Food & what we're up to

01 Mar 2023


Hi all! Whilst I’m working on a couple longer-term projects for Climate Soup it seemed worthwhile to get a general update on how the term is going to you. Before that though, I want to talk about what Dr Clayton and I have been doing with ESAG and what’s happening on food in houses.


The Sustainability Council is now in full swing, which I’ll talk more about later. Relevant here though is that several targets relate to the impact of what we eat - specifically dietary transition and food waste. Outside of the Sustainability Council, some houses are already eating less meat. Most notably, Hopper’s had 20-25 pupils go vegetarian for a week (and the vast majority stuck with it!). Two houses are implementing plans to have two house-wide vegetarian meals per week (one lunch, one dinner) based off what current vegetarian pupils enjoyed most and the trial in Hopper’s. As I was writing this, I heard that Kenny’s has also got 25 people signed up for a week of vegetarian meals! College is going ahead with the trial as well, and dons have been asked to join in when they eat at College lunches.

It is great to see pupil led actions like this which can, where matrons and housemasters are on board, make a real change. Getting more pupils to go vegetarian could likely be catalysed in a similar way by asking dons to eat vegetarian in house lunches (credit to Dr Clayton for that idea).

ESAG, the Environment and Sustainability Advisory Group, advises GoBo. They had a meeting earlier this term which Felix Von-Moltke, Seb Fennel, and I were able to attend. In it, Dr Clayton and I briefly answered some questions on our paper (public final v2 - WinColl accounts only), which I wrote about previously in my article on food. Since then, I’ve made a couple changes: I revised the section on current dietary change and added an appendix on health. That appendix on health will (eventually) be an article unto itself, so I won’t talk about it much here. Broad strokes: I spoke about how processed meat caused 130,000 additional deaths in 20171 and analysed briefly how atherosclerosis (plaque build-up which causes hearth disease, stroke, gangrene, aneurysms) is affected by our diets.

Dietary change in the UK

The tl;dr here is that whilst young people have strong environmental values, this is not reflected in their diets.2 From 2017-2020 there has been a 10% increase in weekly units of meat, fish, or poultry bought by 18-24 yos at Sainsbury’s, the highest increase of any age category.3 Only 55-64 yos have avoided increasing consumption at a 0% change. 16-25 yos think of themselves as environmentally minded and ethically informed, but this strikes a dissonance with the fact that most have also “never thought about climate change in the context of food before.” Most of Gen Z do not engage with Climate Change beyond social media (which, alone, is not going to prevent catastrophic warming).

Sorry to seem so down about young people here. It’s important to support young voices, and there are certainly amazing young individuals out there. To me, in light of data like this, it just seems important not to overemphasise how active they (we) will be in making change. Older people are in power now and they just need to get on with it. In our paper, we wanted to make it clear that the school was not able to simply wait for students to suddenly all go vegan by themselves. I would encourage looking at the World Resources Institute article for more on this data.

To be clear, if you want top-down change to solve problems and feel that individual actions are not that meaningful, you’re probably right! However, believing that individual actions will not make a difference is not an excuse for inaction; it just means you need to be strategic about how you try to make change. Speaking to people who make or influence systems level decisions is so important. Lobbying groups at any level are powerful for this reason. It is sometimes surprising how effective consistent, human, and helpful communication with decision-makers can be at persuading them.

Follow up

The chair of ESAG, Magnus Ryan, seemed convinced that food was both an area that was important to sustainability and an area where action could happen relatively quickly and cheaply. He asked for us to follow up with an action plan which they could use (as an advisory group, they don’t get to action the action plan). Here’s a summary of our plan:

High priority actions are often ones with direct impacts. These will make measurable differences to the school’s emissions immediately. One such action would be dons eating vegetarian meals in houses and introducing more “subtle” vegetarian days into the menu.

Education about food and Climate Change is extremely important for making other changes easier and having a long-term impact on the eating/buying habits of pupils. We believe that integrating material about food and Climate Change into the curricula of a variety of subjects would go a long way to improving general understanding of the issues surrounding emissions from food and appropriate nutrition.

Finally, there are a couple of easier actions we’ve identified that would not go unnoticed. There is a feeling that not eating red meat (people may not even be aware that this is an option) or going vegetarian is placing an extra burden on catering which they are not prepared for. Asking dons to eat vegetarian in houses would likely help this, but we could speak about it separately. Part of this is doubtless ensuring that matrons and housemasters are on board with pupils going vegetarian for environmental reasons.

Of the houses which have submitted drafts of their house targets 4 (of 6) have at least one target about enabling a dietary transition and/or reducing food waste. Pupils will already be working on this themselves, and anything we could do to encourage/facilitate that would be worthwhile, especially as the targets are already tailored to a house’s specific willingness to change.

With change kicking off around the school, and ESAG seemingly on board, I’m really excited to see what change towards a more environmentally friendly diet we’re going to see soon.

Elizabeth Project Continues

Planting on Elizabeth meads continued this term. In the week of 6th Feb, nearly 500 trees were planted by pupils at the College and from local primary schools. Getting people directly interacting with land is an excellent way to build awareness and get people thinking about nature and Climate Change.

This set of planting was mostly Blackthorn and Hawthorn (both native to the UK) and some disease resistance Elm. Trees like these will make important habitat for wildlife as well as help to connect existing wild(er) areas. The Elizabeth Project is led by Felix Von-Moltke, Seb Fennel, and Eve Cavey (Fellow of Natural History).

Sustainability Council

The Sustainability council is now in full swing. On 31st Jan, Planet Mark ran their first meeting which aimed to encourage ambitious house targets which were drafted near the end of the session. The feedback from this has been lukewarm at best, but many of the house targets are exciting. I remember speaking to a don about the Sustainability Council and they were concerned that there wouldn’t be enough people interested in it. Fortunately, they were wrong! (and the data we have on pupils is not completely useless!)

Since then, house representatives have met once to discuss their plans in Sustainability Society. Whilst organisation in each house is left to the council, as shown above on food, plenty seems to be happening already. The Sust Council was always partly about just getting all the enthusiastic people in a room together, and we certainly seem to have achieved that. I am excited to see action come out of targets at a variety of levels of feasibility/impact including: reduce single use plastic 50%, more recycling bins, reduction in gas consumption, reduce red meat consumption 66%, garden biodiversity enhancements, and encouraging pupils to turn of lights.

Some targets, like getting double glazing on windows, are very hard for pupils to achieve alone, but showing that this is something the pupil body cares about sends a clear message of support to decision-makers in the school for environmental and sustainability initiatives on a large scale.

The Earth Prize

2 teams from the College have been shortlisted as Earth Prize Scholars this year. The Earth Prize is a competition for school students where you have to choose and solve a Climate problem with a $200,000 prize pool.

The first team is Bactoplastics. They are also Earth Prize Finalists, placing them in the top 10 worldwide, which is a spectacular achievement. Here’s their leader Maks:

We are producing a complete protocol for industrial production of biodegradable plastics, polyhydroxyalkanoates, from food waste using genetically engineered bacteria. Polyhydroxyalkanoates are already produced commercially, but their feasability is limited due to high production costs. This is the result of challenges in purification, high cost of the raw resources, and low production yield. We address all these issues in our method and through genetically modifying a special type of bacterium for enhanced plastic production.

Our current work involves identifying optimal conditions for each step of the process, and we are spending about 20 hours/week in the laboratory performing biochemical experiments to achieve this. By the end, we hope to set up a continuous bioplastic production system here in Winchester using locally procured food waste.

- Maks Fedorovskyy

The other team is Veggie for Schools, led by Jack:

Given that the processed meat industry contributes greatly to emissions worldwide, we think that a widespread change in diet is necessary to battle climate change. Introducing young people to sustainable eating is key in driving positive change, so we seek an increase in vegetarian food served in schools. We do not believe in forced vegetarianism, so we worked to create sustainable recipes that are school-friendly, that simply do not contain meat, and that have sufficient nutritional contents. As students ourselves, we believe that vegetarian food is not of high quality in schools, which creates a stigma around it. Thus, pupils are often dissuaded from taking up vegetarianism. Therefore, we are tackling the root of the problem with a cookbook full of cheap and delicious meals. Vegetarianism uses approximately five times less water than a meat-heavy diet, and the meat industry contributes significantly to emissions, so widespread vegetarianism in schools would make a significant difference.

- Jack Pascoe

Climate Science Olympiad

The Climate Science Olympiad is much like other olympiads, but.. for Climate Science! It’s “the student competition to find solutions to climate change.” The CSO had 55,000 participants in 190 countries last year. Alongside the olympiad they have training resources and run a variety of events with their community.

The first stage of the olympiad takes a maximum of 25 mins and involves answering 10 multiple choice questions. The second stage is 25 mins and 15 questions, and if you make it through that you’re into the semi-finals where you have 3 hours to write an essay on a Climate Problem. In the finals, you have a week to propose a solution to a global climate problem. Nearly the entire competition is online, and you can take part whenever you have the time. There is still time to register for the Olympiad (deadline 10th June 2023).

I would strongly encourage anyone interested to take part! Having got through the first round and used some of their resources, I can say it’s thorough and interesting (and well researched too).

Henry Mance is speaking at Studium this Wednesday. He is the chief features writer at the FT and has written a book about veganism. The deadline to sign up for Studium has passed, but those of you who will be attending have made a good decision!

See you next edition,
Oscar Mitcham

  1. GBD 2017 Risk Factor Collaborators. Global, regional, and national comparative risk assessment of 84 behavioural, environmental and occupational, and metabolic risks or clusters of risks for 195 countries and territories, 1990-2017: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2017. Lancet. 2018;392(10159):1923-94 

  2. What is gen Z’s attitudes towards food and the food system? (no date) Britain Thinks. Available at: (Accessed: January 17, 2023). 

  3. Attwood, S., Blondin, S. and Vennard, D. (2021) Youth say they want climate-friendly diets. let’s help them step up, World Resources Institute. Available at (Accessed: January 17, 2023).