Something green is cooking at AU

We’ve been eating vegetarian at meetings and conferences at Aarhus University since last August. So how do people feel about the new meat-free menus? What do the kitchen staff have to say, and how do conference participants feel about going meat-free?

Six months ago the university made vegetarian catering the default option for meetings and conferences organised by AU, as part of the implementation of AU’s climate action plan. This decision has made new demands on the cooks at the university’s canteens: their challenge is to cook up exciting new vegetarian dishes that appeal to the taste buds of a wide range of guests.

Mikkel Hevring De Vries, head cook at the social sciences canteen, has been a first mover in introducing more vegetarian food at AU, and as he sees things, greener eating is the way forward:

“If we don’t start thinking about how we can make more plant-based dishes now, and if we don’t up our game in this area, the green journey is going to be really tough,” he said. “The challenge is to achieve the same good flavours without meat.” De Vries added that a good rule of thumb in the plant-based kitchen is: heat, fat and ingredients that add flavour.

At a conference for the international Circle U. university alliance in March, traditional Danish open-faced sandwiches were on the lunch menu: but meat was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the sandwiches were topped with seasonal local vegetables. And judging by the participants’ comments, the meat wasn’t missed – there’s hope for the plant-based kitchen at AU.

Listen to the head chef talk about the university’s transition to more plant-based catering and find out how the conference participants reacted to the menu.

More climate action plan initiatives on the way at AU

Vegetarian catering is just one of many climate-friendly initiatives that have been launched under AU’s annual climate action plans. The senior management team recently approved the action plan for 2023, which focuses on increasing energy efficiency in the university’s buildings, climate-friendly travel and sustainable purchasing.

At the same time, a number of new initiatives will be launched that will contribute to significant CO₂ reductions in the university's operations in the coming year, including DGNB certification of buildings with a special focus on climate, reducing the size of the university’s vehicle fleet, recycling and upcycling of furniture, and reduced use of disposable tableware.

All of the canteens at AU are involved in the challenge of cooking up delicious and exciting vegetarian dishes for meetings and conferences at the university. Cooks are putting a lot of energy into the project: constantly taste-testing, refining and improving the vegetarian dishes they serve. It takes time, and there’s still a ways to go. But the university cooks are ambitious: their goal is to make their vegetarian dishes just as inviting and natural to choose as meat-based alternatives.