In the final week of COP28 UAE at the Greening Education Hub – the first ever Education pavilion in the history of COP – The Alliance for Sustainable Schools (TASS) concluded the Sustainable School Food Summit which brought together 60 attendees including students, teachers, sustainability practitioners, school food caterers and industry experts across two action-packed days.
Sustainable food and greening education were both central themes at this year’s climate conference and TASS’s summit provided an opportunity to engage school students at the intersection of both topics.
In particular, the Summit set out to bust some common myths that are obstacles to sustainable school food becoming more widespread and popular. Such myths include: “sustainable food is too expensive”, “most students don’t like or won’t eat sustainable food”, and “sustainable food isn’t possible at scale in the UAE.” The Summit aimed to generate tangible long-term impact and strategies to catalyse change in schools through a series of talks, a sustainable school lunch tasting, student engagement, and stakeholder commitment to going beyond business-as-usual.
On Day 1 ‘A Taste of What’s Possible’, TASS Student Ambassadors from GEMS Cambridge International School Dubai and The Arbor School delivered a presentation on the sustainability of the lunches at their schools, giving the audience insights into the current state of school lunches in the UAE and the opportunities to improve. Three celebrity chefs well-known for their emphasis on sustainable cuisine were invited to create a low-carbon dish suitable for inclusion in a school lunch menu. The chefs were: Chef Iva Rospi from Studio One Hotel, Chef Russell Impiazzi from Sofitel Dubai The Obelisk, and Chef Conor Spacey from FoodSpace Ireland. The carbon footprint of the dishes they created is between 0.3 and 0.7 kg CO₂e per serving – 2 kg CO₂e below the UN’s recommended daily per capita carbon budget for food.
Students and some parents in attendance got to taste each of the chef’s creations during the lunch and cast their votes. In an interactive live survey, 85% of students agreed or strongly agreed that as a result of the event, they believe it is possible for their school caterer to offer a lunch that is healthy, sustainable, and tasty.
An independent panel of experts also gave their feedback on the lunch offerings based on sustainability factors and other criteria such as flavor, affordability, and practicality. The panel included Lavi Chandra, Co-Founder of Leela’s Lunches; Anthea Ayache, Founding Editor of The Ethicalist Magazine; Paul Newnham, Executive Director of the SDG2 Advocacy Hub, and Hayah Faisal, a TASS Student Ambassador at GEMS Cambridge International Private School Sharjah.
Providing constructive feedback to the chefs was a crucial element of the Summit to ensure that all stakeholders work collaboratively with each other in delivering dishes that are sustainable as well as feasible for school caterers to implement at a large scale, in line with traditional costs per serving of AED 6-7, not to mention delicious and visually appealing for students to choose when they appear in school canteens.
To shed more light on the constraints that school food caterers face in implementing sustainable school food, TASS convened a panel discussion on Day 2 of the Summit at the Greening Education Hub at COP28. Speakers representing the school caterers included Magnus Mumby, Founder and Managing Director of Food Nation; Paul Fowler, Managing Director of Slices; Chris Riding, Co-Founder of Harness Foods; and Peter Nichols, Chief Operations Officer and Matthew Sellenger, Head of Sustainability at ADNH Compass Group.
The discussion was moderated by three bright students from The Arbor School, American Academy for Girls, and Dubai College respectively, alongside TASS Founder and Chairman, Anthony Dixon. Students asked the caterers important questions such as what factors they take into consideration when curating menus, demand for sustainable school food in the UAE, and the role that students can play in pushing the transition to low-carbon lunches.
Magnus Mumby, Managing Director of Food Nation said:
“Placing a spotlight on the topic of sustainable school food makes it so much easier for us to work with schools and helps us implement sustainable dishes into the food program. As a caterer to the education system, this opportunity to participate in the Sustainable School Food Summit was a huge benefit for us.”
Hessa, TASS Student Ambassador at the American Academy for Girls said:
“Participating in the Summit was an eye-opening experience which taught me a lot about the sustainable school food landscape in the UAE. After seeing TASS’s efforts and having a positive discussion with our school food caterers, I believe that sustainable school food is more attainable now. What was once a goal will soon be a reality.”
As a result of the Summit, five of the UAE’s leading school food catering companies – Food Nation, Slices, Leela’s Lunches, Harness Foods and ADNH Compass – have committed to introducing these three low-carbon school meals on the menus at the schools they serve to in the coming year. Collectively, they serve 8.5 million meals to 142 schools in the UAE each year – 10% of all the schools in the UAE. These schools range from nursery all the way to secondary – enhancing the inclusivity for students and parents across all age groups in the dialogue around sustainable school food.
Let’s get #sustainableschoolfood!