One of my favourite columnists is the environmentalist George Monbiot. He’s a rather opinionated fella (kind of helpful if you are going to write your opinions I guess) and I was particularly struck by one of his articles a few months back. I referenced the article in a piece I wrote about having a controversial KEYNOTE speaker. Basically, he was saying that “environmental” conferences weren’t being very sustainable when they served meat and or fish.

Having fed, I don’t know, maybe 10,000 people at the events I’ve run, this really made me think. I realised that the decisions I make as an event planner have an impact, way beyond my event. So I thought, why is my default position to always serve a meat option during my events? The only answer that I could think of was, that it was just always what I had done. And I decided to change.

This isn’t an article about why you should serve vegetarian when you can, but it is about how easy it could be should you decide to go vegetarian (or plant-based) at events.

Going Vegetarian at Events

When I set my mind on doing something different at an event that I am planning I often find it difficult to find any concrete evidence to back up my suggested changes. I am sure many #Eventprofs have the same feeling: “If only I had some evidence to back up my gut instinct that things NEED to change!”

Unfortunately, the world of events doesn’t dedicate much time to research, so finding evidence to back a new way of doing things can be very difficult. When this is the case the best we can hope for is some good anecdotal evidence. Therefore if you do want to go vegetarian at one or all of your events here is a useful bit of evidence. And I would summarise it like this:

We recently held a day long conference for 100 attendees and we had a full vegetarian menu. And the thing is, not only did no one complain, no one even seemed to notice.

You are not alone if you do go vegetarian at your events

I was given some confidence to go vegetarian after attending IBTM in Barcelona. Here’s the vegetarian selection from the hosted buyers lounge, where I am sure no one even noticed it was a full vegetarian feast.

Healthy, tasty, transportable and vegetarian.

Healthy, tasty, transportable and vegetarian.

No need for meat

I would think long and hard about not providing a meat course for a dinner, and maybe I am not even bold enough for that! But a vegetarian meal or a full plant based meal is a perfectly viable option for a one day conference, training session or seminar. So if you do want to go vegetarian/plant based, even if it’s just for one day, you can make an impact. Just imagine a few hundred #Eventprofs choosing a few hundred vegetarian menus; that would lead to 10,000s or 100,000s of meat-free meals. 

Feedback on the food

The first barrier to a change could be the anticipated negative response from your attendees. Well, the only feedback we received regarding the food was how good it was. Not one person even questioned us before (we listed the menu on the website), during, or after the event on why we had no meat or fish on the menu. 

It’s worth noting that as well as going vegetarian, we also asked our chef to only use local and seasonal ingredients. The first iteration had coconut rice (for an event in London), so depending on the chef you may have to make a few attempts at a sustainable menu. Using local and seasonal is a great extra step if you do want to go for a more sustainable menu and going full plant-based would be the ideal target. 

Locally sourced means great tasting local food

Locally sourced means great tasting local food

So what did we do:

  1. Explained the reasons to go vegetarian with our client, the wonderful Nicky Christmas, Editor of Practically Perfect PA
  2. We didn’t make a big song and dance about it. We listed the menu on the website as we normally would.
  3. We made sure we had a choice (it wasn’t just one vegetarian dish) available on the day. We had two great main meals.
  4. We did all we could to ensure the food tasted and looked great! If it was bad we may have then noticed a few people comment on the lack of meat or fish.
  5. We had a response ready for any attendee: “This year we decided to have as sustainable a menu as possible. This meant we chose local and seasonal ingredients and opted to avoid meat or fish. The food is of the highest standard and cost us no less than the meat or fish options. The decision was made on sustainability and environmental basis only and we hope you support our decision.” 

And that was it. No song or dance, no big announcement. We made it appear quite normal to have a vegetarian menu at a conference.

Why isn’t it normal? Perhaps if more of us take this bold sustainable step, even the delegates who notice won’t find it peculiar. And you never know, maybe we #Eventprofs can show that we do know the true impact of our events and we are keen to do something positive.

Published On: March 14th, 2016 / Categories: Conferences & Congresses, Ethics, Sustainable events /