Swindon Borough Council among local authorities falling behind in their responsibility to cater to vegan diets

By Jamie Hill - 22 September 2023

PoliticsFood & Drink

The Vegan Society have created a heatmap of the UK, showing which local authorities are leading the way in their responsibility to cater for vegans and which are falling behind. Swindon Borough is among 54 councils that The Vegan Society have shown to be falling behind in their responsibility to be inclusive of veganism.

A new report by The Vegan Society reveals the extent to which councils across the UK are recognising their responsibility to cater for vegan diets and taking steps to address the climate emergency through a shift to plant-based catering. Swindon Borough Council is among 54 of the local authorities that the society categorised as “red”, meaning that the council have not taken steps to be inclusive of veganism or to address their meat and dairy consumption in order to meet climate targets. 


The report reveals that a quarter of councils did not acknowledge their responsibility to consider veganism as a protected characteristic when making catering decisions and many public sector menus frequently fail to consistently include a single vegan option. 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.    


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. 


The Vegan Society are urging councils ranked as “red” in the report to reassess their vegan catering provisions and follow the precedent set by councils ranked as “green”. For example, Oxfordshire County Council — one of the 19 local authorities categorised as “green” in The Vegan Society’s report — ensures that the catering for external meetings is completely plant-based and that one third of meals in the local primary schools are vegan.  


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 report’s 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.”   


Ian Middleton, County Councillor for Kidlington South Division – an area categorised as “green” by The Vegan Society – expressed hope that other councils will step up and follow suit: “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 – including Swindon Borough Council – 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 the society’s website and use their resources to write to your local councillors and MP, encouraging them to improve options for vegans across public sector menus. 


A spokesperson for Swindon Borough Council said: "We will look into the report from the Vegan Society and will provide a response shortly."

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