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Health, climate change concerns inspire weekly vegetarian meals at Finland's army canteens

The decision to add more vegetarian options was driven by health concerns as well as the impact of meat production on climate change rather than money.

Sotilaita ruokajonossa armeijassa.
Image: Katriina Laine / Yle

Starting this autumn garrison canteens across Finland will begin offering vegetarian-only meals on a weekly basis. According to Major Eija Pulkki of the Defence Forces logistics centre, members of the Armed Forces will get to enjoy a fully vegetarian meal once a week.

Since the garrisons serve two meals -- lunch and dinner -- catering services will ensure that one of them is vegetarian. The new menu will reflect the change, with two vegetarian meals each week – either at lunch or dinner time.

The vegetarian menus will contain neither meat nor fish. However caterers will be allowed to use milk products and eggs to prepare dishes. Meal services provider Leijona Catering will henceforth be serving meals centred on potatoes and pasta with soya and quorn served as meat substitutes. According to canteen services manager Pulkki, all garrisons also provide vegan meals.

More veggies for soldiers

So far all of Finland’s garrisons cater to vegetarians and overall, the Army has sought to introduce increasing amounts of vegetables into soldiers’ diets. Last year the organisation representing conscripts had proposed the concept of the meat-free day, but army caterers turned down the idea.

“Many schools have already introduced an all-vegetarian day but we believe it’s better to divide it into two. Schools provide one warm meal [a day] but we offer two,” said development manager Petri Hoffren of Leijona Catering.

According to Hoffren the decision to increase the availability of vegetarian options was driven by health concerns and the impact of meat production on climate change rather than money.

“Climate change is in the background but vegetarian food isn’t cheaper,” he noted.

All the same, the catering firm has had to think long and hard about the economics of food since the company will not be serving soldiers well-known vegetarian favourites such as broad beans or pulled oats. Those items will be replaced by options such as shredded soy and quorn as meat substitutes.

Few vegetarians among conscripts

Last year a magazine survey found that only 88 of roughly 20,000 conscripts in Finland were vegetarian, although there were vast regional differences. The proportion of vegetarians in Lapland’s Jaeger Brigade is less than half a percent (0.23percent), while 0.63 percent of Helsinki’s Kaarti Jaeger Regiment claimed to abstain from meat.

According to number crunchers Statistics Finland, in the wider population just under one-fifth of young people aged between 15 and 24 had entirely given up eating meat by the end of 2016.

Conscripts on special diets can notify canteen staff of their requirements. Leijona Catering then prepares suitable meals which are either served at canteens or out in the field. Special diets are not in themselves an obstacle to acceptance into Finland’s special forces, although health conditions that require special diets may prove to be.

Norwegian defence forces began serving weekly vegetarian meals back in 2013, citing the effects of meat consumption on climate change.

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