Meat-free meals tempt taste buds

 Enjoying a meat-free schnitzel at Aquinas College yesterday are sub-warden Sara Aruquipa and...
Enjoying a meat-free schnitzel at Aquinas College yesterday are sub-warden Sara Aruquipa and resident Dylan Bates, Photo: Christine O'Connor
Aquinas College resident Dylan Bates was not so keen on a meal without meat.

But after resisting takeaways and sticking out the college’s meat-free Mondays, his perspective has changed.

About 11 residential colleges signed up to the University of Otago’s "Mindful Mondays" initiative late last year, which involves switching to a full-vegetarian menu one day a week.

Head of sustainability Ray O’Brien said it was a part of the university’s commitment to reduce its carbon footprint.

Food purchasing emissions was the fourth-largest category of carbon emissions across the university in 2019, and college "Mindful Mondays" were estimated to reduce that 4500 tonnes-CO2-equivalent total by about 500 tonnes-CO2-equivalent each year, he said.

Mr Bates (19), who moved into Aquinas in late February, admitted he was not initially on board with the meat-free day.

"I had always had meat with meals so it was kind

of a bit confusing."

Despite his distaste, he said he never opted for a takeaway, and found his opinion eventually changed.

"You get quite a range of meals. They taste amazing — generally."

Mr Bates said he noticed he had started to choose the vegetarian option even on other days of the week.

"It’s quite cool seeing what is out there that doesn’t require meat — it opens your perspective."

He was not, however, so sure about going vegetarian full-time.

Sub-warden Sara Aruquipa (21) said she loved it and the meals "are awesome".

She had twice attempted to go vegetarian full-time but it had not worked out.

"I went vegetarian for about a month each time — I always gave in.

"So, now, I just like to think consciously about how much meat I’m eating instead."

Aquinas head chef Dylan Henry said he had tried to ease residents into the meat-less meals by only offering one meat option instead of the usual two, before cutting the option out completely.

Despite the gradual change, the meat-free day still came as a shock for some meat-lovers.

"Some people love it, but you have some people who want their meat."

The challenge was making vegetarian food appealing to people who preferred meat, and it took trial and error.

"There definitely were some takeaways — they were noted."

With options like pizza and mac and cheese, most residents came around to the change.

Yesterday, a no-chicken schnitzel was on the lunch menu, and it seemed to go down well.

No-one appeared to be turning their nose up and some residents were heard expressing their shock that the seitan schnitzel wasn’t actually chicken.



If the ingredients are locally sourced- then great- less diesel burnt. But looking at the burger and sides- Otago does not currently grow/make; wheat, baking soda/powder, sugar, sesame seeds, cooking oil, tomatoes, brocolli etc. To do the exercise honestly each ingredient needs to be tracked and a "fossil fuel index" applied- then we can make a more honest judgement on what is really better for the environment (assuming the pesticide/fertiliser issues are put aside).

Transportation of food only adds a very small proportion to the environmental footprint of foods. Many years ago a report suggested NZ lamb eaten in UK used less GHG emissions than eating local British lamb! However the biggest study ever done on the environmental impacts of nearly 40,000 farms, and 1,600 processors, packaging types, and retailers found that plant-based diets reduce food’s emissions by up to 73% depending where you live. This reduction is not just in greenhouse gas emissions, but also acidifying and eutrophying emissions which degrade terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Freshwater withdrawals also fall by a quarter. Perhaps most staggeringly, we would require ~3.1 billion hectares (76%) less farmland!
Ah! But that is globally you say - NZ is one of the most efficient meat producers in the world!
High-impact beef producers create 105kg of CO2 equivalents and use 370m2 of land per 100 grams of protein, a huge 12 and 50 times greater than low-impact beef producers like NZ- but beans, peas, and other plant-based proteins can create just 0.3kg of CO2 equivalents (including all processing, packaging, and transport), and use just 1m2 of land per 100 grams of protein.

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