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Plant Based Councils - FAQ


  • Is the Plant-Based Councils campaign the same as the Plant-Based Treaty?
    No. The Plant-Based Councils campaign is asking councils to take tangible, practical action to ensure that catering inside the council does not contribute to the problem of the climate and ecological emergency. As well as asking elected leaders to set this positive example at council events, we are also asking councils to take whatever steps they can to promote, facilitate and help normalise plant-based eating. The Plant-Based Treaty is modelled on the Fossil Fuels Treaty, and is urging individuals, groups, businesses and cities to endorse its three demands and put pressure on national governments to negotiate an international Plant-Based Treaty.
  • We already have plant-based options available on request in council catering. Surely choice is important?
    Increasing the quantity of plants in our diets is so important, for health reasons as well as the climate crisis. Most menus are currently heavily biased towards meat, and vegan or vegetarian options are perceived as an alternative. It is essential that we make them mainstream in order to achieve the necessary reductions in meat and dairy consumption across society. Ensuring food and drink provided at internal council events is 100% plant-based, or that the default option is plant-based, will help do just that, and by showcasing & promoting more plant-based options in external catering we will be adding variety to menus and to people’s diets. We are asking councillors to show leadership in their role as community leaders. Councillors can, of course, eat whatever they choose at home. They can also bring their own food to catered events or choose to eat elsewhere if they so wish. But we believe council money should not be spent on foods which are known to be significant contributors to the climate and ecological crisis. Finally, councils should model the kind of changes society needs to make, and very often do in areas such as LGBTQ, gender, disability issues.
  • The National Food Strategy recommended a 30% reduction in meat and dairy consumption - why not just reduce the meat we serve in council?
    It is going to be an enormous challenge to achieve a UK-wide 30% reduction within 10 years. Meat consumption is currently rising. According to an analysis by Greenpeace, in order to halve global meat consumption by 2050, Europe needs to reduce its meat consumption by 70% in the next 10 years. If we have any chance of doing so, it is essential that public organisations lead the way and help normalise eating more plant-based. We are in an emergency situation, and emergency situations require bold measures.
  • Why plant-based by default?
    Ensuring the main available options are always plant-based is the ideal way to ensure that people don't feel their choices have been limited, and also to ensure maximum uptake of plant-based options. Most menus are currently heavily biased towards meat and dairy - we advocate flipping this norm, by ensuring that the default options are healthy, whole-food plant-based, requiring anyone who prefers meat or dairy to request this in advance (as vegans and vegetarians often have to do). An events company in Newcastle, Beaconhouse Events, saw the opportunity to reduce the carbon impact of conferences in this way. Director Sarah Thackray says: "As an office of foodies, we know that the catering options are a corner stone of any event, but the amount of meat consumed was having a major impact on how sustainable our events could be. So we got our heads together and came up with a simple solution – what would happen if you had to opt-in for a meat option, rather than opt out?"
  • Our council doesn’t have many/any catered events. Why should we pass a motion?
    Even if your council does little catering, the council can still make a statement about its commitment to plant-based food, and can raise awareness of the benefits to environment, health and expenditure. Many councils produce, for example, leaflets about recycling and waste avoidance, which are distributed to all households. Such a leaflet on food sustainability, health and the importance of individual choices would be an effective way of nudging behaviour change. Some councils post regular messages on their social media channels about the need to reduce meat and dairy, or eat more plants. See these examples from Manchester City Council here, here and here. Ultimately, we'd love to see elected leaders leading by example, and so even if there is only one catered event per year, why not ensure the food provided is entirely plant-based, or plant-based by default.
  • How does a plant-based policy align with the cost-of-living crisis?
    There is a common misconception that plant-based food costs more than a meat-based diet, but this is simply not the case and can be countered with evidence. Research from Oxford University shows that meals based on healthy legumes and grains are the most affordable. The full study, published in the Lancet, can be found here. By promoting whole-food plant-based cooking to residents, the council will be supporting people through the current cost of living crisis. Plant-based catering could save councils money and help residents to save money too! Miguel Barclay, author of the bestselling 'One Pound Meals' series of cookbooks, says, "I definitely agree that cutting down your meat, or cutting it out completely, will save you money. I've written seven budget cookbooks and have costed up hundreds of recipes, and without doubt vegan and vegetarian meals consistently come in at a much lower price than recipes with meat."
  • How can a plant-based policy align with our responsibility to support local farmers?
    Local farmers means fruit, vegetable and grain growers as well as meat and dairy farmers. A motion to council can include supporting local food, most councils currently do not purchase local food, meat or otherwise. This was the case in Oxfordshire, where the County Council plant-based motion meant that for the first time, there was a policy ensuring the council procures local food where possible. It is unquestionable that we need to significantly reduce meat and dairy consumption, and shift towards plant-based. Leaving our farmers out of this transition is not an option - we need them. However, without government and public support, farmers have no option but to keep on doing what has always been demanded of them, and ultimately, this is going to lead to them being left behind. Animal farmers and fishers are certainly worried about their future - amongst many other challenges, they are concerned about the changing climate and the growing trend towards plant-based eating. As pressure grows on the government to better support farmers, we’d like to see support for animal farmers to transition to plant-based production. The March 2023 motion at Oxford City Council will see the council working with local farmers to encourage production of more sustainable plant-based produce.
  • What about ‘regenerative’ grazing?
    The Oxford University Grazed and Confused report shows cows fed on grass release more greenhouse gas emissions than they are able to offset through soil carbon sequestration. This means that animals reared on grass are net contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and a key driver of the climate crisis. The lead author of the study, Dr Tara Garnett, says rearing grass-fed cows “is in no way a climate solution. Rising animal production and consumption, whatever the farming system and animal type, is causing damaging greenhouse gas release and contributing to changes in land use.” Extensive grazing of animals also uses more land. We need to free up and re-wild land in order to address the climate and biodiversity crises. Pasture-fed meat is something which only a minority can afford to buy. It will never form the basis of public catering and food procurement.
  • Will we face arguments that a plant-based diet can’t meet health requirements?
    Such points can be easily countered. Many people in the UK eat unhealthy amounts of meat, which can lead to heart disease, stroke and cancer. The World Health Organisation categorises processed meats such as bacon as Class 1 carcinogenics, with other red meats categorised as Class 2. The EAT/Lancet Planetary Health Diet recommends that diets are plant-based, with meat (if wanted) eaten only in small quantities. Plant-Based Health Professionals confirm that every nutritional requirement can be met by a plant-based diet.
  • We are happy to change the catering to plant-based without a motion. What are the benefits of passing a motion on this policy?
    Committing to plant-based catering without passing a motion can be equally effective. We suggest that the council posts a policy statement on its website, together with advice about preparing and serving plant-based meals. This is particularly useful in the current cost-of-living crisis. Making this public will help encourage other councils to take similar steps, and ultimately help to normalise plant-based eating.
  • I live in a very diverse area. Is plant-based food culturally appropriate?
    Plant-based foods are the most inclusive because they are suitable for everyone. Specifically, for some Jewish people the absence of all animal derived products means it is kosher (although this depends on the exact following of preparation regulations or kashrut). Many Jains are vegetarian, some vegan. Many Hindus avoid eating beef, and some are vegetarian, and plant-based food is suitable for them as well. Many omnivorous Muslims only consume halal meat, which is rarely served in public establishments and therefore they have to take the vegetarian or vegan option to avoid non-halal meat. Vegetarianism is also widespread in Buddhism. Plant-based food at an event is much more inclusive to people following religious minorities. Culturally appropriate food from many cultures often is and can easily be made plant based (everyone eats carbohydrates and vegetables). eg vegan samosas, vegan vegetable curry or vegan noodles etc.
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