Becoming vegan-inclusive in your everyday teaching and learning practice benefits the wider cohort as well as the vegan children. Veganism promotes good health, environmentally friendly initiatives and compassion for all. With more and more vegan children in our schools today, what do you need to know in order to promote a fully inclusive environment?
What is Veganism?
“Veganism is a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” - The Vegan Society
Being vegan is more than just choosing not to eat animal products; it is a belief system and impacts on every area of one's life. For children who are vegan, compassion is the guiding philosophical quality in their lives and this means that they do not eat animal products, wear clothing derived from animals (wool, silk, leather etc) or partake in any exploitation of animals (e.g. visiting zoos, using products tested on animals or sometime even keeping pets).
Why are Some Children Vegan?
A recent study shows that 1 in 5 UK children are already vegan or want to be. A majority of children who are vegan are raised so because their parents also share this belief, but some children do opt to go vegan all by themselves. So, why would people adopt a vegan lifestyle?
Animal rights - the belief that non-human animals have the right to live freely and free of any cruelty.
Environmental - a vegan lifestyle significantly reduces ones carbon footprint and also addresses the major biodiversity crisis that we are currently facing.
Health - research has consistently shown that a vegan lifestyle significantly reduces the chances of many diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and certain types of cancer.
Human Rights - plant-based food requires far less land to produce than meat and dairy and is therefore considered a more sustainable way of feeding people across the planet.
Whatever reason someone chooses to be vegan, it is often extremely strongly held and often evolves as they learn more and more about veganism.
What are the Legal Requirements?
Under the Equality Act 2010, veganism is a protected characteristic, giving it as much value as other characteristics protected from discrimination such as race or religion.
The Public Sector Equality Duty also requires you to routinely integrate inclusive thinking and equality in everything your institution does. You should ensure that the needs of vegans are considered when developing policies and practices concerning school functions and activities.
Under Human Rights law, everyone has the right to adopt a belief of choice and be free from coercion. Those children transitioning to veganism should be supported and not discouraged. Also under this area of law, schools must respect the parental right to ensure that education and teaching conform with their philosophical convictions.
How to Support Vegan Pupils
It is vital that education provisions create a positive and inclusive environment which both affirms and supports the vegan lifestyle. You don't have to change everything or promote a vegan lifestyle, just make little changes that will make it more inclusive for those who are vegan. There are many areas where small changes can be made to support this, so here are just a few suggestions;
Curriculum & topics
Use topics that celebrate animals and their natural habitats
Avoid uncritical and biased views of animals in captivity (e.g. zoos, aquariums)
Carefully consider class pets, visiting animals in captivity (unless in sanctuaries)
When discussing healthy eating, use nutritional language such as 'protein' rather than 'meat', 'calcium' instead of 'dairy'.
Provide alternatives for children who do not wish to partake in dissections in science lessons
If possible, include the benefits of vegan living and its impact on the environment, health etc.
Use inclusive language when discussing vegan food, such as 'soy milk and dairy milk' rather than labelling it as vegan.
Use alternative songs that don't explore the exploitation of animals, e.g. '12345 Once I Caught A Fish Alive' may cause a vegan pupil to feel uncomfortable
Avoid speaking about veganism or plant-based living in a derogatory way
Refer to animals as 'he' or 'she' rather than 'it'
Provide healthy, balanced and substantial vegan options at meal time, including plant-based alternatives to milk at snack/break times and during any after-school cookery clubs
If treats or sweets are distributed at the end of term or for holidays, provide vegan alternatives
Ensure that food technology classes also promote the benefits of plant-based eating and the food wheel contains plant-based alternatives for all food groups.
Ensure your uniform policy does not require items that are often derived from animals, i.e. made from leather, suede, or wool.
Avoid using materials in school that are derived from animals and ensure to check the labels and ingredients for anything that may be animal based.
Bullying & Emotional Support
Vegan children are at a higher risk of being bullied for their beliefs, so ensure that your schools anti-bullying policy also covers veganism beliefs. Some aspects of school life can be distressing for some vegan pupils. Additionally, some vegan learners may have non-vegan family members who do not support their vegan way of life. As an educator, you no doubt want to ensure every child feels supported and valued, no matter what their beliefs are, so here are some ways you can support vegan pupils who may be struggling;
Validate their feelings - 'It's okay to feel this way'
Communicate empathy and use active listening to ensure you fully understand and appreciate their situation
Empower individual choices - e.g. if a child does not want to sit near children who are eating meat or wants to abstain from animal-based dissections in lessons.
Advocate for them if they come to you expressing they are being bullied
The world is changing and veganism is growing more and more, so it is likely that you will have more vegan children in your classrooms. Therefore, understanding what veganism truly is and how it impacts children's entire lives will help you be more inclusive and aware of some of the practices in school that could be challenging for them given their beliefs.