Image source: Wikicommons
Universities, as leaders in cultural discourse, policy development, leadership training, and advancements in science and technology, are in a unique position to occupy the cutting edge of social change and problem solving. With the UK heating to record levels year after year, natural disasters increasing in number and severity the world over, and pollution remaining at epidemic levels, universities, as recipients of public funds, are in the crucial and privileged position to curtail further disaster. British students agree, launching the Plant-based University campaign in 2021 to collaborate with universities in the creation of actionable sustainability efforts. For student campaigners and their university allies, this initiative starts at the most unassuming place: the lunch plate.
Although British media, the UK government, and animal-based industries continue to marginalize the role of animal-based food production in exasperating climate change, scholars and scientists have drawn on peer-reviewed academic research to highlight the clear relationship between animal-based consumption and environmental disaster. This professional body is stepping into the collaboration as well. Over 850 (at the time of this writing), academics, nonprofit leaders, medical experts, politicians, and scientists have signed an open letter to UK universities to express their solidarity with student activists who are appealing for immediate and meaningful action to curtail the growing climate crisis.
Student activism has been at the forefront of social change since the 1960s, but the plant-based university campaign marks a rare occasion in which faculty and professionals have offered large scale and wide-reaching support. And, while the backing of individuals is key, the students have also been able to utilize institutional democratic channels to platform their voices and transform these demands into concrete changes in higher education. The Plant-Based University campaign has already made headway at Cambridge University, Sterling University, and the London School of Economics. At my University of Kent, students have also voted for a transition to plant-based catering starting with the student union and expected to encompass the entire campus in the coming years. As students and professionals have underscored, plant-based eating is the most economical choice, as well as the most environmentally sustainable. It is also healthier for all human populations regardless of cultural or medical background, and it significantly reduces harm imposed on other animals. As universities move to embed sustainability in the curricula, aim for carbon neutrality, and take the lead in food justice, these efforts to green campus food systems will be welcome and impactful endeavors.
Readers can learn more about the institutional politics of veganism in my 2016 publication, A Rational Approach to Animal Rights.
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