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Beef-free menus help Cambridge University cut food impact

The University of Cambridge has reduced its food-related carbon emissions by more than 10 per cent by removing certain meats and fish from its menus. Out has gone roast beef and lamb cutlets, replaced with the likes of aubergine rogan josh, butternut squash lasagne and breaded pork escalope.

Kings College, Cambridge University
Kings College, Cambridge University

University chefs were given vegan cookery classes and a trip to Borough Market to get inspiration for plant-based menus. And its café managers were given training on marketing for sustainability rather than profit.

Through its sustainable food policy, the university has also increased the availability of plant-based options at its catering sites, removed unsustainable fish from the menu, and reduced food waste.

The results, released in a report yesterday (Tuesday), were that, despite increases in how much food was purchased, overall carbon emissions were reduced by 10.5 per cent while there was a 33 per cent reduction in carbon emissions per kilogram of food purchased, and a 28 per cent reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased.

The policy was introduced in October 2016 by the University Catering Service (UCS), which is responsible for 14 outlets and more than 1,500 hospitality events each year.

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

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

Students and staff are now given a greater number of vegetarian and vegan options, which are placed before the meat options. And UCS has stopped using labels to mark the vegetarian and vegan meals. Catering manager Paula White said: “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?’”

The Our Sustainable Food Journey report adds that the catering service now sells more sustainable, plant-based food, but has retained the same level of footfall, and increased gross profits by 2 per cent, despite increases in costs.

The service also no longer sells single-use plastic bottles. These were replaced with glass bottles, cans or bio-degradable bottles, saving more than 30,000 plastic bottles from landfill per year.

The full report is available to read at environment.admin.cam.ac.uk.

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