Fostering greater equity and inclusion with plant-based food options in school: a critical inquiry with elementary parents in the Lakehead District School Board
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While there has been increasing attention to equity and inclusion in Ontario schools, school food and drink offerings have yet to be explicitly incorporated in most equity and inclusion policies and practices. With the growing number of vegetarian and vegan (veg*n) families and literature documenting the marginalization of veg*ns, this study sought to explore Thunder Bay parents’ experiences with school food options available to their children who eat plant-based diets. Taking a narrative inquiry-inspired approach, interviews were conducted with 10 mothers and one father. In most schools, plant-based options were not available, and as a result, students felt socially excluded and, at times, were physically excluded, which negatively affected their feelings of well-being and interrupted their learning. Parents also reported feeling unsupported when advocating for their children and their attempts to mitigate their children's exclusion were time-consuming. Parents felt it was important that schools make more effort to learn about the dietary needs of their student population and provide appropriate options, and they recommended that an inclusive school food policy be created at the Board level. To normalize dietary diversity, they also wanted school staff to learn and teach about plant-based diets, including the different reasons people adopt these diets, including for health, animal welfare, sustainability, religion, and culture. Since some individual teachers and one school demonstrated inclusive school food practices, parents recommended that these educators could lead professional development workshops for other school staff. Additionally, that the participants were mostly women and all were White, illuminates mothers’ responsibilization for food as well as raises a concern about whose voices were not heard in this study.
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