Vegetarianism and veganism are hotly contested topics, especially in the UK. On the one hand, giving up meat has become a trend amongst younger generations. On the other, the country is still very much grounded in a culture that celebrates meat. This is evidenced by British classics often served in schools like fish & chips, traditional roast dinner and shepherd’s pie. This National Vegetarian Week we look at the potential benefits of embracing a vegetarian or low-meat diet in schools, and how to make it work.
The UK economy relies on its meat and fish trade, which means that adopting vegetarianism as a national policy is far from the answer. Yet, the country is quickly adopting more sustainable practices to protect its natural resources and reach net zero emissions. In this effort, experts suggest that reducing our meat intake will become crucial.
As places of experimentation and innovation, schools could be the perfect place to adopt more holistic food practices. Here are a few reasons why:
Boosting a school’s green credentials
Interest in climate activism has surged amongst younger generations in recent years. And plant based diets have become a part of this movement. This is largely due to the mounting evidence that meat consumption has reached unsustainable levels across the world.
The meat industry contributes to a number of environmental issues. Firstly, for large scale producers, forests are cleared for the cattle, disrupting delicate ecosystems and endangering wildlife. Then the amount of feed that is required leads to monoculture crop fields which often involve damaging agricultural practices. And the cattle themselves release methane into the atmosphere, a toxic greenhouse gas that can cause rising global temperatures.
By embracing and encouraging eco-friendly food practices, schools can help to build a greener future. This can have many benefits for the students and the community, but it can also have reputational benefits for the school itself. As private funding relies more heavily on ESG factors in the coming years, a sustainable strategy will be crucial for future growth.
Teaching conscious eating
Vegetarian or not, teaching conscious eating in schools can lead to more sustainable food practices in the future. This can involve educating pupils on where their food comes from, how food waste impacts the planet, and the nutritional value of a varied diet.
The best way to do that can be through getting the students involved. An eco coordinator at a meat-free eco school in London says:
“To help students understand the reasons behind why our school is vegetarian and to help them appreciate the fresh healthy food cooked in our canteen, we implemented a number of strategies. Firstly, all of our Year 7 students have to work with our cooks Sonia and Dee on planning a nutritionally balanced menu, organising food ordering to minimise food waste, preparing and cooking the food, serving it to the whole school and clearing away afterwards. Since this has been introduced, there seems to be a lot more understanding of the hard work done by the cooks and other catering staff and an appreciation for the healthy food they serve.”
Similar lessons can be taught by having a school vegetable garden that the students help tend to, or visiting the farms where their food comes from. By giving students an appreciation of the time, effort and resources that go into their food, they are more likely to adopt healthier, less wasteful food practices.
Adding variety can lead to a more nutrient rich diet
Meals that are centred around meat, while protein heavy, are not always as nutritionally varied as vegetarian options can be. Integrating plant based meals into a schools menu opens up a wider range of options that can often be slightly healthier.
This is especially important for the students that rely on school meals as their main source of sustenance throughout the day. A healthy diet has an astounding impact on a child’s mood, mental agility and physical energy. Getting a nutrient rich meal could make the difference between a lethargic, unfocused student and an enthusiastic, attentive one.
Where does Monarch come in?
At Monarch, we are passionate about the future sustainability of the education sector. The education sector will have to make significant changes to stay ahead of the curve on the path to net zero. We can help.
We help schools implement sustainable strategies that reduce their energy usage, integrate resource efficiency, and cut down on all waste. We can also help you go one step further with onsite renewable energy guidance and carbon management. Our goal is to help our clients cut costs and build a greener foundation for future generations.
If you are interested in creating an innovative and sustainable environment for your pupils, contact us at Monarch today.