Newstead Wood School is going Meat-free every Monday, joining the wave of organisations and people going vegetarian for their health and the environment. This means that they are not serving any meat-based food on Monday, with the exception of sandwiches and salads. I spoke to staff, students and caterers about this shift.


“Meat-free Monday is a good idea,” said Caitlin Kinch, 15, who is a vegetarian student at Newstead Wood. “The vegetarian food tends to be better because it’s not just the extra dish on the side”. Many other students also expressed approval of the vegetarian options, which include Quorn sausages, shepherdess pie and vegetarian bolognaise. While there was some hesitation about the taste of the food, everyone I spoke to was supportive of the environmental effects of the change.


Lee Underhill, the location manager for CaterLink, said that “… the amount of meat we produce is not sustainable because of the amount of feed needed and the methane (a potent greenhouse gas) produced- especially with cattle.” There is, indeed, a huge environmental incentive to go meat free, even just one day a week. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), livestock such as cattle and sheep produce up to 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The Meat-free Monday organisation estimates that if the entire population of the UK went meat-free just one day a week we could save an area of forest as big as every national park in England combined.


Going vegetarian has also been proven to be better for your health as well. The Vegetarian Society claims that vegetarian meals are much higher in fibre and lower in saturated fat than those with meat in them. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends as well that we “choose mostly plant foods, limit red meat and avoid processed meat”. Mr. Underhill also pointed out that industrial farming of animals can lead to scares such as Mad Cow Disease which famously caused a health scare in the UK in the late 1980s. However, all meat served at Newstead Wood is red tractor and all fish is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) compliant, as well as other free-range and Fairtrade food.


However, not everyone is on board with the scheme. Jada-Rose Yankah, 14, said “I never asked to be a vegetarian.” Some people think that meat is a crucial part of a diet and should not be removed. Lean meat is an excellent source of protein, to which there are few direct comparisons in a vegetarian diet. It also contains vitamins such as B12 which is crucial for a healthy immune system, and choline- an important nutrient for brain, muscle and liver health. It is also harder to absorb iron in a vegetarian diet, which helps prevent hair loss, among other things.


Nonetheless, most complaints have been about the taste of the food more than anything else. “At least season the vegetables like you would season meat!” says Jada, who also mentions that she doesn’t like the meals produced using “fake meat”. The use of Quorn in meals such as bolognaise and sausages has caused many students who do not like it to dismiss it. “[Maybe] Make dishes that are deliberately vegetarian,” suggests Elizabeth Graham, 14. She says that perhaps making exclusively vegetarian meals would open people up to the scheme rather than point-blank refusal at the lack of meat. This is an opinion that Mr. Underhill also shared, saying “We’ve had comments both ways. We are making Quorn dishes to get people used to the idea and the more we do it, the more used to it people will become.”


Despite this backlash, Mr. Underhill and Caitlin are hopeful that the scheme will have a wider effect on the school community. “Hopefully, this is the change we need to help the younger generation fight global warming,” says Mr Underhill. “There is interest in cutting down the meat we consume.” Indeed, many students eat little or no meat and are passionate about halting climate change, with many participating in school strikes. “It gives people opportunities to try new food,” says Caitlin, who is optimistic that the options will improve, and more people will try vegetarian food. Even Jada is appeased by the continuing supply of both meat and vegetarian meals on every other day of the week. So, Meat-free Mondays are definitely changing Newstead Wood- perhaps for the worse but definitely for the better as well.


By Esther O'Neill, Newstead Wood School