The Full Story
Why ask for 100% plant-based food?
A plant-based food system will produce more food, with fewer emissions, whilst also increasing carbon drawdown. It can free up 76% of global farmland, much of which can be rewilded, restoring our precious wildlife and saving thousands of animals. The most comprehensive study to date, details the relationship between different foods and their climate impacts, showing that plant-based food is far more sustainable than all animal products.
The campaign locates animal farming at the heart of the climate crisis and aims to make this association as natural and as publicly accepted as the impact of fossil fuels on the climate. We are not demanding a ban on animal products from campus, but rather that our universities divest from these industries at their outlets just as they have fossil fuels. Because it is these industries that are the leading cause of the climate crisis which threaten our economy, livelihoods, and liberty over the coming decades. We are advocating for our academic institutions to act in alignment with the best interests of future generations now.
Despite its legitimacy, the call for a plant-based university is controversial because it is seen by many to be going too far and even impeding freedom of choice, and in the controversy lies the campaign’s greatest power. Because of the controversial nature of the ask, it will polarise opinions and generate large debates on campus - a debate which needs to happen, and a debate which we can win. It also has the potential to enter the national conversation too if mainstream media pick up on it. This can be seen with The University of Stirling’s recent successful SU motion which was covered by the BBC and Plant Based News.
Since the debate will revolve around whether to have fully plant-based universities to tackle the climate crisis, it has the power to shift the Overton window of what is a politically acceptable solution to discuss in response to this crisis. It will reframe the debate from one of meat reduction, to the transition to a fully plant-based food system. It can shift the concept of plant-based catering from something once considered unthinkable to something that is celebrated as a key solution to the climate and nature emergency. This means that even if we are unsuccessful in winning the motion, it will likely lead to stronger policies in the long term.
The debate will be polarising and encourage passionate supporters and passionate opposition to participate, elevating the level of social conflict and therefore engagement in the issue by ordinary students who will have to choose a side. This expands the conversation around a plant-based food system and functions to normalise this essential conversation.
Social psychology shows that people tend to adopt viewpoints based on grounds of identity and emotional factors rather than logical analysis, so a predominantly left-wing student population will likely shift their opinion in our direction simply because they don’t want to be associated with extreme right wingers (and just so helps we have logic on our side too).
The demand is also winnable. The student population are statistically the most likely demographic to be supportive of such a claim with the highest proportion of vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians, and is the population group most concerned about the climate crisis. In October 2021, Berlin University implemented a policy to have only 4% meat items on campus menus due to student demands for more climate-friendly catering. This demonstrates the potential to achieve a radical demand through climate messaging.
We have also recently seen the Academy Awards and Berkeley City Council adopt policies to have fully plant-based establishments in response to climate breakdown. If we can make universities adopt fully plant-based menus, it can drive a culture shift and set an example to the government and other institutions on how to genuinely act on the climate, ecological, and cost of living crises. Here are some more examples of our current wins and how UK universities are shifting:
The University of Stirling SU has passed a motion to transition to 100% plant-based by the year 2025
The University of Cambridge has already removed beef and lamb from some menus and is actively promoting plant-based options.
King’s College London has opened a plant-based café
34 outlets across 4 universities in Berlin made their menus 68% vegan, 28% vegetarian, and 2% fish-based, with a single meat option, offered four days a week.
University College London now offers default plant milk at all of its campus outlets.
London Metropolitan now have meat-free Mondays.
Bournemouth University has lowered the prices of plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy.
The University of Exeter has removed red meat from all campus outlets except one.
Why target universities?
Of all the influential cultural institutions in society, universities present perhaps the greatest opportunity to achieve bold steps towards fully plant-based catering:
Firstly, the student demographic is statistically the most likely to be vegan, vegetarian or flexitarians, and are also most concerned about the climate crisis. There is a long history and tradition of student activism and radicalism. Just like universities were among the first institutions to divest from fossil fuels, they can be the first to divest from animal agriculture. Indeed, many UK universities have already committed to having at least 50% plant-based menus, a trend that is only growing as evidenced above.
Furthermore, universities have significant cultural capital, and their actions have a great influence over the broader society’s ethical views and sustainable practices. Particularly because they educate the leaders of our future and are the very institutions where much of our research and understanding about the climate crisis emerges. Currently, universities act to legitimise the industries of animal agriculture and fishing, and this needs to change.