Manchester Met’s Grow Café sells over 1,000 meat-free meals per week

New university café concept is a student-centred learning approach to ‘growing’ vegan and vegetarian diets

A new food outlet catering to alternative diets and staffed by students is proving to be a huge success at Manchester Metropolitan University selling 1,000 healthy, meat-free salads a week.

Grow Café launched just over a month ago, serving vegetarian and vegan flatbread pizzas, bagels and soups to students, staff and the public, and is already seeking to expand its offering.

From concept to finished product

Nutritional Science students interested in product development are given a platform to experience the process of food production as part of their learning, from concept to testing and nutritional profiling, production and packaging, and eventually seeing the products on shelves, ready to be sold. Students are also paid to staff the café, serving customers and learning more about the practicalities of the catering industry that some of them study.

Nutritional Science students [can] experience the process of food production, from concept to testing and packaging

The café was conceived, and is ran, by MetMUnch in collaboration with the university’s catering team. MetMUnch is a social enterprise that started out in 2011 with £20 worth of vegetables at Smithfield Market in Manchester, giving away soup to passers-by. It is now a globally award-winning movement, involving students of nutritional science at Manchester Metropolitan University, aiming to educate on the impact of food on health and the importance of eating a sustainable, climate-friendly diet.

Promoting sustainability and healthy habits

The café also hosts a programme of activities promoting healthy and sustainable habits and creative workshops that focus on personal growth and wellbeing. The recently launched HealthyU programme is a collaboration with Manchester Metropolitan Sport, which combines cooking classes with learning and exercise to promote healthier lifestyles.

MetMUnch is a social enterprise that started out in 2011 with £20 worth of vegetables at Smithfield Market in Manchester

Promoting sustainability is a key aim and vital aspect of the MetMUnch concept, which extends beyond food and diet. All furniture in the café is upcycled and repurposed from prior use, including chairs from Manchester City Council’s Chambers repainted to match the café’s colourful environment. Food is locally sourced where possible, with Manchester Veg Box People and Trove Bakery among the providers of quality local produce to lower the carbon footprint.

Good for the planet

MetMUnch is led by Haleh Moravej, a senior lecturer in nutritional sciencemat Manchester Met. She said: “Vegan and vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular and this is great news not just for our health but for our planet. Eating more fruit and veg is of course beneficial to our health, even if you don’t follow a strict diet of not eating meat, but it’s also less impactful on the planet’s climate due to the amount of crops and water needed to rear animals for food.

MetMUnch is now a globally award-winning movement, involving students of nutritional science at Manchester Metropolitan University

“The GROW Café concept seeks to show just how appealing a vegan or vegetarian option can be, not just through the food we serve but through education on the science behind nutrition, via workshops, activities and classes that invite people to learn more about the benefits and positive impact on wellbeing. Its popularity on campus speaks for itself, as more people choose to go for a meat-free option at lunchtime.

“The benefit to our students and their learning is massive. They get to experience the reality of delivering a healthy, nutritious and sustainable offering to a mass audience, making creative, appealing food that leads people to reconsider going for a typical meat option. Seeing this process first hand is a huge boost to their understanding, as well as hugely gratifying when a recipe is a success.”

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