Vegans in Portugal are about to find mealtimes much easier, as it has become illegal for prisons, hospitals, and schools not to offer an alternative meal for them.
The decision will protect vegans who are in public service institutions, allowing them to be sure of a meal choice instead of having to go without.
New Rules for Public Canteens
The rules affect all public canteens, and also covers such buildings as universities. The terminology in the law refers to a ‘strict vegetarian option’, or in other words one which does not contain any animal products at all.
The change has come in due to the work of the Portuguese Vegetarian Society. They circulated a petition which gained more than 15,000 signatures in support of the move, and it was then discussed in the country’s parliament. This was at the beginning of 2016, and the law has now finally been put into effect.
A similar petition has been started in the UK on the parliament petition website, but it has so far only gathered 16,600 signatures since October. Unfortunately, while this figure would have been enough to bring it before the Portuguese government, that is not the case here. Rather, it requires 100,000 signatures – to be added by April 3 – if it is to be debated in parliament.
This could mean that some new product development is needed fast for public canteens who have not previously included the option in their offerings!
Big Political Push
It was a big push to get the law through, with three left-wing parties joining together to get it done. A large majority approved it on March 3.
Nuno Alvim, a spokesperson for Associação Vegetariana Portuguesa, said: “We feel this is a major breakthrough in Portugal because it’s the first time we have any law that specifically mentions vegetarianism. It will promote diversity of eating habits and encourage more people to choose the veggie option as it becomes more widely available. This is, of course, predicted to have a significant impact on the population’s health foremost, but also on animals and the environment in the long run. Promoting the rights of the vegan population is as important as campaigning and informing people to adopt veganism, in our view.”
Campaigners in the UK are now more hopeful that a similar law could be enacted in the UK.
Dietitian Heather Russell, from the UK’s Vegan Society, said: “Hospitals, prisons and places of education need to cater in a way that respects equality and diversity but, unfortunately, it can still be difficult to obtain vegan meals in some settings. Staff training can contribute to this issue as people working in institutions may not have been educated about a vegan diet. Our campaigning work aims to achieve just what the Portuguese law has – to ensure that nutritious vegan food is always readily available. I am working with health professionals and caterers to help them make this a reality.”
If you are a chef, a caterer, or are in operational management, then you might be able to make a difference even without the law coming into the UK. Even if it is not a legal requirement, you can still help to make vegan meals available wherever possible.
It’s a sensible step for any sales-oriented business, too; with a growing number of both vegans and vegetarians in the UK, an animal-free option will only ever give you more sales, not less. It’s also important to follow the proper hygiene guidelines so that vegetarian and vegan food does not come into contact with any meat products.