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Independent school takes action to reduce carbon impact of its menu

18th Jun 2024 - 04:00
Epsom College is the Independent School of the Year and in 2022 was also judged the best school for student well-being. Now it is educating its pupils on the carbon impact of their food, as well as making the dining experience more sustainable.

As part of a sustainability and well-being focus, in 2022 the school decided to increase the transparency and availability of data by assessing the carbon impact of its menus. It was made possible by a partnership between food procurement specialist allmanhall and award–winning recipe assessment platform Foodsteps.

Together they aim to increase the availability of information and effective supply chain management to track and reduce the carbon emissions of food and drinks served in schools.

Bev Spencer, director of catering at Epsom College, says: “We are continually looking at the ways in which we can become more sustainable and teach our pupils about the food that they eat, where it comes from and the environmental impact of food choices.

“When people think about sustainability, often packaging and supply chains spring to mind, which of course is important, but we need to look at the food itself and this was a key reason why we chose to enter into this partnership with allmanhall and Foodsteps.

“It has been incredibly insightful and informative so far, for both my team as well as our pupils, and I look forward to starting the second phase.”

What happened?

The Foodsteps platform went live in July 2022, with initial training and support arranged by allmanhall. Their package allowed for 200 recipes, initially, but this was quickly increased. It currently has over 1,000 recipes listed.

Recipes with a lower carbon impact have been designated as ‘Hero Dishes’ and promoted to the pupils as more sustainable options. Other recipes have been  re-engineered by the catering team to reduce their carbon impact whilst maintaining their taste, texture, appeal and nutritional benefit.

One of the most effective methods of reducing the carbon impact of a recipe is to reduce or replace the high intensity meat content, especially beef and lamb, which the chefs have managed to do.

Examples include the reduction of the lamb content of a curry dish from 120kg to 80kg through the addition of sweet potatoes and peppers; the beef content of lasagne was reduced and replaced with Quorn mince; and a Ragu incorporated roasted winter veg; and a meatball dish combined regular meatballs with pea protein meatballs from Devil’s Kitchen.

The team have also switched to using Wildfarmed Flour for all in-house production. This is produced using regenerative farming techniques and is carbon negative. It is used for a variety of purposes including all home-made cakes and pies.

The team has also been working closely with Foodsteps to turn this information into posters that educate pupils and make the ‘farm to fork’ message very clear. It is also working to debunk myths associated with sustainability that focus on local supply rather than what we eat.

Andy Trowell, executive head chef at Epsom College, adds: “We actually managed to achieve the reduction in meat content without the majority of pupils noticing. Wherever there is a ‘wet dish’ you can replace the meat with a selection of creatively prepared vegetables or pulses.”

The average carbon intensity of recipes is now 5.21kg CO2e/kg, and 23% of recipes (86/369) have ‘very low scores’. The lowest impact meal is carrot and coriander soup, which has a carbon intensity of 0.13kg CO2e/kg.

The college has also introduced a range of other super sustainable and innovative new products. All ketchup and mayonnaise have now been replaced by the ‘Rubies in the Rubble’ range of condiments. Its ketchup is sweetened using ingredients that would otherwise go to waste and contains less than half the refined sugar of other brands. The mayonnaise is made using aquafaba, a plant-based alternative to eggs, so it is vegan and free from the main 14 allergens.

Over 700 pack lunches a week now include Fairfields Farm crisps, which are hand-cooked and produced use 100% renewable energy. The school’s Mermaid Café only uses the Notpla brand of takeaway containers, which use a 100% natural seaweed coating and, once finished, can be fully composted.

Written by
Edward Waddell