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Vegetarian meals satisfy army nutrition requirements, Defence Forces report finds

Finland's Defence Minister doubted that "lentil soup and cauliflower smoothies" would provide enough energy, but a new study vindicates planned vegetarian meals.

Sotilaita ruokajonossa armeijassa.
Image: Katriina Laine / Yle

A study carried out by the Finnish Defence Forces has found that the vegetarian meals served by the Leijona Catering service in Finland's garrisons meet the army's required nutrition requirements. Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö requested the report, the findings of which were handed over on Friday.

"The amount of total daily energy in the garrison meals on offer should be 3,300 to 3,400 calories per person, according to the standards set by the Defence Forces food management unit," the study said.

Among other things, the study also mentions that the Defence Forces will monitor the effects of the dietary changes, and supply the catering company with feedback based on this information.

The Finnish military mentions in the report that vegetarian meals have been offered regularly in their garrisons since 2016, accompanied by endeavours to increase the amount of vegetables included in regular lunches and dinners.

"The concept of a 'vegetarian food day' traces back to an initiative from conscript committees that was submitted to Leijona Catering in October 2017. The proposal suggested that the garrison canteens would start serving 'at least one vegetarian meal a week'", the study said.

Minister shocked by the news

The Finnish Defence Forces recently announced its decision to increase the number of vegetarian meals served to its conscripts to two a week, starting this autumn.

The decision came as a surprise to Finland's Defence Minister Jussi Niinistö. After the news of the change broke, he immediately expressed his concerns that the meals on offer would not meet the young conscripts' energy demands.

"According to the old saying, an army marches on its stomach. No army fights on lentil soup and cauliflower smoothies,” Niinistö said at the time, a quote that later made headlines the world over.

The Defence Forces' report said that the conscripts' feedback about the vegetarian entrees has been mostly positive, but some critical comments have also been presented.

More feedback on the new vegetarian meals will be collected from the conscripts yet this autumn, and the amount of food waste will also be monitored. The results will be shared with the army's food management group in November.

Finland enforces universal male conscription, under which all men above 18 years of age serve for an up to a year-long period in the army. Some 10,000 men are called-up twice a year to serve, and women can also volunteer.

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