Vegetarians have scant food options in schools

Student Foo Yong Jie (left) enjoying his vegetarian dinner with his friend at the National University of Singapore on March 30. Owing to the lack of vegetarian food options in primary school, he had to eat mock char siew rice for a year as a student then. CAMPUS EYE/Cindy Ho (SINGAPORE)

 

By Cindy Ho

SINGAPORE, Mar 30 (Campus Eye) – Vegetarian-friendly options remain scant in schools, even though Singapore has been ranked the second most vegan-friendly city in Asia in a survey conducted by the international animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Student Foo Yong Jie, 22 said the lack of vegetarian options during his primary school years meant that he had to eat mock char siew rice for a year.

It was the only vegetarian item from the Chinese cuisine stall there.

“I have voiced my opinion to my teachers before, but it is very difficult for them to do anything about it,” he said.

He said his school would always tell him they were “looking into it”.

The computing undergraduate, who was previously from Ngee Ann Secondary and Elias Park Primary said his schools did order vegetarian food for them during special school events.

Foo said: “It is not fair to have a dedicated vegetarian stall because of the small percentage of vegetarians in schools, but it would be good for some stalls to show that they do sell vegetarian options, so that we know where to go for food.”

SMALL MARKET

A call by the Campus Eye to 10 primary and secondary schools found out that only two of them had a vegetarian stall in their school canteens.

Most schools cited reasons such as low demand and the small number of vegetarians for not having a vegetarian stall.

When asked how the schools cater to vegetarian students, the operation managers suggested that the students pack their own food from home, or purchase from the coffee shop nearby.

Fairfield Methodist Primary School is one of two schools that Campus Eye spoke to, that have a vegetarian stall in their canteens.

The stall owner, Qu Hai Xia, sells vegetarian beehoon, mock char siew, mock duck and fried beancurd skin as part of the daily menu.

“Children here do not really like to eat vegetarian food,” the 40-year-old Chinese national said in Mandarin.

She added that those who actually are vegetarians are few.

Qu said: “I started this vegetarian stall because of my son. When he entered primary one, this stall makes it easier for me to look after him.”

Qu declined to comment on her business is doing.

At Crescent Girls’ School, the vegetarian stall there is more popular for its chee cheong fun and fried eggs than the actual vegetarian food, according to teachers and students.

Secondary three student Quina Yap, 16, said that because students do not like vegetarian food in general, the stall is less popular.

SCHOOLS PICK VENDORS

The HQ Services Branch of Ministry of Education’s Infrastructure & Facility Services Division oversees the running and operational matters of the school canteens.

When contacted about the availability of vegetarian stalls in Singapore schools, Tay Mui Kwang, the permanent secretary of the division, said: “We do not have records of vegetarian stalls in school canteens as the appointment of stallholders are managed by the individual schools.

“The opening of any food stall in the school would depend on the demand and the take-up response of interested parties.”

Vegetarian food and beverage enterprise GreenDot opened stalls in several schools such as Temasek Polytechnic, Chung Cheng High and Tanjong Katong Girls’ School.

The three school outlets have since closed.

GreenDot is a commercial food chain specialising in vegetarian-friendly food in casual settings.

In 2011, GreenDot started out in these three schools because co-founder Fu Yong Hong, 29, observed that vegetarians had to bring their own food—mainly bread and biscuits—every day.

Through GreenDot, he caters to vegetarians, who make up 3-5% of school students.

GreenDot has expanded to seven commercial outlets since 2013, operating in shopping centres such as Westgate Mall.

 

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