The Vegan Association of Turkey has taken aim at the Turkish Council of Higher Education. The former has launched a lawsuit claiming that the latter has systematically overlooked vegan university students’ right to source nutritious and balanced food easily. Turkey plays host to 205 universities, spread across its 81 cities, with none catering to vegan diets.
Petitions have been launched prior to the lawsuit, to bring the issue to the forefront. Despite meetings with relevant officials, no positive resolutions have been achieved. The Turkish Council of Higher Education is responsible for all operational elements of universities, including the dining hall management.
Trying to take the gentler path
The Vegan Association attempted to leverage adequate nutrition for plant-based students through direct interaction. It submitted a petition to the university, asking for formal acknowledgment that vegan students have a right to balanced food suitable for their needs. It went further, by requesting that menu redesigns take place immediately, across all 205 campuses.
The petition was worded to underline the human rights issue central to the concern. The Vegan Association emphasised that the Council has a duty of care to every student within the country. It drew connections to the basic human right to safe and nutritious food. The Council appeared to take umbrage at the approach, noting that it is obligated to respond to the rights of students, though it “doesn’t take responsibility and even offer a solution for the fulfillment of these rights,” it said in response.
The Vegan Association noted that the Council alluded to having intentions of updating campus menus one by one and in conjunction with individual establishments. This was not considered a fastidious enough or well-conceived plan.
“This answer is not a solution, and it is clear that such a recommendation is not an answer to the lack of regulation that should be implemented throughout the country,” The Vegan Association’s lawsuit reads. “Leaving a problem that concerns the whole country to the initiative of each university one by one will cause disorder rather than a resolution, and will damage the balance of equal opportunity that should be established among students.”
Tackling university menus in the courts
The main crux of the lawsuit is that by failing to offer balanced meals to vegan students, they run the risk of becoming ill and malnourished. This then becomes a transgression of basic human rights, which are supposed to be protected by the Turkish Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Vegan Association began its campaign, on behalf of vegan students in Turkey, by directly petitioning universities to include vegan meals in their dining halls. The approach garnered mixed responses and little action. As a result, the matter was escalated to the overseeing council. An initial meeting proved ineffectual, with the pre-lawsuit petition being submitted five months later. To date, only two institutions have instigated vegan menus, leaving 203 failing their students, nutritionally.
“Despite all efforts, we could not get positive responses from the rectors and SKS units of some universities, such as ITU, Gazi, and Bakırçay. This arbitrary practice and violations of rights must come to an end immediately,” Ebru Ariman, founding president of the Vegan Association of Turkey said in a statement. “[the Turkish Council of Higher Education] should materialize and implement the regulation that will make vegan menus compulsory, consistent, and accessible throughout the country without any further grievances.”
Education systems embracing veganism
The U.S. is faring better when it comes to providing enough options for vegan university and college students. Foodservice giant Sodexo, which provides campus catering across the U.S., announced that 42 percent of its menus are being transformed to plant-based. The move comes as the company looks to slash its carbon footprint by 34 percent, by 2025. Feedback from diners has been taken into account as well, with more students looking to embrace plant-based foods whilst studying.
Last month it was announced that Brazil has committed to rolling out plant-based meals in its schools, creating a springboard for younger students to healthy eating. The initiative, devised collaboratively by Conscious Eating Brazil, the Humane Society International, and Salvador’s city hall, will see more than 10 million vegan meals served in the Bahia state capital city, each year. It is designed to instigate long-term change in future generations’ eating habits while educating about the benefits of healthy choices and reducing carbon emissions connected to educational meal prep.
Lead photo by Maddi Bazzocco at Unsplash.