Good catering is a key element of person-centred care. Unfortunately it sometimes falls down the priority list, which can have a significant impact on the experiences of service users in health and care settings. Getting the right nutrition at the right time enables us to maintain our health and recover from illness quickly. When you’re in hospital feeling unwell and vulnerable, struggling to obtain suitable food adds stress to an already challenging situation.
Unfortunately, The Vegan Society regularly hears from people who struggle to obtain vegan food in hospital for various reasons. Sometimes the catering service provides vegan options, but they aren’t displayed on the main menu and ward staff aren’t familiar with the system. It’s frustrating for everyone involved when a lack of communication prevents food getting from the catering department to the patient.
The Catering for Everyone campaign calls for legislation to ensure availability of good vegan food on public sector menus. Although it’s rare, I’ve come across hospital catering services that have to improvise when vegans are admitted because they don’t have options on their menus. This can make it difficult for vegans to obtain food in line with their beliefs, which are protected by law.
Balanced vegan meals aren’t just good for vegans! The latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey shows that UK diets are in need of an overhaul because they contain too much saturated fat and too little fruit, vegetables and fibre. In particular, service users who are not nutritionally vulnerable and members of staff can benefit from eating more plant-based food. It’s easy to make tasty vegan meals that are low in saturated fat, contain plenty of fibre and provide multiple 5-a-day portions.
Inclusivity is another strength of vegan-friendly catering. Vegan food can be enjoyed by vegetarians, pescatarians and people who eat meat. If the caterer ensures that it’s free from milk and egg, it guarantees an option for people who react to these allergens. Also, vegan cuisine might be acceptable to someone who eats a halal or kosher diet.
Offering more vegan food on hospital menus can support environmental initiatives. Scientists agree that we need to take drastic action at all levels of society to avert a climate crisis, which includes the food system. The Plate Up for the Planet campaign raises awareness of the environmental benefits of changing what we eat. For example, switching to a vegan diet can reduce the carbon footprint associated with food production by up to 50%.
Public sector institutions like hospitals can lead the way by including plant-based options on standard menus. This makes them available to everyone and helps to normalise this type of food. This is an important part of shifting society towards more plant-based diets in line with the UK’s Eatwell Guide, which promotes healthy and sustainable eating.