The right to culturally acceptable food
The right to food is provided for in international law. Although this right is typically talked about in the context of poverty or crisis situations, it is a right that has some scope for a vegan claim to the kind of diet that is needed.
The right to adequate food is contained in Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It imposes a requirement on governments to ensure everyone has adequate food. It also requires governments to inform wider society about good nutrition.
The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has provided an explanation of what duties and responsibilities governments have in relation to this Article. It makes an important point about the right to food being met when everyone has physical and economic access to adequate food. The right to food is taken very seriously by official international organisations that oversee implementation of international law. With regard to the right to food, the United Nations has appointed a Special Rapporteur who is responsible for checking and reporting on how this right is being met by governments.
The Special Rapporteur has given a definition of the right to food being:
"the right to have regular, permanent and free access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensures a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear."
The importance of this right for vegans is that it is defined as the right to food that corresponds to the culture. As such, it is a right owed to all vegans when in relationships with state authorities. This means for example, state owned schools, health services, care homes, prisons and when a vegan is employed by the state. It also covers the circumstances where governments are providing free food in the context of the recent economic crisis, at “food banks”.