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Better hungry than eating meat? UK school goes veg-only, no packed lunches… or freedom of choice

Neil Clark
Neil Clark
is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. His award winning blog can be found at www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Better hungry than eating meat? UK school goes veg-only, no packed lunches… or freedom of choice
Children being made to eat vegetarian food for lunch in schools in Britain and France, and not allowed meat or fish, raises some serious questions about freedom of choice and possible dietary deficiencies.

Oxford is known as the City of Dreaming Spires, but it could soon have a new nickname. The ‘city of the schoolchildren not allowed to eat meat or fish at dinner time or bring in their own packed lunches.’ Ok, I admit it’s not as catchy, but it could be just as appropriate.

The newly-opened Swan ‘free school’ in the leafy, very middle-class suburb of Summertown ( a part of North Oxford where the Lord Adonis was once an elected councillor), has a completely vegetarian canteen, where children looking for toad-in-the-hole or a piece of steak and kidney pudding at lunchtime will be very disappointed.

The school’s head teacher Ms Kay Wood, has cited “three main reasons” for the policy.  

First, economy (‘it allows us to serve better quality meals for the same money’). Secondly, the ‘huge environmental and sustainability benefits,’ and three ‘it allows students of all faiths and different dietary requirements to eat together.’

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Well, reasons two and three are laudatory, I admit, but even so, isn’t banning non-vegetarian food at lunchtimes and not allowing children to bring in their own lunch going a bit too far?

One mum, quoted in the Sun, says her daughter came home ‘very hungry’ and that she‘d heard “lots of other children were very hungry too.” Is making school children hungry the way to go, to build a better world? Surely there could be some sensible compromise?

Many of us could probably all do with eating a little less meat, especially less processed meat and we should do all we can to make sure that the animals we do eat are well looked after. We should go ’organic’ and opt for ’free-range’ whenever we can afford to. But enforcing vegetarianism, as some seem to desire, is another thing altogether. There’s no getting away from the fact that meat, and this is particularly relevant for those growing up and the elderly for whom anaemia may be a problem, is a valuable source of protein and other essential minerals. Here, for example are eleven benefits of eating beef.

And here’s a 2019 newspaper report citing health professional and university professor Robert Pickard, on the six top health benefits of eating lean red meat. They include the maintenance of strong bones and the boosting of our mental powers.

Fish too has many health benefits. The traditional British dish of ‘fish and chips’ as well as being absolutely delicious, is also extremely nutritious.

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Vegetarians, and even more so vegans, are missing out on quite a lot.

My grandmother loved eating fish and chips (and indeed fatty pork and plenty of other ‘bad things’ ) and died just a few months shy of her 101st birthday. And Brits of a certain vintage will remember how strong eating those cow pies made comic strip hero Desperate Dan of the Dandy. Boxers are renowned for eating bloody steaks, and not veggie burgers, the night before their fights for good reason.  

I feel very sorry for the children at Swan who will be denied their Friday fish (or fish fingers) and chips, their steak and kidney pies, and their bangers and mash with gravy (double yum yum), and also children in other schools in the UK that have followed the same virtuous, but hunger-inducing path. We’ve gone from campaigning (quite rightly) for children to have a vegetarian option, and not discriminating against vegetarians (who are often very worthy people, George Bernard Shaw for example), to making veggie the only option. The trend is spreading across the Channel too.

In France, a new law has just been passed requiring all schools to offer at least one fully vegetarian lunch per week.  

But will it stay as one? My hunch is that it’ll change to two, and then three, and then…

A little side-dish anecdote here about school dinners and the time I taught at a Jewish grammar school in Hungary. You had to wear a kippah in the canteen, (where meat and non-meat options were available), but I didn’t have one. The headmistress very kindly lent me a beautiful one and requested me to ‘look after it’. Not clipped on properly it fell into the chicken noodle soup on the very first day. I took it back, soup-stained, and full of trepidation, to the headmistress. But I kept my job.

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Back to 2019, and eating meat has become the new smoking. A quite terrible, shameless thing which needs to be discouraged. We should be made to feel as guilty for eating a bacon butty, as if we were lighting up a Sobranie behind the bike sheds. And our children must get into the right ‘habits’ at an early age (smoking pot of course is ok, in the new utopia, and it goes without saying that everyone will be on antidepressants).

Freedom of choice? No, that doesn’t really come into it, you carnivorous reprobate. You do what we tell you. Please open your bag so that security can check you’re not carrying a roast beef and mustard sandwich.

How ironic that all this virtuous banning is happening as we ‘celebrate’ the coming down of the Berlin Wall and the victory of ’freedom’ over tyranny. 

There’s probably more rules (based on very laudatory aims of course), governing what we can or can’t do now in the West, than there was in ‘Goulash Communist’ Hungary. 

But please don’t mention goulash during the school lunch hour, because you may get into trouble.  

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66 

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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