Our previous research has shown high levels of aspiration amongst students when it comes to changing their eating habits to help the environment. With this in mind, SOS-UK has been funded by the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation to carry out research with students and staff to investigate their views on and experiences of sustainable food on their campuses.
Through an online survey (1007 respondents) and a series of 4 online focus groups, students in higher education told us:
26% say they eat meat every day, whereas 7% adopt a vegetarian diet, and 5% adopt a vegan diet
77% say price is the top consideration when choosing one food product over another and 50% agree that 'The food I eat is limited by what I can afford. I always look out for the cheapest option, keeping an eye on offers and discounts'
13% agree that 'I actively avoid vegetarian or vegan foods, I know they won’t taste good and I don’t think I would have a good quality diet if I ate them'
78% say they’re willing to change their diet to make it more low impact on the environment and people involved in food production
Respondents would be most encouraged to make changes to their diet to make it more low impact if the price were similar (77%) or if packaging on the food told them the impact (59%)
Reflecting on their place of study, 71% say it's important that the food available on campus at their university contributes positively to health, the environment and producers, and 73% say having food on campus that contributes positively to health, the environment and producers would make them feel proud of their university
26% respectively agree that 'My university helps me to eat food that is healthy and that positively impacts people that work throughout the food production chain' and 'My university helps me to eat food that is healthy and that positively impacts the environment (including the climate and nature)'
Through an online survey with 40 respondents whose role includes a remit or responsibility for food, followed by five interviews with individuals in these roles, staff told us their views on and experiences of sustainable food in general and on their campuses. They told us...
Top considerations when choosing one food product over another include quality (78%), price (68%) and where the food is produced (40%)
60% respondents say they know a lot about environmental issues affecting the food industry, falling to 50% for ethical issues. However this drops to 40% saying they know a lot about which foods are good for the environment, and 38% for which foods are ethically produced
35% rate their institution's action on sustainable food as 'very good', with the same percentage rating their institution's performance on ethical procurement as 'very good'
Policies adopted by institutions are most likely to include increasing plant-based / vegetarian / vegan food and products (89%), reducing avoidable food waste (89%) and purchasing / serving locally sourced products / ingredients
Barriers identified to further action on sustainable food include a lack of financial resources (53%), a lack of awareness / understanding amongst catering / retail staff (40%) and a lack of student demand (38%)
Preferences for support for food and sustainability include encouraging behavioural change amongst students and staff (58%), improved flexibility in procurement contracts / frameworks (55%) and increased dedicated financial resources (50%)
Download the final report and infographics for more detailed research findings.