It was just a small hiccup but it appears to have given others chronic indigestion.
A progressive council whose plant-based food wasn’t quite to the taste of attendees at a pilot event has triggered a slew of negative headlines – all because of its laudable efforts to serve greener grub for the sake of the planet.
As part of a phased approach to cutting its carbon emissions, Cambridge city council last year agreed to work towards serving only plant-based food at catered meetings and council-run events.
And in November that’s just what it did, offering attendees at a Remembrance Service civic reception a spread of cakes and sandwiches, half of them vegan, the rest containing meat or vegetarian fillings. However, when a recent report into the initiative revealed that hardly any of the “very fresh, good quality and visually appealing” plant-based food had been consumed and had to be binned, news outlets piled in to pillory the scheme.
It’s possible, given that this was a first step into uncharted sandwich territory, that local residents weren’t keen to try something different. It could be that the filling didn’t look as appetising as they might. The report also indicated some were put off by a poster at the event highlighting the carbon cost of animal products and highlighting research that says our meat consumption needs to fall by 30 per cent.
“I think the whole emphasis must be on making plant-based food delicious, making something so delicious people are not told to eat it, they choose to eat it,” said Councillor Richard Swift. “Talking about it in a dry academic way is almost missing the point. We cannot force people to eat food they do not want to eat, the task of us is to make it so good people want to eat it without being told.”
Whatever the reason the plant-based options didn’t go down so well, it’s great to see councils taking responsibility at last for their food choices and leading by example despite all the media-generated flak. Remember the “collective outrage” at the BBC when the corporation’s MediaCity Salford canteen joined Meat Free Monday in 2017? Newspapers reported a petition was launched to reverse the decision – but only 10 per cent of workers signed it.
There’s certainly no sign that the blowback has blunted Cambridge city council’s appetite to change the food it serves. It still intends for its catered annual full council meeting to be completely plant-based by 2025, and for other civic events to be vegan by 2026.
What is certain is that it’s got everyone talking about one of the most pressing environmental questions facing society today, one that all councils, schools, hospitals, business and individuals will have to come to terms with sooner or later: on a warming planet with a growing population, how do we feed ourselves in a more sustainable, environmentally friendly way?
And next time they’re confronted with a hummus salad sandwich, the good people of Cambridge and beyond may be interested in tasting for themselves what all the fuss is about.