In a bid to reduce food-related carbon emissions, the University Catering Service (USC) of the University of Cambridge, UK, has implemented a Sustainable Food Policy. The USC has removed beef and lamb from its menu while promoting plant-based meal options. The move is significant in scale, as USC is responsible for 14 outlets across campus and over 1,500 annual hospitality events. This nutritional change has shown that not only was there a 33 percent reduction in carbon emissions, but also a 28 percent reduction in land use per kilogram of food purchased.
“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,” explains Nick White, Head of UCS. “This has involved making sacrifices but it has been absolutely the right thing to do. It’s about making the right choice easy.”
The USC focused on areas with the biggest impact without compromising on costs. Its meal plans have now reduced their offers of ruminant meat (beef and lamb) and removed unsustainable fish. These animal products have been replaced with an increased amount of plant-based options, often placed before meat options to encourage healthier choices. Food wastage has also been dramatically reduced, according to the USC.
Re-educating catering staff on the health and environmental benefits was instrumental for this operation’s success, notes USC which also provided vegan cooking classes and a trip to Borough Market, a wholesale and retail food market in London to ease the transition from a meat- to a plant-based menu. In its recent report, the World Resources Institute (WRI) has identified gastronomical staff education on food waste prevention as one of the key steps to reduce annual food loss and waste on a consumer level.
The USC’s efforts in improving the university’s carbon footprint are not limited to its menus. It has also stopped selling throw-away plastic bottles and has replaced them with glass and biodegradable bottles, resulting in saving more than 30,000 plastic bottles from landfills per year.