University removes beef and lamb from menu to cut carbon emissions

Beef is under scrutiny.
Beef is under scrutiny.
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Removing beef and lamb from the menu at a top university has been shown to dramatically reduce food-related carbon emissions, according to a new report.

A Sustainable Food Policy at the University of Cambridge, which promoted plant-based food options, saw caterers also take unsustainable fish from the menu and reduce food waste.

In October 2016 the University Catering Service (UCS), which is responsible for 14 outlets at the university and more than 1,500 hospitality events each year, implemented the policy, which focused on the areas with the biggest impact without compromising on cost.

Our Sustainable Food Journey, published by the university’s environment and energy team, reveals that, since implementation, despite increases in how much food was purchased, overall carbon emissions across UCS were reduced by 10.5 per cent. There was a 33 per cent reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food bought, and a 28 per cent reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased.

Nick White, head of the UCS, said: “Sustainability is extremely important to our students and staff and we wanted to ensure we were not only responding to their needs, but pushing what was considered possible in a catering environment.

“This has involved making sacrifices, but it has been absolutely the right thing to do. It’s about making the right choice easy.”

Securing support from catering staff was key to making the changes. Staff were briefed on the environmental benefits of the Sustainable Food Policy and why the UCS wanted to implement it.

As cooking with meat is a key part of most chefs’ training, the UCS provided chefs with vegan cookery classes and a trip to Borough Market in London to get inspiration for plant-based menus. Meanwhile café managers were trained in marketing for sustainability rather than profit.

To encourage changes in behaviour among customers, UCS increased the number and variety of vegetarian and vegan options at the same time as removing ruminant meat. They also used subtle “nudge” techniques, including placing the vegetarian and vegan options before the meat options.

Catering manager Paula White said: “If you go to most restaurants, they’ll put a V for vegetarian or label something as vegan. We didn’t do that, we just put what’s in it. You use your eyes, your nose.

“If you look at something and think ‘wow, that looks good’, you’re not first of all thinking ‘is there beef in that?’”