Mark Banahan at The Vegan Society outlines policies that could benefit everyone, vegan or not.
The world is changing, and rapidly. From Brexit and the climate crisis to people’s dietary choices, governments are often slow to respond.
In terms of our diets, recent polling suggests the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled over the last four years to 600,000. Businesses have responded to the rise by unveiling an array of exciting new vegan products, including the now infamous Gregg’s vegan sausage roll, vegan salmon and vegan magnums.
Despite the huge growth in veganism, many vegans still face challenges in accessing healthy, nutritious food in places like schools and hospitals. Last year a survey into state vegan provision revealed shocking failings, including hospital patients going hungry and primary school children missing out on free school meals. We have also received a multitude of examples directly, but one of the most startling came from an elderly woman in West Wales, who told us that she had to survive only on crisps for more than three days whilst recovering from an operation in hospital. How can it ever be right that you can walk down almost any high street and get a vegan sausage roll, but an elderly woman in a hospital in Wales can’t access even the most basic healthy vegan food when she really needs it?
The Catering for Everyone campaign is seeking to rectify these problems by calling for legislation to guarantee plant-based food options on all public sector menus. This would mean that vegan food would be available for everyone in schools, hospitals and other publicly funded canteens, without people having to make a special request.
We are petitioning the National Assembly for Wales on this issue and expect to be in dialogue with the Petitions Committee following submittal at the end of February.
Offering more vegan food on public sector menus doesn’t just protect the rights of vegans, it also offers wider benefits for public health and the environment. Offering more vegan food is an inclusive choice, as it can be eaten by people from all walks of life, from those people looking to reduce their animal product consumption to vegetarians and people with religious dietary requirements, like halal and kosher. Due to vegan food covering many of the requirements that different people have in one dish and the ingredients often being less expensive than animal products, institutions also benefit from cost savings by offering more vegan options on their menus.
Last year saw plenty of scientific reports warning of the damaging environmental impact caused by animal agriculture. Last June, researchers at Oxford University concluded that adopting a vegan diet is ‘the single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on planet Earth, far bigger than cutting down on flights or even buying an electric car.
The United Nations’ recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned us that we have just 12 years to avert catastrophic temperature increases by limiting global warming to 1.5 C. This is something that can only be achieved if there are deep reductions in methane emissions, which would require global and UK diets to move away from animal agriculture towards being more plant-based.
Public health is also being negatively affected by the consumption of animal products. Diet-related ill health costs the NHS a staggering £6 billion annually – this is more than smoking, alcohol or physical inactivity. The UK is currently falling woefully short of meeting the recommended five portions of fruit and veg a day, so putting fresh, plant-based foods on menus will build familiarity with all the amazing things that can be done with the endless list of plant produce – fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, beans – you get the picture!
It seems that academic and increasingly public opinion is changing and now views the societal shift from animal to plant-based products no longer as a case of ‘if’ but ‘when’.
As part of The Vegan Society’s response to the Welsh Government’s land management consultation we proposed some policy actions to ensure a vibrant Welsh ecology and economy. We would like to see greater education around the environmental and economic benefits of pulse production, for example, the fact that beans, peas and other protein crops take nitrogen from the air and store it in their roots, ensuring the soil quality doesn’t diminish. We would also like subsidies directed more towards protein crops than their animal alternatives. Additionally, we need designated funding for market research and development to aid the protein crops of the future. Furthermore, would like to see the use of Climate Finance to support rewilding for land that can’t be used for pulse production and a package of support for farmers who are willing to transition away from animal agriculture and its negative impacts.
Tree-farming or ‘agro-forestry’ could greatly aid Wales. Much of Wales would naturally be ancient woodland but today 85% of Wales is unwooded, making it one of the least wooded countries in Europe. Reforesting Wales to the flourishing woodlands it once had will help to connect Wales with its heritage. Agro-forestry can also provide good livelihoods, many renewable resources, sustainable tourism and animal habitats and yield some healthy food as well.
Our policy proposals align with several of the aims of the ground-breaking Wellbeing of Future Generations Act, including encouraging a sustainable and globally responsible Wales, tackling health inequalities, long-term disease prevention and promoting inclusivity. By adopting our policy proposals, we believe that Wales can achieve the admirable goals it has set itself.
Wales now has the opportunity to lead the way in the UK in terms of meaningfully tackling climate change and diet-related public health crises, whilst also protecting the ever-growing number of Welsh vegans. It is within our power to ensure that the planet, the people of Wales and many animals all benefit from a forward-looking Wales.
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