by Mo Metcalf Fisher

Free lunches for Oxfordshire councillors cost the taxpayer more after council leaders voted to scrap all meat and dairy and go fully plant-based.

Despite a £168 rise in cost in the month of April, the first of the new plant-based lunches, one councillor sparked controversy by uploading a picture of the ‘lavish’ feast on Twitter calling it a ‘triumph’.

Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the Countryside Alliance (CA), revealed that in February the lunch cost £581.23, but rose to £749.52 in April.

In March this year Oxfordshire County Council’s Liberal Democrat, Labour and Green cabinet voted in favour of officers’ recommendations to ensure that food provided at full council meetings and all civic events is entirely plant-based,  despite protests from local farmers, including Jeremy Clarkson.

A spokesperson for the council told The Sun that less food had been ordered for the February meal.

At the first plant-based lunch, the motion’s proposer, Green councillor Ian Middleton who is vegan, said the county council 'should be embracing the opportunity to set an example'.

But the councillor sparked a storm after uploading a picture to social media revealing the food on offer at a recent council meeting. Taking to Twitter on Tuesday (5 April), Mr Middleton tweeted a picture of a table, decorated in an array of flowers, featuring a vast spread of sandwiches, cakes and exotic fruit including watermelon, kiwi and mango, to his followers.

He said: “First #plantbased lunch at OxfordshireCC. Very enthusiastically received. Some saying it's the best food that has ever been provided by the council. Thanks to officers for organising it. An absolute triumph!”

A second FOI request  by the Countryside Alliance revealed that the council has no idea where the food on offer that day was originally sourced, making it difficult to know the carbon foot-print from field to plate.

In a statement, accompanying the FOI response, Oxfordshire County Council said: “The council’s catering services supplier for fruit and vegetables is a Company called ‘Total Produce’ (although they would have no knowledge of what products were purchased purely for council events and meetings and what was ordered for general use in the Café operation) It should be noted that Countries of origin may change over time”.

The Countryside Alliance accused Oxfordshire County Council of being ‘out of touch’ and said their ‘eco credentials’ had been ‘undermined’.

A spokesperson for the Countryside Alliance said: “This whole debacle, including the ill-advised decision to grandstand by showing off pictures of the lavish lunch spread, looks incredibly out of touch. To make matters worse, the Council have no clear idea about where their exotic fruit and veg is even grown, somewhat undermining their eco credentials. They should be sourcing sustainable, affordable, wholesome produce- including meat and dairy- from local farmers, who like everybody would benefit from the business at this critical time”.

And Cllr. Liam Walker (Conservative, Hanborough & Minster Lovel) who boycotted the vegan lunch, opting instead to buy his own at a local pub, called for the tax-payer funded meeting to be scrapped entirely.

He said: “ I really do think these meals funded by the hardworking taxpayers of Oxfordshire should be scrapped completely. As grownups I think we are all perfectly capable of arranging our own lunches and this is a complete waste of money. The coalition should instead be focused on tackling the serious issues in Oxfordshire like supporting the many residents struggling to pay for food for their children at this challenging time.”

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