> The initiative
In early 2020, catering staff at one of our residential colleges decided to provide fully meat-free meals on Mondays as part of their entry in our University of Otago’s annual Green Your Scene programme. The driver was concern about the greenhouse gas emissions from red meat, so going meat-free for one day was seen as a manageable but tangible step in addressing this.
In mid-2020, senior management in our Operations Group and Campus and Collegiate Life Services Division encouraged all 11 University-owned residential colleges (providing accommodation for about 2,600 students) to adopt this practice. It was rebranded Mindful Mondays so the act of mindful consumption was emphasised, and to allow for broader interpretations related to wellbeing, particularly mental health.
The menu change did not occur without opposition, coming close on the heels of the COVID-19 lockdown and with catering expectations for the year already established. The hardest challenge was probably keeping some males who have been brought up eating meat at every meal satisfied. Kitchen staff found it helpful to have Monday menus that provided familiar favourites which just happen to be meat-free (think: beany nachos, macaroni cheese, vegetable pizzas and stews). We also ran a workshop for catering staff so that they all had a shared understanding of climate change and why we were changing, With a new cohort of residents in the primarily first-year accommodation in 2021, positive comments are now far more common than negative ones.
Work by academics in the University’s Division of Health Sciences Department of Preventive and Social Medicine had previously assessed the greenhouse gas emissions of the average Kiwi diet. These academics estimate the impact of going meat-free for one day a week reduces weekly emissions by 11 per cent. In our University’s 2019 Greenhouse Gas Inventory, emissions from food served at residential colleges – was 4,503 tCO2-equivalent, meaning the impact of Mindful Mondays is a reduction of about 500 tCO2-equivalent, which is about equal to taking 133 cars off the road.
Our Dunedin campus food outlets also had a form of Mindful Mondays during Sustainability Week 2021, with some cafés subsequently increasing vegetarian and vegan options to reduce their carbon footprint.
College kitchens are working together to share popular meat-free dishes and actively provide more delicious, non-meat, low carbon offerings throughout the week to further reduce emissions. Other practices that have been introduced in college kitchens to reduce waste and emissions include:
- reducing the food waste produced while preparing meals
- removing food trays from dining areas, which reduced the use of power and chemicals for cleaning and aims to encourage students to take only the amount they can eat
- promoting seconds, so that no one feels the need to overload their plate as they can always get more later
- reducing the use of clingfilm by purchasing reusable lids.
The next steps on this emissions-reduction journey will build from this strong base and be informed by our food ordering system which will soon let chefs know the carbon emissions of each ingredient and recipe – information that can also be shared with students. This new approach will also improve the timeliness of our University’s greenhouse gas reporting.