Which restaurant and pub chains are the most family and planet friendly?

By Laura Chan, Policy Officer, Soil Association

The UK is under the microscope this year interrogating how we aren’t and how we should be meeting our climate and nature targets. In the lead up to COP26 in Glasgow, multiple sectors including hospitality are vying to demonstrate what they are doing to step up.

After taking a hiatus due to the Covid pandemic, the Soil Association’s Out to Lunch campaign restarted. Out to Lunch focusses on restaurant sustainability practices, healthy eating and family friendliness, particularly focussing on kids’ menus. With a rigorous survey and army of secret diners, we investigated how well the top 20 UK restaurants are doing. You can see the full league table here.

Given the timing of this year’s publication it seems appropriate to focus this blog on the big groups’ work on serving less and better meat, given its impact on the health of the nation and the planet.

Less meat on the menu.

If we are going to stop anthropogenic climate change, we need to eat less meat than we do now and the out of home sector is supporting us in doing that. In 2019, 50% the restaurants surveyed had at least a 25% vegetarian or vegan menu with very few offering a menu with half the items meat free. This year we’ve seen a huge increase in vegetarian meals offered. Overall, 70% of restaurants have at least 3 meat-free options which makes up over 25% of the menu. 30% of these restaurants have a 50% vegetarian or vegan kid’s menu and Zizzi’s menu has more vegetarian options than meat, a first for Out to Lunch! While there is no need to go completely vegetarian or vegan, the meat we do serve has to be better quality to minimise negative climate and nature impacts.

But there is no better meat on the menu.

Only Wahaca are serving higher welfare free range meat. While some restaurants were serving British meat, there was still a lot coming from Thailand, China and Brazil. The majority of meat is therefore from high intensity industrial farm units. These often have inadequate animal welfare standards and can destroy environments locally, such as polluting local environments with excess nutrient loads and internationally, by importing unsustainable animal feed.

Animal feed is still destroying the Amazon and Cerrado in Brazil.

The majority of the UK’s imported soya is used as animal feed, and less than 30% is from certified sustainable sources. The imports are often directly linked to deforestation which is not only impacting the climate, but also leading to habitat loss of endangered species. Only Nando’s and McDonald’s had policies in place working towards ensuring all animal feed was from sustainable sources. Ten restaurants signed our pledge this year to work with their supply chains to ensure that all soya used as animal feed in the supply chain is certified sustainable. It’s incredible to see restaurants taking this commitment seriously and working towards it so quickly. We’d like to see this ambition spread throughout the industry.

With the top 20 restaurants serving more than 1.6 billion meals a year, changes to sourcing practices can have an incredible positive impact for climate and nature. We are calling for restaurants to:

  • Work with supply chains to ensure soya used for animal feed is not associated with deforestation
  • All restaurants should serve two portions of vegetables with every kids’ meal
  • Use quality ingredients. This includes sourcing locally and using ingredients such as organic, farm assured, higher animal welfare accredited meat
  • Include more healthy plant-based proteins in vegetarian and vegan dishes to make sure they are healthy and nutritionally balanced

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