Plant-based food decision set to be made by cabinet on 15 March

Food served to county councillors at council catered events is set to be plant-based, with a priority for local sourcing – and there are proposals for plant-based options on school menus to be explored further by officers.

At its meeting on 15 March, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet will also be asked to give 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 would 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 with responsibility for public health.

Councillor Liz Leffman, Leader of Oxfordshire County Council, said: “I am not a vegan or a vegetarian myself. Nevertheless, I think it is right that we at Oxfordshire County Council are proposing to serve plant-based food only at the small number of events that are catered for each year at County Hall.

“Since our developing policy first gathered public attention in mid-December it has been implied 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 not the case at all.

“There is a shared understanding in society that we should eat less meat. We need to reduce carbon emissions and be more sustainable in food production. There is also good public health advice that eating less meat and more fruit and vegetables in our diet will improve our overall health.

“The recent National Food Strategy, which is based on a review of the whole UK food system, recommends meat consumption in the UK should fall by 30 per cent over the next ten years.

“In developing our new approach we simply want to highlight the benefits of including more plant-based food in our diet – both to ourselves and our children, our agriculture and our planet.”

Supporting Oxfordshire’s farmers

Cllr Leffman added: “We are acutely aware of the challenges that our farmers and producers face. We all need to support our local farmers as much as we possibly can.

“However, the need to support our farmers is in no 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. We want to back our local farmers.

“Having plant-based only food at council events would not stop me enjoying locally sourced meat at home for breakfast or 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 have not yet given final approval to our policy and my Cabinet colleagues at the county council will debate this at their meeting on 15 March. I look forward to that debate.”

What would happen if Cabinet approved the proposals?

  •  Currently there are six or seven meetings of full council each year (meetings for all 63 county councillors) at which plant-based food only would be served at lunch time. Occasionally, the chair of the council (the county council’s equivalent of a mayor) holds events that involve catering and these too would involve plant-based food only. It would 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 them primary schools. There would be plant-based options on the menu for part of the week. However the intention would be 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.