For her thesis for her BSc in Environmental Sciences, Emi van der Horst studied the supply and consumption of vegetarian food in the WUR canteens. Eating less meat is good for the environment. ‘This enabled me to link diet with environmental sciences.’
Photo: Guy Ackermans
Emi is a vegetarian herself and tries to encourage the people around her to eat less meat. ‘It’s not easy because people are creatures of habit.’ So she wanted to know how you can break these habits, and she arrived at the hypothesis that a wider variety of vegetarian products stimulates people to pick vegetarian options.
For her study Emi first described how much vegetarian food is on offer and is bought. To do this she talked to the catering managers of Cormet in the Forum, GoodFoodCatering in the Leeuwenborch, and OSP in Orion. In the Forum about one third of the food is vegetarian, in Orion half and in the Leeuwenborch three quarters, she discovered. This supply is reasonably in line with the amount of vegetarian food in the turnover, except at the Leeuwenborch, where roughly half of the food sold is meatless.
Emi sat with canteen users and interviewed 29 of them, most of them students. It struck her that the groups are fairly mixed. ‘The vegetarians happily share a table with avid carnivores. And actually the later said they more often go vegetarian if they eat with vegetarians.’
In all the canteens, the interviewees were generally satisfied with the vegetarian options available, although vegetarians did say they would like more diversity. Emi: ‘If a roll with brie is your only option, for instance, and you can’t eat that or don’t want to, that’s it then.’ Many people also indicated that they would be more likely to buy vegetarian products if they were a bit cheaper than the meat products.
The meat-eaters have a grouse too. Since October 2015, all the WUR canteens observe ‘Meatless Monday’ and serve very few meat products. The caterers get frequent comments about this, says Emi. ‘In Orion they even think fewer people come on Mondays, and I have indeed spoken to students who say they’d rather go to the Subway on a Monday.’
Emi says her research is too limited in scope to draw any firm conclusions. ‘For that I would have liked to interview more people. And I didn’t look at variety. Given that a lot of people said there was too little variety on offer, that is something that deserves some attention.’
The main thing that struck Emi was that more vegetarian food is eaten in the canteens which offer a bigger range. Which confirms her hypothesis. ‘But what I noticed was that at the Leeuwenborch about 70 percent of the products served are vegetarian, but people still says the vegetarian options are too limited. So it seems as though they don’t realize how much there actually is already.’
According to Emi, the catering managers acknowledge the impact of meat consumption on the environment, and yet they say they won’t make changes to what they offer so quickly. They will only do that if demand increases.
No required veggie percentages
The contracts which Wageningen University & Research offers the caterers do not state how much of the food served should be vegetarian. ‘The caterers are free entrepreneurs, which means it is up to them to meet the demand of their customers,’ says contract manager Lisette Schoonman-Dezentje. 'It does say in the contracts that they should cater for eating habits and dietary preferences, including gluten-free, halal and vegetarian.’