Close-up of Kale Yeah! vegetarian and vegan sandwiches for students on shop shelf

Students rewarded for eating vegan and vegetarian food

Student vegetarian food – and vegan nosh – could soon be outselling meat dishes in cafes at the University of Portsmouth.
  01 Oct 2018    |      6 min

How do you get cash-strapped students to eat better? Encourage them to eat less meat. Help them save money. And make it easy.

Friends of the Earth has teamed up with the University of Portsmouth to reward students for eating less meat. Why? Because cutting down on your meat and dairy intake is one of the best ways you can reduce your impact on climate change.

Buy 6 veggie or vegan options and get a free meal. That's the deal being rolled out in the university's cafes. It's called Kale Yeah! – and comes complete with an electronic loyalty card that won't get lost in the wash.

This is about offering a carrot, rather than a stick.

Nick Leach, Head of Catering, University of Portsmouth

Students can choose between a meaty or non-meaty free meal. They don't have to go veggie to benefit. That 's what makes Kale Yeah! different from schemes at other universities like Westminster or Staffordshire. It was really important to appeal to meat eaters because the majority of students eat meat most days.

Many of us now get that eating less meat and more veg is better for the planet, our pockets and our health.

It's one thing to know what's good for us. Changing our habits is another. Especially when time and money are at a premium – and there's a tonne of other things to worry about.

Kale Yeah!

Kale Yeah! is a loyalty scheme aimed at meat-eating students. It offers them a free meal in university cafes.

Katie holding Kale Yeah! posters and wearing a promotional t-shirt in the student bar at the University of Portsmouth
Katie promoting Kale Yale! in the student bar at the University of Portsmouth
Credit: Friends of the Earth

The free meal can be meat, fish, veggie or vegan. It encourages meat eaters to discover tasty and filling veggie food – and make it an increasing part of their everyday choices.

Vegans and vegetarians will also be rewarded for choosing a plant-based diet in the first place. But it's not forcing anything down anyone's throat.

It’s going to go well. People always like to save money.

Catering staff at Café Coco, Portsmouth University

No disposable stamp cards

There's no danger of students losing or forgetting a paper, stamp card. All meals are logged on their electronic loyalty cards – which students carry on their person as a routine part of life at the university.

They just present their card when paying for food. It automatically flags up the free meal when they have chosen 6 similarly-priced, meat-free items.

Customers are interested in the concept and pleased by the ease with which they can collect rewards.

Jason Smith, Catering at St Andrews Centre Cafe

As well as making it easy for the students, it helps Friends of the Earth monitor the impact of the scheme by analysing electronic data from the till.

Catering staff have embraced Kale Yeah! – wearing t-shirts and promoting the offer.

A member of staff wearing a Kale Yeah! t-shirt serving students at a coffee bar counter at Portsmouth University
A member of catering staff serving students at the University of Portsmouth
Credit: Friends of the Earth

Kale Yeah! launch day

The university launched Kale Yeah! at the beginning of term. And the customers seemed to love it.

Rachel Stone choosing a KaleYeah! veggie sandwich at one of the university's cafes.
Rachel Stone choosing a KaleYeah! veggie sandwich at one of the university's cafes.
Credit: Friends of the Earth

It’s a great idea. Sustainability is such a key issue these days and it’s good people have a lot more veggie and vegan options to choose from.

Rachel Stone, choosing a veggie sandwich at a university cafe.

Why are we working with the University of Portsmouth?

Chefs at the University of Portsmouth have been trained to create delicious plant-based meals, so we know that the food on offer is great.

Their food also lives up to high welfare standards – holding 4 awards for Compassion in World Farming, and serving only organic milk and MSC-certified fish.

With around 25,000 students at the university, there’s a big potential audience for Kale Yeah! too.

Pioneering Head of Catering Nick Leach is already convinced about the benefits:

“People want to know where their food comes from and that it’s good for them. They want to know how the animals were treated and that we’re cutting down on plastic.

"We have to be responsible for what we offer customers. Caterers have to wise up to the fact that tastes and times are changing. There is no plan B for the planet.”

“Nothing focuses customers’ attention more than when there’s a reward at the end. This is about offering a carrot, rather than a stick.” Nick, who has been working with Friends of the Earth on implementing the scheme, is keen to spread the word with colleagues in other universities.

What’s behind Kale Yeah!?

Meat and dairy production causes 14.5% of climate-changing emissions globally. Intensive animal production leads to:

  • Devastating impacts on wildlife abroad.
  • Poor animal welfare.
  • Pollution of our water and land.

Lowering meat in your diet is better for your health as well as good for the environment – so encouraging people to eat less and better meat is a win-win solution.

72% of 2,259 students eat meat either most days or every day – according to a National Union of Students (NUS) survey. However, almost a quarter of students have reduced their meat intake, or are vegetarian or vegan.

The survey found that the biggest motivating factors for coming off a high meat diet included:

  • the health benefits;
  • the environmental benefits – like tackling climate change;
  • and the animal welfare benefits.

Friends of the Earth is keen to test if the scheme will change students' behaviour and lead to low-meat diets.

What happens next?

If Kale Yeah! is a hit, we'll be looking to roll it out across the country.

We've already had lots of interest from other academic institutions and would love more universities to offer Kale Yeah! to their students.

The more people decide to eat less meat and choose more veg, the healthier they – and the planet – will be.

For more information about Kale Yeah! contact Friends of the Earth and follow us @Lets_Eat_Better on Twitter.