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Campus Community Motivated to Eat Less Meat
Posted on behalf of: Sam Waugh (Sustainability Manager)
Last updated: Monday, 23 January 2023
Eating meat and dairy is an emotive topic. The UK Committee for Climate Change recommends a 20% reduction in meat and dairy consumption by 2030 if we are to keep climate change below catastrophic levels, while the factory farming of animals leads many people to condemn the continuation of our current food system.
Yet others see eating meat as an essential part of their culture, or have complex medical barriers to switching to fully plant-based diets, such as neurodiversity, eating disorders and allergies. Let it even be said (through bated breath) that others like the taste of meat and dairy and find it hard to resist temptation. I have certainly experienced this myself – likening my first attempt at giving up meat in my early 20’s to stopping smoking, as I tried to navigate the supermarket aisles without looking at the bacon.
So, when I recently facilitated a workshop on how we can reduce demand for meat on campus, hosted by passionate life-long vegetarian Vice-Chancellor, Sasha Roseneil, I was prepared for potential fireworks between the speakers.
Therefore, we all listened intently as we heard from: an autistic student about the barriers they and others have faced when trying to eat less meat, students from the Plant-based Universities campaign about the environmental reasons to reduce meat consumption, and the Vice-Chancellor on her personal experience of being a vegetarian.
Despite the differing motivations and perspectives that we heard, there was more that united us than perhaps one would think.
As the University Sustainability Manager, I am struck by just how passionate our staff and students are about creating a sustainable food system. So, it was no surprise to hear that the indicative findings from our Future of Campus Catering Survey, which had over 3,000 responses, suggest high levels of campus concern about the environmental impact of the catering industry. While a heartening majority of those surveyed showed interest in reducing the amount of meat in their diet.
Once we realised that we were effectively ‘shooting at an open goal’ our collective effort shifted onto how we can better support our community to make it easier for them to reduce their meat consumption, while respecting the equality, diversity and inclusion needs of everyone on our campus.
Luckily, academic Donna Jessop from the School of Psychology was also on hand to educate us on potential behaviour change levers. Once equipped with this knowledge, workshop participants were able to work together to generate and vote for their favourite ideas for reducing demand for meat.
One of the most popular ideas related to making vegetarian and vegan meals cheaper than meat ones. Our catering data supports the effectiveness of this approach. In November 2022, we introduced a non-meat deal of the day, costing a mere £2. Since introducing this deal, the percentage of vegetarian and vegan food sold by Sussex Food in Eat Central has increased from 21% to 54% (an increase of over 150%) in just over two months.
Having seen the success of this intervention in changing our demand for meat, I am excited to take forward some of the additional ideas generated at the workshop, as we create a new sustainable catering offer, where the majority of food is meat free, sustainably sourced, low carbon and responsibly packaged, while promoting diversity and inclusion.
I cannot wait to work with as many of you as possible in the campus community to make the future of catering one that we can all be excited and proud about.
You can read more about our Sustainability Strategy and policy commitments on food and agriculture on the Sustainability section of our website. Sign up to the Sustainability Mailing List to keep up with Sustainability at Sussex.