The Vegan Society have created a heatmap of the UK, showing which local authorities are leading the way and which are falling behind. Oxfordshire, Edinburgh and Richmond upon Thames are leading the way in the country, while the Orkney Islands, Barnet and North Somerset are among those falling behind.
A new report by The Vegan Society has revealed that over a quarter of councils did not acknowledge their responsibility to consider veganism as a protected characteristic when making catering decisions. In the UK, veganism is recognised as a protected belief and councils have a legal responsibility to provide adequate options for those who choose to live a vegan lifestyle.
Despite 40% of consumers saying they want plant-based alternatives and the vegan food market growing almost 10% in the last year, vegans continue to face challenges accessing healthy, nutritious food, with public sector menus frequently failing to consistently include a single vegan option.
In addition to their legal responsibility to cater for vegans, the National Food Strategy has recommended that local authorities act to promote sustainable diets in order to reduce emissions in response to the climate crisis. Moving away from animal products is an essential step in achieving this, with plant-based diets producing just 25% of the emissions compared to one that includes meat.
With the number of vegans in the UK continuing to grow and urgent action needed to meet climate reduction obligations, there has never been a more important time for public sector menus to offer a range of healthy, vegan options. The personal impact of councils failing to adequately cater for plant-based diets is very real. A vegan councillor at Croydon Council commented on the findings: “The catering for vegans at Croydon Council is frustratingly poor. There’s a lot of people working at the council who – like me – are doing their best to make choices that limit our impact on the climate, while respecting animal rights and welfare. It can be a real struggle when public bodies – like local councils – aren’t even getting the basics right. If they were, far more people would feel empowered to make ethical and sustainable choices.”
Some councils do not recognise their legal obligation to take vegans into account — of the local authorities who gave at least partial answers to the society’s information requests, 54 did not acknowledge veganism as a protected characteristic. To give one example, Orkney Council surprisingly claimed “[We] do not have any vegan diets to cater for […] as Orkney is vastly farming community”. While there may not be vegans working within the council, the has a responsibility to consider all of the community who might use its services such as schools, care homes or leisure centres. There are certainly vegans on Orkney; several are even members of The Vegan Society.
The picture isn’t all bleak, however. Several councils are going above and beyond their legal requirements – the catering at Oxfordshire’s external meetings, for example, is completely plant-based, whilst one third of meals in the local primary schools are vegan. Oxfordshire County Council and Edinburgh City Council have signed the Plant Based Treaty, which puts food systems at the heart of tackling the climate crisis, whilst other local authorities have detailed their climate action plans which include commitments to reducing meat and dairy consumption.
Ian Middleton, County Councillor for Kidlington South Division and Leader of the County Green Group, commented: “As a county some of our most important priorities are combating climate change, reducing food waste, and supporting public health. A transition to plant-based food system supports all three of those priorities and I’m glad to see Oxfordshire County Council being recognised for being on the right side of history in taking action in this area.
“The Council is responsible for catering in 57 primary schools, all of which now include at least one vegan meal out of the three served daily. At the same time, over the last year we made the decision to provide exclusively plant-based food at council meetings. Now that we’ve taken these steps I hope other councils and councillors will be inspired to follow our example and learn from what we’ve achieved. It’s time for councils across the country to step up and show leadership in addressing the diet-climate connection.”
Claire Ogley, Head of Campaigns, Policy and Research at The Vegan Society, commented on the findings:
“Our new report reveals which areas are excelling and which are falling behind. It’s fantastic to see some councils – such as Oxford and Edinburgh – leading the way and taking strong steps to include vegans and acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis. However, for many local authorities there is still a long way to go and we hope our report will be a useful tool to help people to hold their local areas to account and push for more sustainable options. Ensuring that all public sector menus provide a 100% plant-based option every day is a crucial step towards vegan-inclusion across the UK and to encourage the transition to a more sustainable and healthier food system for everyone.”
The Vegan Society’s full report can be accessed here: Catering For Everyone: How far are councils across the UK catering for vegans?”. You can see how particular councils were graded on our website and use our resources to write to your local councillors and MP, encouraging them to improve options for vegans across public sector menus.