Vegetarian Food Day in Finnish schools?

While I was talking to Suvi, I stumbled upon an interesting incident in Finland quite recently–Helsinki city has been trying to force its students have more vegetarian meals. Follow the summaries of news articles below–the originals are in Finnish.

19 February 2010 YLE

Image courtesy: YLE

Helsinki city approved to serve only vegetarian food in schools once a week, but Helsinki city representative Ulla-Maija Urho says that vegetarian food will not be tasty for all. ‘The question is whether kids will eat what is given or go buy unhealthy snack from outside shops. The menus in schools have been in good condition, but with this new idea we derive the situation so that less students will visit school canteen to eat’, says Urho. She doubts that some students will not come back to school if they go to shop to buy something they like. She continues “in articulate high schools this may succeed, but may not in vocational schools and junior high schools”.

Mikael Fogelholm, the director of Health Research Unit from Academy of Finland, is amazed by the spread fear and worries. “Urho drew devils on walls, the idea is not even tested yet.” Vegetables intake for children has been lower than the dietary recommendation while the consumption of meat has been growing. He thinks “vegetarian food day can help students learn the variety of vegetarian food. […] We have many people who will not choose vegetarian option if it is not the only choice. Vegetarian food day will also bring the conversation about sustainability to schools.”

23 February 2010 UUSISUOMI

There have been active debates and votes in schools about vegetarian food day, and many of them are not agreed upon the idea. Some says that vegetarian food is not necessarily more ecological option considering climate changes since most of vegetables are imported from distanced countries. Some argues it is important for children that they can enjoy food without thinking about saving the world. It is also claimed that iron from vegetables is not easily digested and absorbed to body, but that from meat can be more easily absorbed.

18 January 2011 A news page of Palmia

Vegetarian food has been served from the beginning of 2011 in the schools which Palmia takes care of food service of while other school canteens provided by commercial sector don’t follow the vegetarian food day.

Palmia’s school restaurants have been serving two option until the end of 2010 and one of those options was always vegetarian food since 2007. On vegetarian food day assortment includes casserole, vegetarian stake, vegetable ball, pancake and so on. Palmia has improved new menus to meet the nutrition balance. Palmia has got feedbacks about vegetarian food form 8 schools, about 200 students in total. Their favorite were noodles and pasta as anticipated. In cooperation with Helsinki University, research about the consumption of vegetarian compared to status quo is going on in about 40 schools.

14 February 2011 Uusisuomi

Many students don’t appear in canteens on the vegetarian food day. It happens in the junior high schools and vocational schools whose students are mainly boys. Palmis’ food service manager Jaana Kujala said ‘the amount of the visitors of cafeteria has been dropped on vegetarian food days. I hope that it is just protesting behavior of certain ages only for the beginning and the number of visitors will get back to same level as it used be.’ The reduction of visitors are based on the workers’ observation and no formal research has been done. In contrast, ones who ate the vegetarian meals have given very positive feedbacks.

It’s astounding that a city can push such a thing from top down just like that. Meatless Monday and the likes are now increasingly becoming popular approach in many countries while there always is oppositions and protests of some sort. What can we do about it? Will we stop pushing people, or will be proceed to have more than one vegetarian food day per week?

I must say the question is ill-framed. We may use the Meatless Monday or Vegetarian Food Day as they are a valid tactic to spread the words and to yield short-term effect, but pushing people do something they do not want will not work in the long run. We need to reframe the question and get a positive, compelling, yet simple goal that will result in numerous action plans.

Anyway, does anyone know what the parents said about the Finnish Vegetarian Food Day? We am looking for help!