Schools are among the public sector bodies leading the shift to more sustainable eating by serving less meat and more plant-based food, according to new research published by Eating Better and PSC100.
The report found concerns about climate change, nature loss and individual health to be the key drivers of change across public sector menus.
Four out of five caterers surveyed said they are serving less meat, with a similar number saying they have increased plant proteins on menus. Just under half of the caterers have introduced new meat-free days.
Jimmy Pierson, director of ProVeg UK, one of the members of the Eating Better alliance, said: “This new research accurately reflects our experience within school food over the last few years. We’re working with many local authorities that have declared a climate emergency and want to address the crisis through school food.
“These local authorities are well and truly stepping up to the plate when it comes to sustainability. They’re serving less meat and more plant-based food – which they’re also finding to be healthier and often cheaper – and the feedback from children and parents has been overwhelmingly positive.”
Eating Better and PSC100 group surveyed around 90 caterers, representing 5,000 sites across the UK, including schools, universities, hospitals, care homes and prisons.
They found that:
– 80% of those polled have committed to reducing meat content across menus
– 83% have increased plant proteins (beans, lentils, soya) in dishes by up to 20%, while 60% have been using more meat substitutes
– 51% said demand for red meat had dropped by up to a fifth and 60% said there had been reductions in both pork and processed meat
– 52% said they were placing meat-free dishes higher up the menu
– 48% have introduced meat-free days
The research follows the Climate Change Committee’s sixth carbon budget last year, which set out the need for diet change in the UK.
It called on the government to implement policies to encourage “a 20% shift away from all meat by 2030 rising to 35% by 2050, and 20% shift from dairy products by 2030” in order to put the UK on the path to net zero.
Mr Pierson added: “Most of us recognise that we need to eat less meat and dairy for the planet. For years now, we’ve seen the UN, the world’s leading academic institutions, and environmental organisations all calling for a shift away from animal products and towards a more plant-based society. And now the sixth carbon budget has laid down a policy roadmap on diet change for the UK.
“We also know that a diet centred around plant-based foods offers numerous health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of a range of chronic health conditions. This includes childhood obesity, regarded by the World Health Organisation as one of the most serious public health challenges of the 21st century.”
Through its School Plates programme, ProVeg UK works with local authorities, multi-academy trusts, and catering companies, providing a range of services, including menu consultancy and plant-based culinary training to make school meals healthier and more sustainable.