All school lunches should be vegetarian.
You might say that's pretty sanctimonious coming from someone like me who isn't actually a vegetarian, but hear me out. I am well aware of the hypocrisy oozing from my diet of fish fingers and roasts but hope that my argument will be even more persuasive to those of you who, like me, enjoy the odd ham sandwich. See, I, a meat-eater, went to a vegetarian school. And honestly - it wasn't a big deal.
What are the benefits?
I think that all school lunches should be vegetarian. It may be a bold statement - one potentially as controversial as Jamie Oliver's success in stripping our school lunches of their beloved turkey twizzlers. Thanks to him, chicken dippers, nuggets and potato smileys were also off the lunchtime menu, to be replaced by stodgy cauliflower cheese and soggy tuna sandwiches, as schools slavishly followed the renowned chef's guide to "healthy", "tasty" school dinners.
With my incomprehension came my first taste of rebellion (arguably a ratherpacifist rebellion at that). I became a packed lunch-er. This may lead you to question both why I made such a pathetic attempt of revolt (for which I have no answer), and, more importantly, why I am now defending vegetarian lunches, rather than trying to reverse the questionable actions of Jamie Oliver.
Since leaving primary school, I have grown to realise that Mr Oliver's work was not as apocalyptic as I had previously thought... and even that he may have been right. Pizza, burgers and fried chicken and chips are not exactly the most nutritious meals. So, Jamie, if you're reading this, I apologise. I concede. You win. My rebellion is over (though I'd still take a fish and chip Friday over quinoa any day). To be fair to the chef, Jamie prepared my palate for a radical move to a secondary school which served exclusively veggie grub, where I learned that life without meat could still be tasty.
What - NO meat? None at all?! It's true that an all-vegetarian diet for kids is steeped in controversy, not least of whose advocates maintain that following a diet of carrots and peas (no gravy) will prevent your child from reaching 4 foott. I believe however, that as long as they're getting the protein they require, there's no reason they wouldn't grow to a staggering 6'4. What's more, on the flip side we now see a growing multitude of evidence that highlights the terrors of red meat and its relation to obesity, diabetes and digestive problems (NIH research, 2012).
It goes without saying that eating veggie school lunches does not constitute an entirely vegetarian lifestyle. What it can do, however, is make sure a kid is getting one meat-free meal per day. Sandwiched between a full English breakfast and an evening shish kebab, scrapping the meat from school lunches is a highly effective way to cut down meat consumption, particularly among those who follow a 'meat and two veg' sort of regime. It is a reminder, if nothing else, that we are not, and do not have to be, carnivores.There’s also something to be said for the inclusive nature of eating veggie at school: you don't have to be 100% veggie to eat veggie 25% of the time, whereas you do have to be a meat-eater to eat meat.
That's all very well... but is it achievable?
Put simply, yes. I went to a vegetarian school as a non-vegetarian, and no, it didn't ruin my life. Bringing meat and fish into school was strictly off the cards, but, as junk-addicted kids will tell you, where there's a will to eat chicken and chips in a box, there's a way. In fact, many school challenges revolved around meat and losing a game of “odds on”: how much of it were you able to sneak in without getting caught? This was particularly risky with a fish & chippy... You got double points for getting the smell through the gates. Pupils before my time had gone down in school history for smuggling in a Dominoes meat-feast without getting caught - aptly dubbed the 'School's Special’, when surreptitiously quoting the name in your order, the pizza would arrive covered in a layer of cheese and vegetables that disguised the appetising processed meat beneath.
Having said that, the meat-free school meals were usually pretty good and always fresh and imaginative. Again, that's not to say (by any means, if I'm honest), that it was a particularly “healthy school”. It fell pretty near the ranks of average in school food terms. We still had egg and chip Fridays, burgers and pizza, just of the vegetarian variety. So it wasn’t a case on missing out on junk food, only the meat that usually goes with it
Ok, ok, maybe in private schools... What about the rest?
It is one thing to quote facts, share my experience and basically shove my one-sided argument down your throat. However, my argument is living, breathing (and eating), in an idealistic world.
The Government currently enforces regulations on school meals from nursery school upwards, and has guidelines which include the necessary provision of meat and fish (The nutritional standards for school lunches: 28). Enforcing vegetarian diets within state schools is not currently part of their agenda, whether for financial reasons or otherwise.
The independent school sector sees a different story however, and schools are free to dream up their own menus. The school I went to is a private school. The first vegan school in the US MUSE Schoolis also a private school. There is no real record of vegetarianism being implemented in state schools. Even my nemesis Jamie Oliver, after a ten-year battle in getting schools to serve healthier lunches, concedes that, “Eating well is a middle class preserve” (Furness, 2015).
It takes a lot of effort - and, therefore, money - to plan nutritional vegetarian meals that children genuinely like. My old school has been doing it for 100 years. But that doesn't stop me from wanting all students to enjoy the same healthy vegetarian diet that I myself enjoyed. So for that reason I'm not on the fence. All schools should be vegetarian.