Firing up for vegetarian dishes at meetings and conferences

AU’s cafeterias are developing more and more vegetarian dishes, and this greener food is gradually finding its way onto people’s plates at AU’s meetings and conferences. Vegetarian catering is one of 34 new initiatives that aim to help create a greener university.

In the near future, AU’s cafeterias will adjust their online forms and systems so that vegetarian dishes appear as the standard choice when placing catering orders for meetings and conferences. Photo: Christoffer Videsen Eiter.

Ratatouille, bulgur salad, bean tacos, leek and potato soup, vegetable spring rolls... after the summer holiday, the number of vegetarian choices will increase. As a part of AU’s climate action plan for 2022, the senior management team has decided that, from now on, vegetarian food will be the default option when placing catering orders for meetings and conferences at AU – an initiative that is also in line with the Climate Council’s recommendations for state cafeterias.

In practice, this means that the food will primarily be plant-based but may contain dairy and eggs. It is still possible to order meat-based dishes if you wish.

The transition to greener food will take place in close collaboration with the cafeteria operations, and it will be implemented gradually until August 2022. According to university director Arnold Boon, the goal is for AU to contribute to a greater awareness about climate-friendly eating habits as part of the green transition.

”As a major knowledge institution, it’s important that we don’t just research climate-friendly eating habits – we must try them out ourselves and challenge them in order to move the green transition forward. Switching to vegetarian dishes for meetings and conferences is unlikely to be directly visible in our greenhouse gas emissions report, but we have to start somewhere,” says Arnold Boon and adds:

“With this initiative we’re sowing a seed that might grow and inspire more people to make climate-friendly choices when choosing a menu. Luckily, our cafeterias at AU are staffed by many talented and forward-thinking employees who are keen to help develop this area.”

Plant-based food is gaining ground

But how much difference will it actually make if we replace steak with products such as beans? A big difference, if you take a look at the overview from Denmark’s Green Think Tank (CONCITO). For while potatoes emit 0.36 kg. CO2 per kilo of potatoes, ground beef (with 5-10% fat) emits 34.19 kg. CO2 per kilo of ground beef – which is almost one hundred times more. Read more about the emissions from different foods here.

Associate professor from the Department of Food Science, Hanne Lakkenborg Kristensen, researches plant-based food. For her, there is no doubt that the demand for plant-based food will increase in the future.

“Plant-based food in our dishes has been gaining ground in recent years – this type of food, and especially vegetables, is good for the environment, while being tasty and healthy at the same time,” says Hanne Lakkenborg Kristensen, who elaborates:

“Legumes such as peas, beans, chickpeas and lentils play an important role in vegetarian food – they have a high amount of protein, which is very filling. Nuts, grains and mushrooms are examples of important ingredients that add an umami flavour to dishes – a kind of savouriness and fullness that improves the meal. We know from studies that both satiety and taste are essential if vegetarian dishes are to be as attractive to eat as meat-based dishes.”

The cafeterias are currently working on developing good vegetarian alternatives so that the catering for meetings and conferences can continue to take the wishes of a wide audience into account. And in the cafeteria at the Department of Chemistry, they are already in full swing, says cafeteria director Eva Blok Sillesen.

“The green orders are already a large part of our daily life here in the kitchen. We make a lot of vegetarian dishes because we believe that it’s the way forward and because our customers request them,” says Eva Blok Sillesen, who explains that she and her team are constantly finding new inspiration for how they can continue to develop delicious and tasty vegetarian dishes for the cafeteria’s customers. The goal is crystal clear:

“All dishes must be tasty, regardless of whether they include meat or not,” she says.

Positive experience

At Events and Communication Support, which is responsible for a number of interdisciplinary AU events and conferences, a lot of experience in offering vegetarian food as the standard choice has been gathered in recent years. According to conference planner Lone Jørgensen, the change has been welcomed by participants.

“Out of the thousands of participants that have been served vegetarian dishes at our meetings and conferences, I have yet to hear a single one say that they miss meat. In fact, several participants have actually commented on how pleased they were with the meatless menu,” says Lone Jørgensen, who explains that choosing vegetarian dishes fits well with the other sustainable conference initiatives that AU has launched.

34 new activities will contribute to AU’s green transition
In addition to the vegetarian catering at meetings and conferences, AU’s climate action plan 2022 includes 33 other activities. The other activities include projects such as energy saving in AU’s buildings, a travel policy with more climate-friendly guidelines and a training programme within the framework of the AU Green network, which will give employees and students more knowledge about the climate area. Work is also being done on many of the activities started in 2021, such as a common waste separation scheme and EV charging stations on campus.

See all these activities in the 2022 climate action plan.

More information

Facts about AU’s climate action plans

  • In continuation of AU’s climate strategy 2020-2025, an action plan will be developed every year that includes contributions from both the faculties and the administration.
  • The action plan includes a description of a number of activities that pave the way for CO₂ reductions in the university's operations.
  • Annual follow-up of the activities for the previous year will be carried out, and the activities for the coming year will also be scheduled at the faculties and in the administration.
  • The action plan is approved by the senior management team and is sent for review in the Aarhus University Board.