An Aberdeenshire mum has been left “incensed” by what she has described as an attempt to persuade children to ditch meat for vegan or vegetarian diets.
Pupils at Cluny School have been given cooking demonstrations from meat substitute maker Quorn this week and it’s understood other schools will follow.
But Julie Cheesman says “commercially-motivated” companies should not be allowed access to “impressionable” primary-aged kids.
She is concerned that youngsters are being told they should go meat-free if they want to be healthier – marketing to them “through the back door” and belittling local cattle farmers.
“They are letting a multi-national organisation come in and directly advertise to our children,” she said.
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“It’s inconceivable to me that they’re doing this in the heartland of the farming community.”
Mrs Cheesman, 47, said parents were given less than 48 hours’ notice about the demonstration, meaning they had little time to voice their frustrations.
Several others have announced they will be excluding their children from the sessions unless they are also shown dishes including meat.
Without this balance, Mrs Cheesman claims, the council is “pushing” Quorn on children without showing them the alternatives.
“You wouldn’t let McDonald’s come into school to do a cookery demonstration and tell the kids how amazing their burgers are, or have Subway come in to show them how to make sandwiches.
“For me, there’s no difference – it’s all directly marketing to kids.”
Aberdeenshire Council, however, said the workshops focused on the main food groups with discussions about healthy eating and the benefits of reducing – rather than removing – meat intake.
Director of education Laurence Findlay said: “As a local authority we must follow national guidelines when it comes to providing school meals and the most recent review includes a reduction in the amount of red and red processed meat.
“We are also experiencing more demand, particularly within our secondary schools, for vegetarian and vegan options.
“Aberdeenshire Council is very supportive of the local food market and, in addition to our own contracts with local suppliers, we encourage national suppliers to source food locally wherever possible.”
A spokeswoman for Quorn said the company works with children, schools and menu planners to think about food choices as part of a wider programme about healthy eating.
She added: “During the session we don’t talk about Quorn.
“Instead, we focus more broadly on what a balanced diet looks like, including healthy snacks and eating less salt and sugar.”
Alan Clarke, Chief Executive of Quality Meat Scotland, said it was very important that people of all ages are made aware of the facts about a healthy diet and the role red meat plays in achieving that.
“It is very important that people receive the correct information to make an informed decision about diet and the role of read meat in a healthy diet,” he said.
“Our industry has excellent credentials in terms of sustainability and animal welfare.
“The Scots were first in the world to introduce the quality assurance which underpins the Scotch beef, Scotch Lamb and Specially Selected Pork brands and we are proud to work in partnership with the Scottish SPCA, Scotland’s leading animal welfare charity.
“Aberdeenshire is famed for producing top quality beef, lamb and pork and has a rich heritage of generations of skilled stock people.
“Red meat production also plays an important role in the local economy, generating £2 billion for Scotland’s economy and supporting 50,000 jobs, many in more fragile rural areas.”