“Huge if London will lead the way forward”

May 16, 2024

Last year, Lambeth became the first London borough to endorse the call for a Plant Based Treaty. Many in the community are pushing for more institutions to endorse as well, and pressure is building for the London mayor to sign. Will London, as a global city, be yet another good example for other capitals to follow?

Lambeth, the first London borough to endorse the Plant Based Treaty

In October 2023, Lambeth endorsed the call for a Plant Based Treaty as the first borough in London.

“Endorsing the Plant Based Treaty has been very positive for Lambeth,” says Jim Dickson, Cabinet Member for Healthier Communities, who has been an elected member of the council since the 1990s and has been the leader of the council. “The endorsement makes the direction of travel on food and sustainability clear and identifies it as a priority.” 

Lambeth has a long-standing commitment to implementing net zero carbon as soon as possible and was the first London borough to declare a climate emergency five years ago. They also have work going back many years to develop their food system in Lambeth to promote healthy eating for all residents, particularly those most at risk of ill health.

Jim Dickson, Cabinet Member for Healthier Communities at Lambeth Council.

“In that context being part of the plant-based movement and signing up to the Plant Based Treaty really makes total sense.”

Alongside their work on more sustainable food, their net zero program work includes promoting active travel, improving public transport, promoting electric vehicles, and sustainable building materials, in their goal to be a sustainable borough.

“Sustainability and healthy eating really hits a sweet spot for us” Jim Dickson says. A move towards more sustainable food is strongly supported in the community, both by individuals and other stakeholders, including our community and voluntary organizations. Moving towards a plant-based diet obviously is a very clear declaration of intent to both consumers and businesses.”

Volunteers at Streatham Common Community Garden, part of Incredible Edible Lambeth.

For many years Lambeth has worked with community gardens.

“We have a really flourishing food growing sector. The organization Incredible Edible sponsors and promotes local food growing opportunities. We are continuously trying to find parts of the borough that can be used for growing food. You can always find small spaces on housing estates and turn them into food-growing areas alongside local residents. The community is up for it, and we have lots of requests for being part of it.”

The Lambeth GP Food Co-op is a network of eight sites across the borough that offer welcoming, thriving, food growing spaces to support those with long-term health conditions.

Another local food growing group in Lambeth is the GP Food Growing Co-Op, where the land the NHS has available is used for growing food, benefiting both patients and the community. They also work closely with the organization Alexandra Rose Trust who provide vouchers to families with children under five, providing free fresh fruit and vegetables.

The council has been awarded five million pounds from the National Institute of Health Research. With that money the council has set up a big research capability called Lambeth Heart, alongside its public health team, looking at the wider determinants of good and bad health outcomes.

“I hope it will be possible to run a research project around plant-based diets and try to get some funding so that Lambeth Heart can evaluate its effect on our residents’ health. There are a lot of aspects of how plant-based diets could benefit local people and our local food economy. We could look at it as part of a longer-term study.”

Lambeth Council is part of a consortium focusing on school diets and how to work towards more sustainable food in schools. Lambeth works very closely with four other boroughs with the target to reduce the carbon emissions per plate in school dinners by around 38 per cent, within three years.

“This is all about how we make school food more sustainable. That’s huge because of both the quantity of food that is served to children daily and from an educational aspect. We want to help children understand how important it is to eat sustainable food and the health benefits of a plant-based diet.”

In addition, the council works to implement free school meals. Often the school lunch is the best meal a child will eat during the day. 

“We hope to have sustainable school meals that are both increasingly plant-based and free for all children, if possible.

Jim Dickson thinks that endorsing the Plant Based Treaty helps to set the agenda for the community.

“Lambeth is really pleased to be part of a network with other parts of the UK as well as internationally, through the endorsement of the Treaty. I think it’s likely other London boroughs will look at the Plant Based Treaty and consider signing up too. Endorsing the Treaty has a galvanizing effect for the community as well as for the local authority, helping to promote action.”

Dickson is on the council of governors at Kings College Hospital. He hopes that the council can further deepen the cooperation with institutions such as hospitals, universities, and other big public sector organizations so that they can move in the same direction. 

“Kings College Hospital is one of our anchor institutions in Lambeth; this has a big impact on procurement, employment, and investment in the community. The anchor institutions can be key for us in our work on this agenda moving forward.”

This year Lambeth has been able to create a buzz around Veganuary, promoting several plant-based food outlets in Lambeth and celebrating partners promoting Veganuary. King’s College Hospital was one of them. 

Important to change the narrative on food

Dr Shireen Kassam is a medical doctor at King’s College Hospital and part of the Lambeth food group in the council.

“We have the ambition to link the community work and the hospital work in general. I am looking forward to strengthening that relationship,” Dr Kassam says.

In 2018 she founded Plant-Based Health Professionals UK, a membership-based community interest company with the mission to provide education and advocacy on plant-based food and how it benefits our health and planet.

Dr. Kassam is passionate about promoting plant-based nutrition for the prevention and reversal of chronic disease and for maintaining optimal health.

“We concentrate on human and planetary health, which is linked together. That narrative becomes part of our advocacy work.”

Members of Plant Based Health Professionals UK are all ethical vegans, working in the conventional system, trying to change the norms around dietary advice and guidance. They also support policy changes and try to team up with like-minded healthcare professionals globally, to work for change. Shireen Kassem is also a certified lifestyle medicine physician, looking at other healthy habits that are important indicators to prevent disease. This work has opened opportunities and enabled them to influence the food strategy at her hospital.

“We were able to use the trust’s ambition and sustainability strategy, to talk about food and influence the green plan at the hospital towards more plant-based food. We have got many more plant-based dishes now on the menu. Probably a third of the menu is vegan or veggie.”

King’s College Hospital has both a sustainability focus as well as a health focus, and is moving towards a more plant-based menu that will progressively remove processed red meat. Today all internal events at the hospital that include catering of food are meat free. And there is always one plant-based milk available on site for no extra cost. Even for staff, there are plant-based food options available daily.

 “But we need to use more nudge techniques to support both patients and staff to make the healthy and better choices and reduce the meat dishes. That is the next step. To make it easier to choose the vegan option by default.”

Plant-Based Health Professionals UK has also been working with the UK Health Alliance on Climate Change, who have also endorsed the Plant Based Treaty.

“It is a big thing for us in healthcare, because they are a policy organization working with both health and climate change. They have an eminent leadership speaking on behalf of medical colleges, which is a good plant-based policy statement.”

 Shireen has been involved in different vegan campaigns over the last several years. She started with a Veganuary campaign at the hospital in 2021. Each year they run two staff campaigns: Veganuary and No Meat May. Shireen can see that it has had an effect, with many sticking to a vegan diet. “I would love to see that King’s College Hospital endorsed the Plant Based Treaty. Unless we have health care on board, we are not going to achieve a vegan world. It is so important to change the narrative on food in health care services. It is a priority for me and my organization”.

Will London endorse the Plant Based Treaty?

Last year, Zack Polanski, Deputy Leader of the Green Party of England and Wales and an elected member of the London Assembly, wrote an open letter to London Mayor Sadiq Khan. In the letter, he highlighted the importance of plant-based diets in addressing the climate and ecological emergency, urging London to endorse the Plant Based Treaty.

Polanski has a background as a community theatre actor and was working with the Theatre of The Oppressed – a method from Augusto Boal working in the favelas in South America. The aim is to work against injustice and oppression in society, together with the community. He got into politics to help to remove these walls.

“But the systemic barrier is still in place, regardless of how articulate you are. Animals are of course one of the most oppressed groups. In politics, animal rights are important to me because they can’t vote or speak in the chambers, we need to make sure we are speaking on their behalf.”

For a few years now, every primary school in London has offered  a free school meal, and Zack believes this is an area where a lot of change can take place

“But there are two things I’d like to change with it; First, that it is free for secondary schools as well, and that it should not stop at a certain age. Second, making these meals plant-based by default, based on the model for school plates by ProVeg. It can nudge pupils to choose the vegan menu and if you want something else, you need to ask for it.”

Recently, a conservative member of the London Assembly, Andrew Boff, also tried to convince the mayor to consider endorsing the Plant Based Treaty by raising a question at Mayor’s Question Time. However, with the London Assembly in the middle of an election campaigning period, it can be the most challenging time for a mayor to be brave and commit to new initiatives.

Andrew Boff, Chair of London Assembly, urges London Mayor Sadiq Khan to sign the Plant Based Treaty.

“If I am re-elected, the endorsement of the Plant Based Treaty is something I want to jump straight back to. And after the election, I think the conversations with the future Mayor will hopefully be more open, cooperative, and collaborative on the subject as well.”

Zack Polanski thinks that it is likely that London will endorse the Treaty.

“It is something that would benefit the UK as well as the rest of the world, as London is a global city. There is a limited time a mayor can say no because the evidence is very clear. And the communities are coming together, calling for this. It would be huge if London endorsed the Treaty and to see London leading the way in this work forward.”

Anne Casparsson is a writer and ethicist, who has worked with communication and journalism in different capacities, for more than twenty years. She writes about animal rights, veganism, sustainability, justice, and peace related issues. Anne is based in Stockholm where she lives with her family. She is a dedicated voice for the animals.

Anne Casparsson is a writer and ethicist, who has worked with communication and journalism in different capacities, for more than twenty years. She writes about animal rights, veganism, sustainability, justice, and peace related issues. Anne is based in Stockholm where she lives with her family. She is a dedicated voice for the animals.