At the start of the panel discussion on plant-based catering in the public sector, a poll of the 150+ attendees found that 69% think there is still a need to broaden the understanding amongst caterers as to the health and wider benefits of plant-based eating. Our survey with PSC last year showed that 80% of public sector caterers had committed to reducing meat across menus and 83% had increased plant-protein in dishes by up to 20%. More than half of those surveyed had engineered menus to make plant-based dishes more prominent. So where is progress being made and what are the obstacles to achieving Eating Better’s roadmap action of normalising plant-based eating in public sector institutions?
‘Less and better’ meat
Andy Jones, chair of PSC 100 told the panel that since the voluntary pledge by public sector caterers in 2020 to reduce meat and dairy on menus by 20%, they “have got ‘better’ quality meat into the establishment and reduced meat in meals.” Charlie Huson of alliance member Humane Society International said: “PSC took the campaign forward, started a lot of conversations and galvanised action with greater momentum, empowering people with change they can see.” Andy Jones said it’s “not demonising any product – just using ‘less and better’ meat and providing more plant-based options.”
Putting more plants on plates
More and more chefs are being trained to develop new and exciting plant-based dishes, but Andy Jones said there needs to be “better information sharing among caterers” so that “everyone can benefit and make the change together.” Nicola Strawther of Nottingham Hospitals Trust agreed that “chefs are learning a huge amount, but there is still a long way to go.” Some recommendations put forward by the panel to put more plants on plates include:
- Explaining what a plant-based diet is in practice.
- Engaging with suppliers and understanding the supply constraints.
- Talking about nutritional and sustainability benefits.
Better menus make better choices
As we outlined in our Better menu make better choices guide the panel agreed that the language and positioning of plant-based dishes on menus make a difference to uptake. Andy Jones said going forward “we need to make meal deals around plant-based options” to further increase uptake. Charlie Huson commented that highlighting inclusivity can be useful, “letting people know they can join this movement – e.g ‘% of people who have opted for meat-free options for lunch at least once a week’ or similar.”
Challenges of driving this agenda
The panel agreed the impact of the cost of living crisis on food supply chains and produce availability will be the main barriers to progress, as well as changes to trade in the UK and the war in Ukraine, all of which could hinder momentum. Councils are being squeezed too, and there may not be the political will at a local level to promote sustainable eating. A recent survey found three quarters of councils have not started delivering on net zero plans, with funding constraints being the obstacle.
Education, education, education
Education and raising awareness is key to nudging more people towards plant-based options. Nicola Strawther said “we must keep raising awareness – and putting more information on menus explaining what plant-based is and more context about the benefits.” Charlie Huson said it was important ‘to feed back the wider impacts of positive change to people (e.g. reduced carbon and water footprint) but also to encourage people to “want to choose plant-based options because they are healthy and delicious, not just because they want to make a difference.”
Across the generations
The panel acknowledged that it’s not just young people driving this agenda. Charlie Huson pointed out that “plant-based options are very popular in care homes.” While in hospitals, plant-based menus have received “a lot of positive feedback from staff and patients,” according to Andy Jones, who highlighted that the “uptake of plant-based dishes had doubled in a month since the launch of the new menu” and that “uptake has remained consistent.”
Watch the webinar in full here.