduce food related carbon emissions by up half. Consider the number of meals served in our hospitals, schools, prisons and other state institutions every day. If an average of just 10 percent of people opted for plant-based each day, the carbon savings could be immense.

Bedding in behaviour change

And it’s not just about the health and environmental savings made during those individual meal times. It’s about getting people to understand what plant-based food is, and for this understanding to lead to gradual behaviour change throughout their consumption patterns.

So a child exposed to plant-based options on a daily basis, might choose to prepare and eat these foods regularly by the time they are cooking for themselves. Building familiarity with plant-based options, and challenging traditional perceptions of the meat and two veg option could have huge benefits for our future society – for our health, environment, and of course animals.

Forty years ago, the concept of combining two different sauces between layers of pasta and baking it in the oven must have seemed exotic in the extreme.

Nowadays, we have a more global approach to food and accept that just because we haven’t heard of something previously, doesn’t mean it’s automatically to be avoided. If we can convert a growing number of public sector customers to the taste, variety and nutrition of a plant based diet, we can create a new generation of diners who have broader horizons than the traditional definition of a hot meal.

Brighter future

This week, I visited my parents again, and in an effort to introduce them to something new we had falafels – a staple for a vegan like me, but a completely new experience for my mum and dad.

They were pleasantly surprised, and if a couple who are generally more happy with steak and chips can embrace some delicious middle eastern cuisine, it underlines just how adaptable we can be.

There’s no need to be nostalgic for the bad old days of liver and bacon. Let’s look forward to a tasty, plant based future.

This Author

Louise Davies is head of campaigns, policy and research at The Vegan Society. Find out more about their campaign to get a vegan option on every public sector menu here.

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