Berkeley could make city-provided meals vegan, but questions abound

A resolution passed by the Berkeley City Council on Tuesday could mean the city one day only provides vegan meals at its facilities in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But it’s far from a guarantee that Berkeley will ever make that dramatic of a shift, which the resolution’s author, Councilmember Sophie Hahn, called “purely aspirational.”

The resolution calls for the city to cut its consumption of animal-based foods such as meat and dairy in half by 2024. And it commits to “exploring the possibility to eventually go to fully plant-based meals,” Hahn said.

The move is motivated by a desire to reduce Berkeley’s contributions to climate change — the resolution states that “one of the most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to transition to plant-forward or plant-based diets.” The animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere also lobbied for the resolution, and staged demonstrations outside the home of Mayor Jesse Arreguín as part of the campaign.

There are plenty of questions, though, about what it might take to make such a switch.

For one thing, Hahn said, it’s not clear how many meals the city provides. The resolution would not affect food served at Berkeley schools, but instead would apply at city facilities such as the jail, senior centers and youth programs, among other possible venues. Hahn noted meals provided in those settings are subject to stringent nutritional regulations, and that the city will need to determine if it vegan meals can meet those standards.

Hahn said the city will use the coming months to study how much food it buys and how feasible it will be to make the resolution’s goals a reality.