UAE: Would you skip meat once a week? ‘Meatless Mondays’ now in schools, hospitals

This homegrown brand is on a mission to encourage more sustainable and healthy eating habits across the nation

By Harriet Shephard

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Published: Tue 16 Apr 2024, 6:00 AM

Last updated: Tue 16 Apr 2024, 11:00 PM

It’s no secret that eating less meat is good for the environment. However, for many of us, the idea of going completely vegetarian or vegan seems a little bit too much to ask.

This is precisely why Tolga Soytekin, founder of plant-based food brand Bare Foods Global, was so keen to bring the Meatless Monday campaign to the Middle East.


Founded in the USA over 20 years ago and now practised across the world, the campaign encourages everyone to skip meat every Monday in aid of protecting the environment and enhancing health and wellbeing.

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As the official affiliate for the movement in the Middle East, Soytekin and his team are working to convince UAE schools and institutions to only serve plant-based dishes every Monday.

“School catering in the UAE is all outsourced,” Soytekin says.

Tolga Soytekin
Tolga Soytekin

“It’s not like in Europe and the US where each school prepares its food in house. So, we work hand-in-hand with third party catering companies to provide plant-based options for schools every Monday.

“Our initial catering partner was Ben's Farmhouse, and we also work with Abu Dhabi National Hotels (ADNH) Compass Group and other brands. The head of catering at Birmingham University Dubai also reached out to us as they have a lot of vegan and vegetarian students and faculty.”

In his professional experience, offering meat-alternative comfort foods such as vegan burgers, pasta dishes and pizzas can encourage school kids to take to the change.

“We always recommend that school caterers stick with the classics. If you present kids with dishes that look like things that they are familiar with, whether it’s spaghetti bolognese, lasagna or breaded chicken, they'll eat them and accept them immediately,” he explains.

“The schools are telling us that some kids don’t even notice the difference. Comfort foods are also a great way for parents to start introducing Meatless Mondays at home too.”

A chef by trade who grew up in a family of restaurateurs in the UK, Soytekin is the founder of plant-based cafe GYPSY in Dubai Mall. Passionate about sustainability and encouraging the growth of plant-based food in the UAE, he ensures that all the products sold by Bare Foods Global are prepared from scratch, and free from artificial flavourings and preservatives.

“Bare Foods Global is in a unique position,” he admits.

“Not only are we the official affiliate for Meatless Monday in the region, but we also supply plant-based proteins ourselves. But the project was never intended to be a business initiative. We try to encourage schools, universities and hospitals to join the movement, and we provide our catering partners with constant support and recipe ideas.”

Since launching Meatless Monday in the UAE back in January, Bare Foods Global has so far succeeded in bringing Meatless Monday to more than 20 schools and 20 universities, and several hospitals.

Its social media pages are filled with plant-based recipe inspiration, and impactful infographics detailing why having one meat-free day can make such a big impact.

“If the whole world were to cut out meat every Monday, it would be the equivalent to removing hundreds of millions of cars from the road for a year. After all, producing just one kilogram of beef uses so much more water, and 12 times the CO2 emissions that producing one kilogram of plant protein does,” said Soytekin.

“You don’t have to constantly follow a vegan diet. Skipping meat once a week makes a huge difference to the health of the planet, and your own wellbeing too.”

Many meat alternatives contain more protein than meat, and lower levels of cholesterol. They also don’t contain any of the hormones, antibiotics or chemicals that are often pumped into mass-farmed animals.

“Some vegan brands and concepts can focus too much on the animal cruelty aspect. I love animals, but I think the environmental and health benefits of eating less meat are what’s most important. Those are the messages that we push across our social media,” Soytekin adds.

This September, Bare Foods Global is bringing over representatives from Meatless Monday to visit high schools and run seminars for local caterers, teachers and education professionals.

By helping kids become used to the idea of plant-based meat alternatives, the eventual hope is that Meatless Monday will be adopted in every household in the UAE.

“Data shows that kids have a huge influence over the meals that are served in their home,” he notes.

“For instance, Meatless Monday has been running in the UK for around 10 years, and studies show that today, around seven per cent of the British population now identify as vegan, or incorporate regular plant-based meals into their diets. We want to make a similar impact here.

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