Beef off the menu at the University of Helsinki

Helsinki University cafeterias are eliminating beef from lunches and providing more vegetarian and vegan fare

Students will find more pork, chicken, vegetarian and vegan meals on offer. Image: Paulus Markkula / Yle

The UniCafe cafeterias owned and operated by the student's union of Helsinki University are dropping all beef dishes from their lunch menus as of this coming February. Beef will also be eliminated from café items such as sandwiches and rolls.

"The idea came from the staff when we were pondering our next socially responsible move. We realized that this would be a way to significantly cut our carbon emissions," explains UniCafe business operations director Leena Pihlajamäki.

UniCafe has calculated that removing beef from the menu will cut the carbon footprint of the meals it serves by 11 percent, or around 240,000 kg of carbon dioxide annually. UniCafe serves some 10,000 lunches a day.

Right now, beef accounts for about 15 percent of the meat used by Unicafe. As of February, it will be replaced by pork, chicken and non-meat proteins.

"Up to now we've offered fillet that suits a tight student budget. Ground beef is easier to replace with other ingredients. Many of our customers will not notice the difference," predicts Pihlajamäki.

The company that handles day-to-day operations of the university cafeterias and cafés, Ylva, is aiming at increasing sales of vegetarian and vegan lunches to over 50 percent of all food served by the end of next year. Right now that figure is about 40 percent.

"It's an ambitious goal, but not at all impossible," says Leena Pihlajamäki.

She adds that non-meat lunch alternatives will be promoted by placing them at the start of cafeteria self-service counters, making them the first dishes hungry students see.

"It's proven than this is one of the most effective ways of doing it," Leena Pihlajamäki points out.

Tampere not ready to give up on beef

Meanwhile in Tampere, Juvenes which runs the student cafeterias at the city's universities and the Adult Education Center is not giving up on beef yet.

Beef accounts for about three per cent of all their meat products, 90 percent of which comes from Finland, Juvenes director Päivi Jousmäki said.

"Based on feedback, customers are not ready to give up beef altogether in traditional dishes like macaroni casseroles and meatballs. Also, we have a lot of international customers who cannot eat pork," Jousmäki said.

The student union-run company also operates campus restaurants in Turku, Oulu, Vaasa, Pori and Rauma.