The idea is simple. When you cater for events, order vegetarian food by default, and ask anyone who wants to eat meat to let you know. That’s it. Organizations who have adopted the policy report big overall reductions in consumption of animal products, without restricting anyone’s ability to choose what they want to eat.
Reducing consumption of animal products has a wide range of benefits. For the environment, it reduces greenhouse gas emissions and pollution. For animals, it reduces the demand for farmed animals, so fewer are drawn into intensive systems. For humans, it improves food and water security, contributes to healthier diets with lower disease risks, reduces the problem of growing antibiotic resistance, and reduces the risk of new zoonotic diseases such as swine flu and bird flu.
Pretty much everyone agrees that reducing consumption of animal products is a good idea, but achieving it is another matter. People like having choice about what they eat, so there’s sometimes resistance to taking meat options off the menu. Just changing the default option bypasses this objection. Everyone can still choose to eat whatever they want, but the net result is still a very big reduction in consumption of animal products. And it can reduce catering costs, too.
It is true that dairy products and eggs are as bad or worse than many meat options for animal welfare and the environment, which would suggest that a preferable policy would be to make vegan food the default. That seems too big a leap for many organizational contexts. A good compromise is a 50/50 split between vegetarian and vegan options, and perhaps switching the proportion towards vegan options over time. For animal welfare reasons, it’s good in addition to consider the welfare standards for animal products you continue to use (e.g. cage-free eggs, free-range chicken, pasture-raised pigs, and cows).
What Can You Do?
Any organization that caters for meetings and events could implement this policy very quickly. It’s simple and does not increase catering costs. Units within organizations that order food could start by adopting the policy locally, and then ask other units, or the whole organization, to do the same.
Do you belong to an organization, company, department, or unit you could ask to go #DefaultVeg? If so, how about asking the question? We’ve provided a template proposal!
If you propose the policy to your organization, tweet @defaultveg. If you have a question, or run into problems, just tweet @defaultveg to ask. And tweet @defaultveg if the policy is accepted, so you and your organization can be recognized and congratulated. If you can include in your tweet roughly how many meals a year your policy covers, this will give a good sense of the impact we’re having together.
Oh, and do help spread the word to other organizations you think might take this up. Thanks!