VEGA News Item

Delivering a Foretaste of Freshers' Fare at Uni - 02/09/2008
Catering and the service industry are having to pay more attention to special needs in procurement and provision of foods in institutions.
1. Catering and the service industry are having to pay more attention to special needs in procurement and provision of foods in institutions, and consumers and inmates stand to gain from competition in the market if they raise their voices. So VEGA reinforces its attention to school meals to the catering services awaiting the intakes of freshers and the choices open to them.

2. Our attendance at universities and colleges for conferences during out-of term breaks, especially during the summer, gives us some idea and experience of what awaits the autumnal intakes of freshers, many of whom will have been weaned-off - or released from - parental and school catering, while trying to enter this new life of independence with heed to the copious advices in healthy eating plans and example offered by government agencies and by independent NGOs, such as VEGA, whose Portfolio of recipes and menus accommodates many worthy concerns in the wellbeing of all animals and the environment.

3. One of this year's experiences took us again for an annual summer conference of the Nutrition Society. At a previous Nut Soc event of this type, VEGA assisted in a demonstration of the reasons and activities in which it is associated with the Portfolio. These Summer Meetings usually run for 3 or 4 days with an international attendance and are held at typical university sites and in conditions likely to greet this year's intake of freshers. This year's Nut Soc event took place in Nottingham University, which - like Nottingham itself - owes much of its prosperity to Boots and Chemists and to the tobacco and cigarette industries.

4. Of 404 registrants for this year's Nut Soc meeting, 53 described themselves as vegetarian and were therefore requiring special meals; another four would eat fish but not meat. Three participants registered themselves as vegans, of whom only one (our hon. Research Adviser) took any noticeable part in the proceedings. We owe thanks to the Nut Soc for their information to augment our own. On the commercial side, Innocent smoothies had a prominent stand, very successfully exemplifying the 5-a-day message and generating a brisk demand for welcome fruit and samples.

5. Nut Soc meetings are run with commendably busy agendas including student events, barbeques and ceilidhs, so lunch is provided in bags for consumption of the contents, as and when. Our participant's vegan lunch bag, provided by the university's catering services, comprised an apple, a bag of Walkers crisps, a humus-filled salad, granary sandwich and, surprisingly, a low-fat yogurt, which was definitely not dairy- free. Scrutiny of the label on the sandwich, which was also described at the servery as "suitable for vegetarians and vegans" disclosed that buttermilk was an ingredient.

6. Interpreting these figures must induce caution over the definitions. Is the meat red or white? Do some people rate fish as meat? Do some self-styled vegetarians eat chicken and other white meats (such as game, wild and farmed) as well as fish? And do they and food suppliers know what distinguishes a vegetarian from a vegan - apart from some misunderstood objections to leather and woolen goods? And what about honey; and organic, free range and GM? The unnecessary division in the definitions of the words vegetarian and vegan, the former being comprehensive and the latter restrictive, introduces avoidable misprisions, when resort to the "free" vocabulary would clarify matters in a more impressive way: we don't describe something as suitable for Christians and Roman Catholics, so "suitable for vegetarians and vegans" blunts the significance of preferences to accommodate meat-, dairy-, and cruelty-frees.

7. We may wonder whether nutritionists are likely to be more engaged than the general public in trending to health considerations, with which vegetarianism, and "green" issues might be emphasized - even at the cost of environmental challenges, although all these factors are now gaining importance as the imperatives of eating to let live and live; and grow food, not feed are breaking the complicity of silence over living to eat and gross exhibitions of greed. The antics of ethicists to accommodate the preaching of pacifism with complicity with the slaughter and butcher, and denials, that "meat is a murder" should engage thinking, practice, and protest in universities increasingly as scientists and economists emerge from the darkness of anthropocentrism to anthropomorphism into the beyond of numinous: the principles of the 3Rs- Reduction, Refinement, and Replacement are now scientific concepts that extend from the lab to the kitchen and canteen.

8. Student intakes interest epidemiologists and analysts of lifestyles and attitudes and how they change during the subjects' spells in institutional conditions with consequent debate and marketing effect. Art v. Science matters erupt in controversies such as GM, experiments on animals, and vegetarianism and how they change in various faculties, and over the period of learning and experience in universities. International studies among the "caring" faculties, such as medicine, veterinary science, and nursing and environmental and ecological disciplines, among which nutritionists might be counted, are likely to embrace "ethical" and altruistic matters of principle that are likely to challenge the preaching and practice that responsible academics wish to demonstrate as costs of living put some of these issues to the test of the "luxury" of exercising self-discipline, thrift, and restraint against the general trend of rising prices. The nutritionists at Nottingham University, where there is a newly-established veterinary school whose teaching on food production was discussed, engaged the delegate, with a considerable nod to the burgeoning market in pet-foods.

9. Veggie matters inform political issues at freshers fares and are very important if the teaching and social life enable the meat-frees and dairy-frees and ultimately the cruelty-frees to derive the best from the years at uni. Political matters are bound to crop up. The Government and ministers have been ahead of the field in preaching and practicing the need to reduce consumption of meat and dairy and bravely to raise the possibility of food rationing and fiscal interventions reinforcing health policies on smoking, alcohol and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). It was a bold move by Gordon Brown to entrust DEFRA to a veggy Minister of State and a tribute to Hilary Benn for tackling some tricky topics, such as TB, badgers, and the farming politics behind reductions of meat and dairy and the public's attitudes. Ben Bradshaw's move from Agriculture and Environment to Health was also a nice move. Let's hope that any impending shuffles are similarly felicitous. David Cameron, for his shadowy turn strains at the leash to demolish the anti-hunting Act and to heed the dubious counselling of John Gummer, MP, in whose terroir of East Anglia Bernard Matthews' infamous turkey farm is situated. The High Church wrath of JG vented in some off-the-cuff remarks at what was clearly a good dinner among a Worshipful Company were captured by a Times reporter and are kept in our database. Knowing freshers should suss out the politics in the constituency into which the quest for education and information has translocated them.

10. This is why we urge all veggie-minded students, especially in year's intake, to express their principles to the catering services and at the Union and thus to influence corporate buyers and procurement agencies and manufacturers, retailers and researches the potential in their first tastes of customer power, to which we hope to contribute and stimulate. Green the new intakes of freshers may be, but not behind their ears, and they should prove, in town and gown matters, that they know their onions.

Free-range Learning

11. Vegans have to understand how poorly served they are, even among food experts showing a spark of imagination. We think therefore that the confusion over vegetarian, cheesytarian, vegan, and you-do-eat fish-don't-you? dietaries should be avoided by adoption of the free from style, we and some of the main retailers have adopted. Our representative found a more enlightened catering system at Aston University's Business School for a 2-day meeting on marketing matters where soya milk was served without demur and the range of vegan meals was exemplary. So it can be done! As special requirements can now be declared in signing on for accommodation in many circumstances, we emphasize advice to freshers and other users of institutional catering to use the free-from system, rather than the unnecessarily confusing and little-understood vegetarian and vegan descriptions (which are sometimes muddled with questions on footwear and belts).

Body Language - the Lingo of Well Being

12. The Food Standards Agency's attentions to the sales and consumption of food and lifestyles for schoolchildren have not reached so far into equally important topics ensuing on the challenges and responsibilities facing school leavers and their experiences in eating out and eating in, greasy spoons, grotty communal catering, and deplorable advertising by the producers and vendors to foist junk foods on populations fooled into consumption of supposedly cheap gut fill. The poor, among whom many students would count themselves, have every right to vaunt their scruples when they still wish to withdraw their complicity in the production of Asda's £2 broiler, wherever and from whoever it has been bought and cooked and whether it entails the small heroism of buying instead a tin of baked beans or a vegeburger. Likewise, they might brace themselves as reducers of "meat and diary" by thinking metric rather than in dozens when say the price of eggs has to be considered; and they will not be so cowed that they can't explore the increasing possibilities they and their caterers could be offering in the market for tasty alternative non dairy milks and yogurts with healthy attributes surpassing cheesy and fatty offerings that even delude unthinking veggies.

13. And likewise with consumption of booze. Student wails over poverty don't cut the mustard when the effects of gross excesses and prodigious profits at university bars appear to be rites of passage, in boobies unable to hold their liquor or to think in halves instead of full pints and of litres in thirds or metricated in glasses and bottles of sizes that allow a full measure of satisfaction and quality enhancing appreciation of the humblest meal with a grown-up resistance to intoxication.

14. Our Portfolio of eating plans is added to weekly. It is accompanied by nutritional information exceeding the provisions the FSA is hoping to achieve and it is setting standards that cookery-writers and publishers and nutritionists are having to adopt. It should be of special value for students at uni, whether eating in or self-catering or entertaining. It should enable consumers in colleges, halls, canteens, and restaurants, as well as suppliers and corporate purchasers of procurement stocks to exert consumer power on the producers and retailers of food, even when the many wallets may be meagrely filled, the bellies may be many and insistent on good food and beverages. We are overhauling our Portfolio at the moment. We aim at increasing the number of occasional specials, eg for the celebration of World Food Day on 16th October, and hope to be able to price menus and meals when the market has recovered from its present bout of jitteriness. The Portfolio's cruelty-free menus accommodate the aspirations of "greens" of many sorts of environmental and ecological intent. And we always welcome applications from students as volunteers or paid part-time as participants and reserves for our research and campaigning.

15. University health and social services offer students special access to nutritional advice and screening - and even as subjects volunteering for current epidemiological studies. Students may be approached to be "milked" for blood or semen and even at their young age to indicate their wishes "willed" in the means of disposal of their bodies, whole or in parts. These are aspects of adulthood and citizenship that have to vie with fees, rent payments, and mortgages. Altruism has to be considered with self-help.

16. Women of child-bearing age need special advice. They should have experienced this requirement before they reach uni. They should take extra care to log results of tests and screening, noting changes that require expert attention. From our observations and enquiries, we recommend women at this stage in their development to keep as much information as they can on family histories and dated fotographs. Apart from the usual check-ups of "skeletal and hematological variables" and "cough-and-breathe" assessments in modern forms, the 5-a-day FSA's injunction on fruit-and-veg should and can be adhered to without stint. Students who don't eat fish, and some others should ensure that they overwinter with a steady supply of vitamin D, with lowered-latitude breaks if necessary. Onsets of depression, weariness, and lack of condition may indicate a thyroid deficiency that should receive medical attention and need adjustment by dietary means or resort to supplements. Occasional inclusion of sea vegetables into the diet may do the trick for many people who can't stand the taste of fish. Alternative sources of fish oils pose a dilemma for vegetarians, for whom the Food Standards Agency has little firm advice. However, VEGA has long toiled with this problem for which the food industry is now finding solutions, with acceptable products obtained from microalgae and suitable for addition to drinks and many foods, as well as supplements, which will be generally available in the UK soon.

17. We advise cautious resort to supplements; although they are available over the counter, their use depends on an expert medical assessment. Supermarkets are increasingly offering such services and sell multivitamin tablets in their pharmacy departments; independent pharmacies are following suit. Unis should be able to offer not-to-be-missed medical advice on such matters and likely changes soon-to-be-implemented on fortified foods. Such services will carry the extra advantage of ensuring that women are well advised on folate (folic acid) intakes and sources of other B vitamins, especially of vitamin B12 (cobalamin).

18. Above all, READ LABELS AND DISCUSS. Interest is essential in getting the best of health from food. Salutary Food from Salubrious Farming is the message (it may sound better in Latin, but we'd need help on that). And enjoy all that Uni or that first "real" job can offer! Good Luck!  

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