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Globally, Further Education Embraces Plant-Based Catering. Who Else Will Follow Suit?


The global student body has spoken and asked for easy access to increased plant-based catering options. The demand appears to be underpinned mainly by climate change concerns and the changing dietary habits of younger generations.

While moving towards less meat-centric campuses is a positive move, it has to be asked: who in the corporate world is making similar sustainable inroads, and when will global businesses en masse take a similarly responsible tack?

As of 2022, it was estimated that animal agriculture created 18% of all global greenhouse gasses. This translates to a larger share than all forms of transport the world over, combined. Accordingly, plant-based diets are heralded as a potential way to reduce the food system’s impact on the environment. Moreover, if adopted on a global scale, animal-free diets are said to have the power to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by up to 70%, by 2025.

Armed with robust statistics such as these, the education sector’s open-minded approach to menu transitioning is not just laudable, but essential for planetary survival, but how has it gotten to this point?

U.S. Campus Caterers Prioritize Plant-Based Dishes

Educational catering, worldwide, is making tangible progress towards plant-based as either the default or an easy-to-locate option. This is largely due to a combination of students asking for such moves and catering companies being open to the idea in a bid to lessen their own operational footprints.

The U.S. is a prime example of the latter in action. Sodexo–one of the largest food service operations globally–confirmed earlier this year that it will convert 50% of all its college catering to plant-based dishes, by 2025. The pledge followed a slightly less ambitious promise in 2022, which saw the caterer aim to make 42% of menus meat-free.

The initial reduction target was announced following in-house research into Sodexo’s carbon footprint, whereby auditors discovered that around 70% of the 2020 supply chain impact was attributed to animal-based food products, such as meat and dairy. With a desire to reduce carbon emissions by 34% by 2025, Sodexo identified plant-based menus as a fast route to more sustainable credentials.

Fellow large food service provider Aramak has also committed to increasing the plant-based options served on US college campuses and, like Sodexo, is working closely with the Humane Society of the United States to ensure a smooth transition to more meat-free menus.

Europe Says Yes to Meat-Free Menus

It is not just the U.S. making meaningful progress in moving away from animal-based catering as the default.. Further education facilities across Europe are also shifting gears and embracing more plant-based dining options, with Germany–in particular–shirking off meat-heavy stereotypes.

Since 2021, Berlin students have enjoyed less meat and more animal-free ingredients in their school sustenance. Following demands from learners to take meat off the menu, for sustainability reasons, four separate universities have transformed a total of 34 catering outlets to prioritize plant-based options. The menus across all of the cafeterias are confirmed as 68% ‘vegan’, 28% vegetarian, and just 2% fish-focused. Just one meat-based dish is offered and only four days a week.

Throughout wider Germany, canteen menus are thought to be around 30-50% vegetarian, in line with shifting dietary preferences of diners.

Arguably, the UK is leading the charge for plant-based university catering. Major breakthroughs include the University of Cambridge making all student union cafes fully animal product-free, while simultaneously removing beef and lamb from some of its other outlets. This, alongside actively promoting plant-based alternatives.

London’s Metropolitan University has–seemingly–taken a leaf out of New York City’s book and instigated meat-free Mondays across its canteens. NYC’s predominantly plant-based mayor, Eric Adams, brought in a mandate for public schools to serve meat-free food as the default option on Fridays, with the rule applying across the state.

Elsewhere in the UK, numerous universities have made plant milk the default choice in coffee shops and cafes, promised price parity for plant-based dairy with conventional food products, removed red meat from menus, and voted to significantly increase animal-free menus to make them the majority option.

Students Celebrate Progress But Want More Done

Worldwide, students are already seeing more plant-based options on their campuses, and many want even more to be done, with the U.K’s learners taking the most significant stand.

Last year it was confirmed that students from 20 U.K universities–including King’s College London and the University of Leeds–are calling on administration leaders to convert their entire campuses to fully plant-based catering. Impassioned protests, supported by activist Animal Rising, have been carried out at said universities, with students accusing management figures of complicating climate change by refusing to take meat and dairy out of their canteens.

Universities claim to be preparing us for the future, whilst also threatening it by selling environmentally harmful animal products. More plant-based options will not alleviate universities’ direct involvement in the climate crisis,” Vaania Kapoor Achuthan, a University College London student, commented last year.

“We will continue campaigning until our universities display actual progress towards 100% just and sustainable plant-based catering.”

The Corporate World Must Follow The Education Sector’s Lead

As universities consider converting to entirely meat and dairy-free menus, corporate work locations must surely also be considering the move.

There are a number of influential organizations that have already taken steps, such as Google prioritizing plant-based meals with higher menu listings, following an unsuccessful stint with Meatless Mondays. Meta (formerly Facebook), Alibaba, and General Motors also seek to cater to their meat-free employees, however, one company took things a step further, creating significant media buzz with its anti-meat agenda.

Coworking behemoth WeWork shocked the professional world when, in 2019, it decided to remove all red meat, pork, and poultry from its events and announced that it would no longer reimburse staff for meat-filled meals that were formerly allowed expenses.

WeWork initiated its effective ‘meat ban’ for environmental reasons and estimated that the move would save 202 million kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions, plus more than 15 million animal lives by the end of 2023. This, with a team of 6,000 staff all complying.

If Walmart, thought to be the biggest company in the word right now, were to follow WeWork’s lead, it would equate to around 2,100,000 people ditching emissions-heavy meat and dairy products during their work hours. Food for thought for the corporate world.

Amy Buxton