Students at Cambridge University in England have voted for vegan only menus as part of the Plant Based Universities campaign. This was hailed as a progressive development and celebrated around the world as an inspiration for further conversion of student communities to sustainable plant based diets. Back home one Irish media broadcaster focused on the vote with local Irish students for plant based universities…
The Cambridge Students’ Union voted on Monday to hold talks about removing all animal products from its cafes and canteens with the university’s catering services. The campaign said it provided “an extremely strong mandate for colleges to begin transitioning to 100% plant-based menus”. The Plant-Based Universities campaign is an initiative across Britain where students are pushing for their universities and student unions to adopt fully plant-based catering. It has offshoots at more than 40 institutions. The group’s motion, which calls for the change in response to “climate and biodiversity crises”, was backed by 72% of non-abstaining student representatives who voted after a four-week consultation process. It comes after lobbying from Cambridge’s Plant-Based Universities campaign, which is supported by Animal Rebellion.
As news of the democratic decision by student bodies about what they want to eat in their university broke here in Ireland some local mainstream media were quick to try to spin what is essentially a positive story about young people using their power to implement practical, ecological, and ethical changes within their communities into a debate about “choice” and restrictions on personal freedoms! NewsTalk FM’s Lunchtime Live phone-in show did a segment called Should College Campuses Go Fully Vegan? Its presenter, Andrea Gilligan, started by asking listeners, specifically Irish college students, how they would feel about having “no choice in the colleges” because its catering went vegan.
Kaley Nolan from The Vegan Society, University College Cork was one of the guests on that segment. She is involved with a similar campaign to the British Plant Based Universities’ among third level campus students in Ireland. It is also an attempt to switch college menus over to plant based vegan foods. Kaley told Andrea and listeners that “most people are familiar with vegan meals in this day and age” and it would not be a shock among third level students to see healthy and sustainable menus replace animal based foods on the campus. Reasonable arguments by Kaley left little room for rebuttal and the show’s producers probably decided it was all too logical, sensible and coherent. Upon returning from their ad break, the show’s segment took a clichéd turn when it tried to pitch a farmer against a vegan.
An articulate and informed Jenna from the University of Galway Vegan Society, who is doing a masters degree in Climate Change and agriculture, said that animal agriculture is not sustainable and that these are the facts driving a desire for vegan options at universities among students. Afterwards, Mike, who said he was a dairy and beef farmer, was brought on. He expressed that he is worried about the pace vegans are advancing at. He had no problem with any vegans as long as they keep their mouth shut. Presumably he said this in a good-dining-manner kind of way to remind vegans to chew with our mouths closed? Maybe, like when vegans are eating in front of him in their all vegan cafes and all vegan university canteens? It was at this point though that the segment lost the plot and became a total diatribe against veganism where plant based options were conflated with bad airplane menus, unemployment and a bad time out at a night club. Jessica the final contributor said vegan food was a death sentence for nut allergy sufferers and excludes them from third level education to which Andrea, the presenter, responded by saying that was a fair point… You can listen to the segment in the following link – NewsTalk FM’s Lunchtime Live show. Be warned though. Hearing the excellent and persuasive points for sustainable diets and vegan food made by Kaley and Jenna was wholesome and compelling. Listening to the anti-vegan cohort that NewsTalk roped into this segment may be damaging to your health.
One thing Mike got correct is that there is no sign of these students’ efforts for plant based vegan food and sustainable diets slowing down anytime soon. Kaley from UCC Vegan Society told listeners about an Irish gathering of students, activists and campaigners for Plant Based Universities happening at UCC in March. If you want more information on that, go follow @UCCVegsoc on Instagram for updates, email firstname.lastname@example.org or click here for their current campaigns.
It is easy to laugh at the disingenuous anti vegan and anti progressive sentiments expressed by these shows and their contributors. The radio stations like NewsTalk are after all owned by billionaires and it is the boring billionaires that are responsible for the climate crisis. These radio shows select traditional conservatives to phone in. Conservatives talk about students wanting to do something to alleviate the climate crisis by campaigning for vegan catering in their schools as they would talk about climate striking students, anti-fossil fuel students, students for homes, students for LGTBTQ+ Rights, and feminists. In their view these students are a homogenous group advancing something they don’t like, what the transphobic conspiracy theorists and Climate Crisis denying conservatives – call “cultural Marxism” a made up coded term for progressive movements. They think students are using vegan Shepard-less pies, plant based sausage rolls and plant milks as trojan horses to do it.
And we do laugh at them… However, we can acknowledge that the genuinely small working farmer in Ireland has genuine struggles. They say they are forgotten about. They are often used as a rallying symbol by dairy and beef industry lobbyists in a performative way. When they are in a very real way caught up by unethical finance and economic systems, exploited by billionaire meat barons, required to work long tedious hours in isolated and hazardous settings. Around half of all Irish farmers suffer from depression and there is a high suicide risk associated within farming communities. We can’t deny the facts: the agricultural sector is the single biggest emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases in Ireland, making up about 37% of all emissions, according to the latest data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Rather than get goaded into divisive and rigged slinging matches by billionaire owned phone-in radio shows (and to be clear these student campaigners for plant based vegan universities did not allow this) the facts can be presented in straight up and creative ways. Facts speak loudest and are unarguable. This doesn’t mean we must take ridicule, blatant lies or abuse from vested interest or animal using industry spokes people. We should never do that.
We can try to find connection with small farmers if the opportunity arises because billionaires threaten us all. The ideas of Climate justice, Animal Rights, veganism and a transition to a range of alternative activities on our lands, like growing food crops to feed populations, community orchards, allotments and community veganic farms can be forwarded. We can imagine Irish university vegan canteens and cafes supplied with fruits and vegetables from local Irish farms as part of a transition to plant based food systems for everyone. Where students’ caloric intake is primarily gotten from Irish grown plant based foods and students know their growers by their names and take part in the organising and running of their local food systems too. Imagine how Irish farmers would find themselves respected, valued and cherished. Imagine a radio segment with a happy plant based veganic farmer talking together with students about their pride in feeding their young community and growing sustainable food together for everyone.
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