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Citing Climate Change, Berkeley to Offer Vegan Meals at Public Events, Buildings

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Packages of plant-based meat substitutes sit in a refrigerator. Berkeley City Council voted Tuesday to approve a goal of 50% plant-based meat in city buildings and events by 2024. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The city of Berkeley will start serving vegan food at public events, jails, senior centers and other city buildings after the City Council approved a resolution that calls for the progressive city to cut its spending on animal-based products in half by 2024.

The first-of-its-kind measure approved Tuesday and co-authored by Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Councilmember Sophie Hahn requires the city to offer plant-based foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds at public buildings.

"I think this is a very important step for the city to take as part of our broader climate efforts and as well building on our long tradition of promoting the humane treatment of animals here in the city of Berkeley," Arreguín told the council at Tuesday's meeting.

Cutting meat and dairy consumption is part of the city’s efforts to fight climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, according to the resolution.

The resolution is the result of advocacy efforts by the Berkeley-based animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, which is working for similar policies to be enacted in other major cities, including San Francisco and Chicago.

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"We hope that this resolution by the Berkeley City Council sparks a wave of similar resolutions and ordinances in other cities," said Almira Tanner, a Berkeley resident and lead organizer with the group.

Direct Action Everywhere had advocated for the city to serve 100% plant-based food, but city officials did not want to go that far yet. The resolution does adopt an "eventual goal" of offering only vegan food at city events, buildings and facilities, and calls on the city manager to present a report by June 30 next year on the feasibility of such a plan.

"If that is feasible — or advisable — will depend on whether we can meet nutritional standards for institutional settings such as afterschool programs and senior centers, and whether residents who eat at City facilities will actually enjoy those foods. It’s an exploration of possibilities to reduce the carbon footprint of food served and increase health — not a mandated change," Councilmember Sophie Hahn wrote in a statement.

Tanner, however, thinks the city could make those transitions faster. "I'm not satisfied with the timeline," she said.

Tanner said they've been lobbying for the proposal for over a year. What began as education and outreach letters, postcards and public comment escalated to a protest campaign over the last several months as Direct Action Everywhere held weekly protests outside City Hall and the mayor's home.

Tanner said their group worked with the city to revise the resolution and include the recommendation to eventually shift all food products in city events and buildings to be plant-based.

"Within the two days before the vote happened, we were able to negotiate with the city, put pressure on them and get that goal of 100 percent in writing," Tanner said.

The resolution does not apply to schools, which are operated by an independent school district.

Arreguín said at Tuesday's meeting that the resolution is consistent with many of the city's previous actions, like adopting Green Mondays where only plant-based meals are served at public events and buildings on Mondays.

Berkeley has also spearheaded several other environmental measures, including being the first city in the country to ban natural gas lines from new buildings in 2019. The city was also the first in the county to implement a trash recycling program in the 1970s.

KQED's Julie Chang contributed reporting to this post.

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