Doug Maw Reports from The Houses of Parliament – Institutional catering for Vegetarians and Vegans
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We are delighted that passionate political vegan Doug Maw, the man behind making the £5 note vegan campaign, is writing for VeggieVision TV. Here he reports back from the from The APPG meeting on Vegetarianism and Veganism – Institutional catering for Vegetarians and Vegans from The Houses of Parliament. 

* Doug is running the London Marathon for the Dr Hadwen Trust – please give him your support by clicking here!

Introduction from Christina Rees MP. Update on last meeting and letter to Jeremy Hunt regarding the regulation of medication and medical products to ensure they are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Speakers introduced themselves before giving their presentations. First up was Heather Russell, dietitian with the Vegan Society. Heather opened with some statistics about the rise of veganism in the U.K. in recent years, and the incidence of provision for vegans in care homes, where 1 in 4 now cater for at least one vegan. She then outlined the right of vegans beliefs, conscience and thought to protection under law.

Cases of misconduct were outlined that have come to light since the Serena Coles case. Serena was suffering dementia and despite being vegan her husband had not respected this, allowing the care providers to feed her an omnivorous diet. Recorded and anecdotal cases were discussed. These instances highlighted the need for advanced care planning.

Heather highlighted the lack of proper training in institutional catering. Also the lack of communication between frontline staff and catering staff. Obviously needs are often missed or neglected due to a lack of understanding from the front line staff communicating needs to catering staff.

Heather then moved on to discuss some of the problems of current provision. The removal of nuts and seeds due to allergies misses the need for nutritionally vulnerable people who need these incorporated into their diets. This led onto the lack of a nutritionally complex ‘soft’ food or supplement availability in institutions. There were issues surrounding the ‘healthy start scheme’ providing dairy milk and not plant based fortified milks. The UK Eat Well Guide is also found to be very basic on veganism.

In conclusion it is apparent that there needs to be a proper understanding and incorporation of vegan nutrition in training, schemes and information. This also needs to be reflected across our institutions.

Second up was Leonie Milliner, Chief Executive of the Association for Nutrition. The whole thrust of Leonie’s presentation was to direct institutional catering providers to seek accreditation with AfN. Their accreditation requires the use of work based competence models. These also provide a framework for institutions to upskill their staff and are available online. She also talked about the need for investment in training.

I asked her about the requirements for those accredited to have trained sufficiently in plant based nutrition. She replied that they had to go through the work based competence models, which included reference to vegans and vegetarians. I wasn’t convinced how rigorous this would be as a qualified nutritionist myself. I pointed out that many courses pay very scant lip service to vegan nutrition and no detailed nutrition plans for vegans with different needs. Clearly this needs investigating before recommending one accrediting body over another.

Maria Brenton, Senior Cohousing Ambassador for U.K. Cohousing Network, spoke next. Maria sketched out the current situation for seniors in the U.K., where large numbers of women are living alone in homes that were built for families. With women living longer there are large numbers in this position. Only a small percentage are in care homes, while sheltered housing schemes are mostly dated and no longer fit for purpose. Her group have identified a need for a sense of community to tackle this growth in loneliness and isolation.

The schemes have difficulty obtaining planning permission but offer some solution to the problem of under-utilised housing. The schemes are mutual and self sustaining, self ran. A group can get together with shared values to set up their own project. This could easily be a group of vegetarians &/or vegans. Other groups might include LGBT, Cultural groups, or a mix.

Some of the questioners felt that this was not addressing the issues of incorporating vegetarian and vegan needs into institutional catering. Rather it might further isolate groups by grouping them together.

Our last speaker was Norman Dinsdale, Senior Lecturer in Hospitality Management, Sheffield Hallam University. Norman opened by telling us that his experience of institutional catering had shown that historically it was seen as a place to send people to be cooks, rather than chefs. The focus was on low skill, basic food and little care for nutritional value or presentation.

There are too many instances of chefs ignoring particular needs. Instances included where a chef used chicken stock for a risotto and refused to throw it away or do it differently as it would be wasteful and he didn’t think the vegan would notice.

As part of his doctoral research he has found a diabolical quality in Hospitals, Schools, Prisons and Care Homes, with vegetarian options bland, boring and nutritionally inadequate and vegan options often non existent. The Dignity & Nutrition Inspection Programme findings were dire. Additionally there was no mention of a vegan or vegetarian diet at all.

Norman pointed out that checks are now more rigorous and changing expectations of residents as well as advances in food science had contributed to this. He believes that a nutritious vegan diet option should be included in any institutional catering menu plan and will be encouraging his students to incorporating that. He believes that caterers, nutritionists, dietitians and medical staff need to work together to ensure the needs of vegans and vegetarians are being fully met.

The meeting moved onto a Q&A. Questions included:

  • the need to spread the vegan diet amongst the general population within institutional catering. (Humane Society International).
  • the efficacy of a vegan diet in a medical setting, where it is known that plant based nutrition can help with or even reverse some conditions. (Robbie Lockie).
  • the need for detailed plant based nutrition in qualifications and training. (Doug Maw).

Answers to these questions were ambiguous and non committal. Norman Dinsdale argued that people would always cater for what the majority want to buy. The growth in veganism was not addressed in the answers, nor the growing medical opinion of the benefits of a plant based diet as well as the dangers of eating meat and dairy. I pointed out that what would be great is if we in the U.K. took a leaf out of Germany’s book and only provided plant based options at publicly funded events. We need to be leading by example rather than responding to demands based on the heavily funded campaigns of the animal agriculture industries.

The answer on training and in qualifications again left more questions. Until we incorporate this there is unlikely to be a proper consideration of the needs of vegans and vegetarians in institutions.

Those present included MPs, organisations connected to the catering industry, representatives of institutions, representatives of vegan and vegetarian groups and individuals with a special interest. It was a packed meeting with interesting views and concepts being discussed.

* Doug is running the London Marathon for the Dr Hadwen Trust – please give him your support by clicking here!

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