Food served to county councillors at Oxfordshire County Council catered events will, from now on, be plant-based and with a priority on local sourcing. And there are plans to explore plant-based options on school menus to be worked on further by officers.
At its meeting on 15 March, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet also gave approval for officers to begin work on a broader approach to plant-based and locally sourced food as part of a new food policy.
This will be framed by the need to tackle climate change, reduce food waste and support healthy eating in line with the county council being the local authority responsible for public health.
Currently, there are seven meetings of the full council each year (meetings for all 63 county councillors) at which plant-based food only will be served at lunchtime.
Occasionally, the chair of the council (the county council’s equivalent of a mayor) holds events that involve catering, and these too will involve plant-based food only. This does not mean that staff at the council must eat plant-based food.
The council currently provides school meals to around 14 per cent of Oxfordshire schools – all of which are primary schools. There will, in future, be plant-based options on the menu for part of the week.
However, the intention is to evolve an overall strategy in which all schools could become involved, encouraging and empowering students to make informed decisions about plant-based alternatives, including food-growing, preparation and waste avoidance.
“As I have reminded people many times, I am not a vegan or a vegetarian myself, and neither are many of my Cabinet colleagues. Nevertheless, I think it is right that we at Oxfordshire County Council will serve plant-based food only at the small number of events that are catered for each year at County Hall.
“There has been a consistent implication over recent months that we are pursuing the idea of plant-based only food at council events because we want everybody to convert to eating only plant-based food. That’s a huge oversimplification of what we are doing.
“A consensus has grown in the UK that we need to eat less meat than we do presently. We need to reduce carbon emissions and be more sustainable in food production. Once that is allied to good public health advice that eating less meat and more fruit and vegetables in our diet will improve our overall health, a powerful logic begins to form.
“The recent National Food Strategy, which is based on a review of the whole UK food system, recommended that meat consumption in the UK should fall by 30 per cent over the next ten years.
“All we are doing with our local policy is highlighting the benefits of including more plant-based food in our diet – both to ourselves and our children, our agriculture and our planet.”
“In a rural county like Oxfordshire, we all have high levels of awareness that farmers and producers face huge challenges on a daily basis. Our support for our local farmers is permanent and will never waver.
“However, it is simplistic to portray that fulsome support for our local farmers as being in some way contradictory to what the council is proposing. What we all want is high-quality food, which is sustainably produced and sourced locally wherever possible so that our food miles are kept to a minimum, and our local economy is supported.
“Having plant-based only food at council events will not stop me or any other Cabinet member enjoying sausages and bacon at breakfast or chicken or beef for dinner. It simply sends out the message that more balance in our diet in favour of fruit and vegetables does not need to be at the expense of taste.
“There is also an element in our emerging policy of wishing to include more plant-based options on the menus of those Oxfordshire schools whose lunches are sourced through the county council.
“Again, this is about helping children understand that plant-based food is tasty and wholesome, and it may just help encourage them to experiment with new flavours, try new types of food and incorporate more fruit and vegetables in their diet.
“We knew that this issue would generate huge debate, and that is welcome because it has brought a local and national spotlight to the issue. I look forward to working with our officers as we develop our policy further in the coming weeks and months.”
—Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council