When is vegetarian not vegetarian

(22 Posts)
Oliversmumsarmy Wed 01-Jul-15 10:22:00

Dd was asked yesterday by one of the caterers at her school if she was one of those vegetarians who minded what her food had been cooked with. Dd has compulsory school dinners and apparently they have been using the same oil to fry the chips veggie sausage meat sausages, chicken and other meat products. it all goes in together. I am horrified, dd feels sick as to what she might have ingested and all trust has gone.

Am I being over the top or not?

She was quizzed that when she goes to fast food outlets she eats there and they may or maynot fry stuff together, to which she replied that actually she always asks if it is a new place she is going into and if they say they do, like one particular establishment, then she doesn't eat.

Oliversmumsarmy Wed 01-Jul-15 10:23:10

Sorry should have said we are vegetarian/vegan

AlpacaMyBags Wed 01-Jul-15 10:24:28

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

Oliversmumsarmy Wed 01-Jul-15 10:48:31

i complained about the lack of vegetarian food a couple of years back as everything for vegetarians was either deep fried or plain congealed pasta, usually they had a meat sauce. they started doing soups occasionly so am wondering what they used in them, meat stock of veg stock?

FeelingSmurfy Wed 01-Jul-15 11:05:28

I would send her in with a packed lunch and say once they can provide her with a proper vegetarian meal and regain her trust THEN you will stop sending in the packed lunches, I wouldn't care if it was compulsory if they can't provide her with a meal she can eat then you will

LooseAtTheSeams Wed 01-Jul-15 11:28:44

I would complain to the school - not only is that a problem for vegetarians on ethical grounds, it would be a big problem on religious grounds for quite a range of pupils. And of course vegetarians mind what their food is cooked in! My kids eat meat but I don't and they either have a veggie meal with us or I cook two completely different meals. Agree with. FeelingSmurfy about the packed lunch.

moosemama Wed 01-Jul-15 11:37:49

You're absolutely not being over the top. I've had endless problems with school catering, but fortunately was able to choose to send them in with packed lunches instead.

Now FS and KS1 get free lunches, dd wants to be the same as her friends and has started school meals again. She has Vegetarian, no meat or fish and then NO FISH entered on her record, against which her meals are supposed to be checked before she eats them, yet she was still given a fishcake a couple of weeks ago. Fortunately, despite being only 6 years old, she knows exactly what a vegetarian is and didn't eat it. It isn't the first time they've tried to give her fish either, with certain kitchen staff insisting vegetarians eat fish. hmm

Obviously she's in primary, so the complaint pathway is a little different, but I sent a strongly worded letter to her form teacher, who arranged for her to be taken to visit the kitchens, meet the head cook and be introduced to all the catering staff, so that they know her by sight and will not attempt to give her non-vegetarian food again. She also spent time with the lady that checks the food out on the system to be sure she can't overlook dd's dietary requirements again in future. The head cook took it very seriously, was very apologetic and assured me that systems would be really tightened up to make sure it can't ever happen again.

When ds1 was younger he had a stand up row in the classroom with his y1 teacher, because she insisted all vegetarians eat fish. He has ASD and there was no way he would back down, so it was reported to me. I was then in trouble for backing his point, if not his way of getting it across. The teacher concerned still wouldn't agree with me and said we should agree to disagree. confused

When he was 7 he had a raft of tests and we were told by his paediatrician that he is not to eat gluten. He now has compulsory hot meals at his secondary school and they've been great, creating a separate menu of meals he really likes especially for him, but he regularly gets symptoms of having been 'glutened' and I'm pretty sure that will be from cross-contamination - as in using the same oil as the normal lunches to cook his food in.

Avoiding cross-contamination between meat and vegetables (and gluten and coeliac safe foods) is basic kitchen hygiene and anyone with any sense knows not to cook vegetarian and non-vegetarian in the same pans/oil or use the same chopping board etc. As Alpaca said, I would be seriously concerned about their general food hygiene practises (sp?) and suspect they are just as bad with food allergies. Not good enough at all.

Apart from the fact that they've done it, they had absolutely no right to quiz your daughter about whether she checks how food is prepared in every restaurant and take-away she goes to. Talk about putting her on the spot, how intimidating. angry

I don't think you'd be being unreasonable to send in a strongly worded letter explaining that dd will be bringing her lunch from home until such time as the catering team can satisfactorily reassure you that they are able to provide a true vegetarian meal.

lljkk Wed 01-Jul-15 11:44:37

I was vegtn for 17 yrs & I never gave a toss if my food had been cooked in a pan or on a grill also used for beefburgers. I knew that cheese sometimes had animal rennet in it, but I didn't care about checking for that every time. I had no idea that people could get so het up over traces of fish in wine. An American Kosher-eating guy told me that British bread always had lard in it (I looked but never found such bread), and I decided not to worry about it.

I had veggie friends for yrs & we used to talk over those points & decided that there were degrees of perfectionism that none of us were bothered to strive for.

So for me the questions would not have been in the slightest unreasonable.

moosemama Wed 01-Jul-15 12:05:37

I don't really understand the point of being a vegetarian if you don't mind eating traces of animal products. The vast majority of vegetarians - and definitely all the ones I know - would definitely mind, in fact they'd be appalled.

The default assumption in all kitchens that cater for vegetarians should be that they keep vegetarian and meat/fish containing meals separate throughout storage and the whole cooking process. Quite apart from the ethical aspects, there are considerable hygiene considerations to be made and that's not even beginning to consider those that are vegetarian for religious reasons.

I still don't think they should have been questioning a child as to whether or not she checks how/where food is cooked every time she eats out - that's bad enough, but the fact that they've only now bothered to ask and have been cooking her food alongside meat for goodness knows how long is inexcusable.

queenofthepirates Wed 01-Jul-15 12:06:45

I'm with lljkk, I'm a veggie of 26 years and for convenience, my DD is too. I've put her down as veggie at school however I do think there needs to be a bit of give and take. I would be aghast at the notion my DD might go and meet the school canteen staff-where's the respect for the staff? Be firm but gentle in your approach and I am sure you will achieve all sorts. Don't go in all guns blazing, it's the quickest way to get nothing done other than acrimony.

moosemama Wed 01-Jul-15 12:37:26

Why on earth would you be aghast? It was the kitchen staff that wanted to do it. She went along with a TA and it was all very friendly. There was no question of there not being any respect for the staff, just that when the issue was raised by her teacher, they explained they find it hard to keep track of so many children with different dietary requirements and it helps to put a face to a name.

We didn't labour the point or even press the fact that the failsafe of the person who is supposed to check dietary requirements against pupils' meals had also got it wrong, but having met dd face to face and now knowing who she is, it's unlikely to happen again - which is the outcome we wanted.

There has been give and take. I didn't go in all guns blazing the first time, my complaint was made after several occasions where dd was given meat/fish and she was becoming increasingly upset about it because the staff weren't listening to her when she tried to tell them she didn't eat it. That said, I think I would have been more angry if I found out she'd been being fed food that had been cooked in the same oil and pans etc as meat - to me, as a strict vegetarian, that is completely unacceptable, especially as it also relates to basic kitchen hygiene.

When I say my letter was strongly worded - perhaps firm but gentle might be better. I made the point it was unacceptable, but also said that I accept that slip-ups happen occasionally and I was just wanting to try and make sure it didn't happen again. No-one was offended, it was all dealt with amicably and both parties came away happy.

I don't know personally of anyone that's veggie for convenience, but accept that may be the case for some people, however it's still not acceptable for a catering department to assume that is the reason and ignore cross-contamination, as it could easily result in someone unknowingly compromising their religious beliefs.

blankblink Wed 01-Jul-15 14:08:29

one of those vegetarians who minded what her food had been cooked with

This is the problem in a nutshell.

The Vegetarian Society defines a vegetarian as: "Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter."
For all genuine vegetarians, that includes all cross-contamination.

So many people who aren't fussy about meat juices splashed onto their food rennet, fish etc. call themselves vegetarian when they truly aren't, which just causes confusion for everyone, particularly genuine vegetarians.

OP, no, you are definitely not being OTT, your dd needs to have uncontaminated food.

And an unrelated observation, heaven help any kids there who have fish or milk allergies, the type that cause anaphylaxis, or gluten-free kids when the kitchen is operating with that amount of cross-contamination in a fryer.

Kvetch15 Wed 01-Jul-15 14:19:27

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

ifonly4 Wed 01-Jul-15 14:26:56

I think the school kitchen would be in trouble if they got reported.

I wouldn't want something cooked in that oil whether veggie or not - it can't be right cooking say chicken in oil when it's previously been used to cook sausages.

If I go to a bbq, my different groups of friends have always said to cook my veggie burgers first (I don't ask) to they realise I don't mind meat juices appetising!

SilentBob Wed 01-Jul-15 14:35:07

In all of the commercial kitchens I have ever worked in, all fryers are seperated. So usually one for chips (and under no circumstances to be used for any battered/breaded products in order to keep this one gluten-free), one for vegetarian items, one for meat products, another for fish products etc. Any cross-contamination would result in disciplinary action and for good reason imo.

So, although I can't comment on how I would feel with regards to the vegetarian aspect (I was one for 11 years but that was a long time ago) I do know that the school should not be using one fryer for everything. Quite aside from anythjng else, have they no fish-allergy awareness? I'd have a word to be honest.

BearsAndAngels Wed 01-Jul-15 15:12:55

I'm a veggie because I don't want to think that any animal has been bred and killed for me. I don't like the process and idea of that, I don't like the way they're kept and slaughtered.

As such, if a bit of someone else's meat product came into contact with mine it wouldn't bother me. Eating meat is their choice, I wasn't in anyway responsible for that animal being slaughtered.

I understand people choose vegetarianism for different reasons, but just trying to clarify for a non-vegetarian, why it might be confusing!

lljkk Wed 01-Jul-15 17:44:01

Maybe I should refer to my past as a phase of "fake" vegetarianism. Because I wasn't highly fussy about it.

I dunno, it never seemed important to make it precise and demanding.

I don't see why the Vegetarian Society (or anyone) thinks they have the right to come up with the one and only authoritative definition.

BlueBrightFuture Wed 01-Jul-15 21:41:18

When DD was in reception she had school lunch for a few weeks. Because the veggie pasta had run out they gave her chicken because it is suitable for vegetarians but not lam. shock. DD decided not to eat it and has taken in packed lunch instead..

Schrodingersmum Thu 02-Jul-15 08:23:30

We feel your pain, I would not expect vegetarian food to be cooked in with meat or fish. Both my children and myself are also coeliacs and no school provides food for vegetarian coeliacs so both have always have to take packed lunches. These caterers are probably the ones who also think vegetarians eat fish thanks to the pescatarians who refer to themselves as vegetarians but thats yet another problem.....

LooseAtTheSeams Thu 02-Jul-15 09:07:00

I think the point here is that the school is deceiving people. If a caterer supplying any customer says they are providing vegetarian meals then they should be completely vegetarian. If I go to a restaurant and the menu advises that a cheese dish hasn't been made with vegetarian rennet, I can make an informed decision about whether to eat it. That's my choice. The school has made school dinners compulsory but isn't taking responsibility for ensuring they meet basic hygiene standards let alone ethical or religious ones. I would be more worried that they had the conversation with a small child instead of phoning the parent - that suggests to me that they know it's wrong and are trying to get round it.

LooseAtTheSeams Thu 02-Jul-15 09:11:57

Not 'small child' confusing OP with another poster!! Apologies - it does make sense at secondary school to talk to DCs about their food, but I think the fact they phrased it the way they did wasn't a good sign. I would let the school know you have concerns about this because they can take it up with the catering company.

Oliversmumsarmy Thu 02-Jul-15 09:35:46

Thank you for all your responses As I have said before I have already complained about the lunches before. I will be having words with the HT as it was they who flagged it up as a potential problem and told the caterers to tell dd. I think it will be pack lunches from now on as the trust is gone.

Both of mine went to a primary school, absolutely no packed lunches, that actually didn't cater for vegetarians for one day per week. They tried to feed ds and dd tuna as it was down as a vegetable?

I used to live around a certain large university city in the late 80s and 90s and had to attend a lot of functions at the large very reputable 5* hotel. My vegetarian meal despite requesting several times a veggie form of the meat option what would arrive would be either ham salad, chicken salad or tuna salad. Once they gave me a bowl of rice when I kicked up a fuss. The salad was served through out the year. It could be -5 outside and out would come the ham salad. Apparently the vegan option was the plain rice.

If a reputable 5* hotel can't get it right then what hope school kitchens.

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