University of Cambridge’s Sustainable Food Policy and Reducing Meat Consumption

Tags: engagement | carbon reduction | food | students | catering | staff | Engaging Professional Departments | University of Cambridge | whole institutional approach | food policy

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The University of Cambridge’s Sustainable Food Policy aims to reduce the central catering department’s impact on the environment through, among other initiatives, reducing meat consumption, particularly ruminant meat (beef and lamb).

The decision to reduce ruminant meat from the menu was taken as part of a living labs approach with academics, staff, and students. The approach was initially developed after a zoology professor presented on sustainable food to catering managers, which led to research on the topic being commissioned.

Academics researching the environmental impacts of catering identified four main areas of impact:

  • Reducing ruminant meat (particularly beef and lamb)
  • Improving, increasing and actively promoting plant-based options
  • Removing unsustainable fish from the menu
  • Reducing food waste

These have been included as key aims of the university’s Sustainable Food Policy.

This research was supported by student projects and internships, which calculated the environmental impact of central catering from previous years. A catering user survey was also conducted, which focused on food in general (and not just sustainable food) finding that 70% of catering facility users actively seek out sustainable food options. Student projects complementing the research of academic staff members was key to making a change in Cambridge’s food policy.

This evidence base built up through the living labs approach was used to trial the policy in order for it to be approved by the Policy Board. As the university colleges are responsible for their own catering, this evidence base and proof of success is being shared with college catering managers, who are making strides (for example, organising vegan cookery courses for chefs across colleges). This demonstrates that sharing is key to encouraging uptake of these aims in a context-specific way.

The university took the decision not to communicate that they had cut ruminant meat from their menu, and instead focussed on positive framing of healthy and tasty food with low impact. So far, there has been no “backlash” on the reduction of ruminant meat, suggesting those using the catering facilities either haven’t noticed or are happy with the reduction.

Read more with the University of Cambridge's Green Gown Award case study here.

If you are looking to engage with your Catering Department read the 'Engaging Professional Departments' Guides here. Or contact the EAUC-Scotland Team for further training, facilitated workshops or meetings.