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Guest article: Is the food served on your campus planet-friendly?

January 11, 2021

As Veganuary kicks off the New Year, a new and exciting scheme called Kale Yeah! has been launched that could help your university and college caterers cut down on meat, fish and dairy and to plant-power their menus. In this article, Friends of the Earth explain why this is so important and how you can get involved.


Student holding Kale Yeah posters in university canteen


As we leave 2020 behind, this year brings hope that we can genuinely start to build back better - from Covid, but also the pressing climate and biodiversity crises. Food and farming have finally moved from the sidelines to firmly in the debate.

In December, official government advisors the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), recommended that by 2030 we should be eating 20% less meat and dairy than we do now if we are to bring planet-heating emissions down to safer levels.

Globally, livestock production is responsible for 14.5% of climate changing emissions. Intensive animal agriculture has devastating impacts on biodiversity, causes pollution and is hugely resource intensive - from water use to antibiotics and chemical inputs.

Several universities have responded to the climate emergency by banning beef but SOS-UK has taken an excellent position outlining why banning beef is not the answer. A 'less and better' approach to all meat and dairy offers a way forward that protects the planet, is great for our health, supports farmers' livelihoods and won't alienate customers. 

Friends of the Earth and our partners in the Eating Better alliance have set out more ambition than the CCC, calling for a 50% reduction in the meat and dairy produced and eaten in the UK by 2030. In line with the SOS approach, the remainder we do eat should be produced to better environmental and animal welfare standards. 

An ambitious target needs to be supported by an achievable plan. Enter Kale Yeah! - a set of tools to help caterers successfully serve less meat, fish and dairy products and add more plant-based options to their menus. Successfully being the key word, because it's not just about ticking the vegan box, it's about appealing to all customers, including meat-eaters.

Kale Yeah! presents a three-pronged approach: Rebalance, Incentivise, Promote:

     1. Rebalancing a dish involves reducing the meat, fish and dairy content and adding hearty and nutritious vegetables, grains, or pulses. Rebalancing a menu involves making a larger proportion of dishes overall plant-based. Our Menu Guide shows how to do this.

     2. Incentivising entails implementing a loyalty card - like our pilot project at Portsmouth University, where students earned a free meal for every 6 veggie or vegan meals purchased.

     3. Promoting means using the tips and insight in our Caterers' toolkit to create exciting plant-based dishes, to nudge customers into making healthy, sustainable choices and tempt them into coming back for more. 

Whether you�re a student, SU officer, staff member or in the catering team, there are a number of ways you can get involved:

  • Establish what your university or college is already doing on food and sustainability and whether there any commitments to improve sourcing and lower the GHG footprint. Find out if anything like Kale Yeah! has been tried before.
  • Is there an appetite for a few people to work together? Get the support of any relevant clubs and societies e.g. environment or vegetarian/vegan. 
  • If you need to gather evidence on customer interest/demand to help make the case, it's easy to set up a survey via SurveyMonkey or Typeform. Promote via social media or other university or college outlets.
  • Identify any barriers to change - your university or college might be locked into a catering contract that limits what can be done (although even big caterers like Sodexo are responsive to customer demand) or you may have a chef or catering manager who isn't interested. Once you've identified what stands in the way, you can work out creative steps forward. 
  • Friends of the Earth is looking into developing resources for students to encourage their university or college to take on Kale Yeah! Please let us know if you would find this useful, or if you have any ideas at info@foe.co.uk 

Fixing the unsustainable global food system by serving less and better meat is vital to enable people and planet to thrive, not only on the other side of the pandemic but for generations to come.

The catering industry has already shown resilience and adaptability, and it can play an important part in the green recovery. Implementing Kale Yeah! on campuses is a great place to start. To find out more, go to foe.uk/kale-yeah.


Student Eats would like to thank Friends of the Earth for writing this article for SOS-UK.