News Writer Jacob Dawson discusses the Plant Based University movement

Written by Jacob Dawson
UOB first year International Relations student, 19, West Yorkshire. Interests - Volleyball, Tae Kwon Do, Politics, History and Energy.
Images by Davor Nisevic

Plant Based Universities is a student led organisation operating over forty UK universities with the sole aim of making catering in universities 100% plant based to reduce university contributions to the climate crisis. The group has seen remarkable success in recent times with the biggest win taking place at the University of Cambridge where activists led a vote to enter talks with the catering team to remove all animal products in their menus. This followed a landmark vote in the University of Stirling where students voted for their student union to transition to 100% plant based catering by 2025. 

The organisation follows a simple three step campaign plan in order to achieve their aims, this includes ‘Research and Engaging with the Student Population, Engaging with University and Student Union Internal Democratic Processes and Direct Action- based on necessity.’

Plant based universities has been subjected to criticism and even verbal abuse

Despite work by the organisation to hold healthy debates with students on both sides of the issue, plant based universities have been subjected to criticism and even verbal abuse in some cases. Activists at the University of Stirling had notes pinned to the doors of their private accommodation saying ‘Dear Vegans, please stop forcing veganism on the uni’. 

PBU accept the need for non-violent direct action in their attempt to solve one of the major issues which they argue drives climate change and the ecocide. This works in tandem with PBU’s focus on education and student democracy, like other climate movements this often involves talking to students on the street about their agenda and building a strong grassroots support which is then used in student union votes to promote their agenda. This strategy has so far been making breakthroughs in Universities up and down the UK with some notable wins in Cambridge and an upcoming vote at the Guild of Students at the University of Birmingham. 

YouGov polling highlights that as of January 2023 up to 25% of the population would consider themselves vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian

With the climate crisis escalating day by day, Plant Based Universities is highlighting what they see as one of the main drivers of the climate crisis while aiming to tackle it in a way which has democratic processes and healthy debate at its heart. Despite criticism from students arguing that Plant Based Universities are restricting the choice of students to have meat on campus, they acknowledge that they are in fact not pursuing an outright ban of animal products on university campuses. Movements like these could be argued to be essential in the effort to drive universities to take sustainability more seriously, rather than treating it as something we can kick down the road for years to come.  

With veganism, vegetarianism and allergy friendly food needs all on the rise in the UK movements towards providing more low cost plant based options are being welcomed, YouGov polling highlights that as of January 2023 up to 25% of the population would consider themselves as vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian or flexitarian. At the University of Birmingham small steps have already been taken to provide more vegan and vegetarian options on campus, oat milk will now be the default option at one campus outlet. 

By pursuing a vegan and vegetarian agenda on campuses up and down the country, Plant Based Universities are contributing heavily to a growing student movement concerned with pioneering sustainability and radical climate action through means of collective action and student democracy. 

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