A county council that recently became the first to ban meat at its events has now come under fire after it served up a lavish spread, including exotic fruit, to its councillors.
Last month, Oxfordshire County Council voted to only provide plant-based food and drinks at its official events and council meetings.
The move provoked outcry from local farmers, including Jeremy Clarkson, who farms in the county for his hit TV series, Clarkson's Farm.
Speaking outside the Town Hall, the former Top Gear presenter described the decision as ‘utter, utter madness’.
The original motion was proposed by Green Party councillor Ian Middleton, who wanted to ensure all of the council's meetings were 'entirely plant-based'.
At the time, Councillor Middleton, who is vegan, said the county council 'should be embracing the opportunity to set an example'.
But the councillor has sparked a fresh storm after uploading a picture to social media revealing the food on offer at a recent council meeting, now that the plant-based policy has come into force.
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!”
Local politicians reacted, with Councillor Liam Walker (Conservative - Hanborough & Minster Lovell) describing the post as having ‘completely misread the room’.
He said: "I think this new alliance have completely misread the room. Not only do they ban meat from council meetings claiming it’s about tackling change, only for a few weeks later a cabinet member to jump on a plane to a climate change conference.
"Now they are boasting on Twitter about a vegan taxpayer funded buffet at council meetings. Personally I think these free meals at our meetings should be scrapped as councillors are perfectly capable of arranging our own lunches.
"This is a complete waste of money and the coalition should be focused on tackling the serious issues in Oxfordshire like supporting the many residents struggling with food and heating bills."
Other Twitter users also responded.
carbon cost? Pineapple(cape) (kiwi NZ)( oranges Spanish)(strawberries Spanish) (,grapes South Africa)? Gypsofolia tulips (Netherlands)Rice cakes ? None of which are grown locally but flown hundreds of miles! Supporting our local producers?I forgot us tax payers footing bill?— Lynn Carter (@ladylynncarter) April 6, 2022
Ok, but you do recognise millions of hardworking people don’t have the same generous expenses policy right? Should we not be as prudent as possible with taxpayers money and ditch that? Or at the very least, the costs of the lunches go to a Ukraine refugee appeal or a food bank?— Sam Holland for Bicester West (@sam_bicester) April 6, 2022
Rural campaigners have also joined in the criticism, arguing that the picture showed the council could be ‘open to the accusation of hypocrisy’ if the fruit on offer had not been grown locally.
Mo Metcalf-Fisher, a spokesman from the Countryside Alliance, said the council's priority should be buying produce from local farmers, including those offering sustainably produced meat products.
“Optics aside, people will rightly want to know whether the selection of exotic fruit on offer is grown locally, given how vocal the cabinet have been about their environmental superiority.
"Can the councillor be certain that all of these items are locally grown and not transported from abroad? If not, the council could be open to the accusation of hypocrisy."