UK Vegetarian discrimination in UK schools

Abbey1

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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
 

Andy_T

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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,
Andy
 

Brian1

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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!
 

Blues

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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.
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.
 
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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!
 
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shyvas

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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
 
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Jon

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Hi everyone. As the 1st(as far as I am aware) vegan child in the UK, I had a terrible time at primary school and was regularly punched and verbally insulted every day for the first few years. The teachers did nothing about it, I didn't tell my parents and just put up with it. The problem is that, if you're different, you're a target for idiots. And there's plenty of them about! As far as I know it hasn't affected me personally or physically during my 76 years of life. I don't agree with discrimination like this, but I think we take too much notice of it and take it too personally. It's what you are that bugs them, not who you are. I always say, "If it comes from nowt, it means nowt" People are far too touchy these days, we are a much weaker species now than those far off days. The same applies to bullying on the internet. There's a simple remedy, don't read it, don't go on that site. Treat it with the contempt it deserves. Feel sorry for them if you like, but make it "water on a ducks back" Everyone is entitled to their views and to express them. It would be a dull world if we were all the same.
 
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Indian Summer

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I'm glad society has become a bit more accepting of alternative lifestyles since the 1950s. While I too think a lot of people need to grow a bit thicker skin, I also think we vegans/vegetarians shouldn't have to endure more discrimination than other minorities put up with. E.g. religious or ethnic minorities.
 

Jon

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Of course we shouldn't have to put up with it. But it's one thing to make al law making racial discrimination illegal, that's easy to inforce. But there's no way you could do the same for a dietary difference. You're right about a thicker skin though. We've become a lot of namby pambies these days. We're so worried about what others think of us that the slightest slur and we're upset. I don't give a damn what people think about me, never have. And that's helped me weather the storm of criticism, almost hate in some cases, and all the discrimination we veggies have to put up with. One of the problems is, they think animals were put on this earth for our benefit to feed us. I've never believed that. The same goes for us being special. We're not, we're just another animal inhabiting this earth and the only ones killing it! Being a veggie is helping to look after our home planet. The carbon footprint in growing plants to eat is far less than keeping animals for food and a lot cheaper in terms of land area per kilo of protein, minerals and vits. In the late 40's when I started school, it was unheard of and I was hounded for years by other kids. I just looked at it that they were ignorant of what life was all about and dismissed them. They'll need us before we need them!
 

shyvas

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In the late 40's when I started school, it was unheard of and I was hounded for years by other kids. I just looked at it that they were ignorant of what life was all about and dismissed them.
Did you used to have school meals or bring your own lunch box ?

I remember school meals back in the 60's and there were no vegetarian options. It was either meat, fish and sponge puddings/tarts made with eggs for dessert.
 

Jon

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I took my own sandwiches and used to go across the road from the school to a friends house and have my lunch there. That was different from the other kids which gave them more ammo to get at me! No one was bullied more than me but I survived it. Not like kids today who need counselling, or commit suicide etc! I feel sorry for them but am at a loss to understand why it affects them so much and why they take these drastic steps like suicide. If it's online bullying, don't read it or don't go on that site. I was one of the 1st, if not the 1st, vegan child in the UK so I did get a lot of bullying, every day at primary school was the same at break time! Getting punched and ridiculed and the teachers did nothing about it. By the time I got to Secondary school it was much better. I still get ribbed by some of my friends but it's all in fun really and they ask me questions about my diet and, for the most part, are very genuine about it. Life is what you make it. j
 

Indian Summer

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No one was bullied more than me but I survived it. Not like kids today who need counselling, or commit suicide etc! I feel sorry for them but am at a loss to understand why it affects them so much and why they take these drastic steps like suicide.
People really are different: some can cope with terrible circumstances for years and years, others buckle and fall at the slightest emotional turbulence. This is the case today, and that was the case in the post-war era. What is different now is that we talk more about bullying and suicide, and we actually try to do something about the problem. Which is why we also hear more about it, and maybe that makes it seem like kids today are more delicate and less resilient.

Also, there's "survivor's bias". Those back in the day who survived and coped well with bullying and harassment, who managed to get on with their lives after their ordeals. Many years later it's easy for them to conclude that kids today are less resilient because they have forgotten or they don't know about those of their peers that committed suicide, resorted to harmful coping behaviours and/or how much they suffered and continue to suffer the after-effects.
 

Jon

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People really are different: some can cope with terrible circumstances for years and years, others buckle and fall at the slightest emotional turbulence. This is the case today, and that was the case in the post-war era. What is different now is that we talk more about bullying and suicide, and we actually try to do something about the problem. Which is why we also hear more about it, and maybe that makes it seem like kids today are more delicate and less resilient.

Also, there's "survivor's bias". Those back in the day who survived and coped well with bullying and harassment, who managed to get on with their lives after their ordeals. Many years later it's easy for them to conclude that kids today are less resilient because they have forgotten or they don't know about those of their peers that committed suicide, resorted to harmful coping behaviours and/or how much they suffered and continue to suffer the after-effects.
I'm sure some of that is true, but I can't, in all honesty, agree with it all. We have what is called "A Snowflake Generation" right now who can't tolerate differences of opinion. I googled it and read up on it. They can't handle a discussion with anyone who's opinion differs from theirs. It makes interesting reading. Also, today, we are far too bothered about what other people think of us. This is a world where image is more important than reality. Local Councils are excellent at portraying that. I know that off the subject, but it does illustrate my point. At the end of the the day, as you say, we are all different, but I can't accept that bullying is ever a reason for suicide. Unhappiness yes, but someone who commits suicide over it, I feel so sorry for, they must be super oversensitive about worrying what these people think of them. I, personally, don't give a damn what people think about me, I always say, "if it comes from nowt, it means nowt" They will need me before I need them. I don't go out of my way to upset people or push my ideas on them. If they want me to respect them, I expect them to do the same for me. Bullying is a very bad thing, perpetrated by who can't tolerate others different ideas. They are usually cowards trying to show they're tough, which for some reason, seems to matter to them. Image over reality!
 

shyvas

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I'm sure some of that is true, but I can't, in all honesty, agree with it all. We have what is called "A Snowflake Generation" right now who can't tolerate differences of opinion. I googled it and read up on it. They can't handle a discussion with anyone who's opinion differs from theirs. It makes interesting reading. Also, today, we are far too bothered about what other people think of us. This is a world where image is more important than reality.
That is strange, as I was discussing this with a friend today, during a walk in the park. People immediately start to argue and can no longer discuss any given topic. Wether it be in the US, UK or on the continent, normal discussions are a things of the past.

I also feel sorry for youngsters who commit suicide because they have been bullied. When I was at school and college, it
was unheard of. Perhaps it has something to do with social media and always having to be at your best in front of a huge audience. I'm not a fan of either FB or Twitter and see more disadvantages rather than advantages to posting one's photos and chit chat to people that often do not care about the person in question.
 

Jon

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That is strange, as I was discussing this with a friend today, during a walk in the park. People immediately start to argue and can no longer discuss any given topic. Wether it be in the US, UK or on the continent, normal discussions are a things of the past.

I also feel sorry for youngsters who commit suicide because they have been bullied. When I was at school and college, it
was unheard of. Perhaps it has something to do with social media and always having to be at your best in front of a huge audience. I'm not a fan of either FB or Twitter and see more disadvantages rather than advantages to posting one's photos and chit chat to people that often do not care about the person in question.
Yes, they shut down very quickly if your views and opinions do not match theirs. I have a friend like that. We agree on practically nothing and he has a habit of saying "discussion over" or just shutting up when he realises he's lost or doesn't hold the same view. The Snowflake generation are not all young people it seems, it has spread to adults! It's a shame because discussion makes for an interesting world where ideas are shared. Stop all that and I do not know where it will all end!
 
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