Incorporating plant-based options into university outlets

By Professor David Russell, written in partnership with Charlotte Harbour

Food trends continue to show that people all over the world are consuming more plant-based foods in favour of positive health outcomes, ethical concerns and environmental longevity. According to the Vegan Society, there were three-and-a-half times as many vegans in 2016 as 10 years earlier, and the NHS states that more than 1.2 million people in the UK are vegetarian, with millennials leading the way. 

To clarify, there is a distinction between veganism and plant-based eating. Vegans are typically motivated by health, ethics and environmentalism. Vegans are typically defined as those who refrain from consuming animal products, not only meat but also eggs, dairy products and other animal-derived substances, including honey and some Vitamin D supplements (derived from wool). Veganism is also inclusive of ethics-based lifestyle philosophies such as the avoidance of leather, unsustainable palm oil, fur, wool and silk. 

Plant-based diets, on the other hand, typically revolve around the optimisation of dietary practice. Plant-based advocates may consume a diet that is devoid or low in animal products but may still wear leather. A typical plant-based eater may enjoy between 85% – 100% of their food coming from wholefood fruit, vegetable, nut, seed, grain or bean sources. 

Established outlets continue to respond accordingly, with the arrival of Veggie Pret in 2017 and well-loved chains such as Zizzi and Las Iguanas offering vegan options on their menus. So, how can universities continue to respond appropriately to these evolving changes in demand and incorporate more plant-based options into our outlets? 

Professor David Russell

Firstly, we should ensure that there are both vegetarian- and vegan-friendly ready meals and snacks available for purchase within campus outlets. In practical terms, this means ensuring the provision of breakfasts, lunches, evening meals and snacks. Example breakfasts may include ready-made smoothies, coconut yogurt with fruit and porridge with almond milk. Main meals may consist of black bean and quinoa salad, falafel and roasted vegetable wraps and chickpea curry with wholegrain rice. Snacks may include fresh fruits and raw vegetables, nuts, seeds, flapjacks, olives and coconut-based yogurts.

Similarly, we should ensure that catered halls are delivering vegetarian and vegan options with every meal service. Full allergen menus and ingredient information should be available at all times, and servery staff must remain knowledgeable at all times. 

To finish, we must continue to keep up to date with food trends and supply our students’ ever-evolving preferences. We know that nutritionally, a diet high in plants is healthful due to the micronutrient density and fibre content, so with or without the presence of vegan diets we can all be encouraged to supply plant-based diets throughout our campus outlets.

Next month, we will explore the question: is a plant-based diet optimal for everyone?

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