University campuses across the country are cutting meat from their canteen and cafe menus under pressure from growing numbers of vegan students and staff.
This year, more university cafeterias than ever are being replaced by exclusively vegan and vegetarian canteens, according to the university caterers’ organisation Tuco, while vegan organisations are reporting big increases in the numbers of activists pushing for meat-free food on campus.
“The majority of universities are now working towards dedicated vegetarian and vegan food outlets, and they’re all working on initiatives centred on plant-based cuisine, whether that be on hospitality menus to deliver catering or the offering to the students,” said Mike Haslin, Tuco’s chief executive.
The organisation describes veganism and conscientious consuming as “a mega-trend” among staff and students and estimates the amount of vegan students has more than quadrupled this year to a five-year high.
In some university canteens, red meat is already banned and the first university to do this, Cambridge, said this month that the decision it took three years ago – which applies to its campus cafes and hospitality events, but not university colleges – has had proven positive results for the environment.
It claims it has reduced its carbon emissions by 33% per kilogram of food purchased, after dropping red meat and “unsustainable” fish from its menus. “This has involved making sacrifices, but it has been absolutely the right thing to do,” said Nick White, head of catering.
This academic year Goldsmiths, University of London, will stop serving beef products and bottled water in its food outlets. “Our students and staff know that their lifestyle decisions have an impact on the world around them. We want to support these choices,” said Vanessa Gouws, head of commercial services. “Our ambition is for the university to be carbon neutral by 2025.”
Others, such as Leeds, are making plant-based food options available at all of their refectory counters for the first time.
Tony Williams, a 27-year-old campus rep for the animal rights organisation Peta at Sheffield university, said many of the students he meets are interested in trying vegan food: “I think, because you’re in that learning environment already, you are more open and curious.”
He works part-time in the university’s vegetarian cafe while studying for his degree in law and criminology. “I’ve seen first-hand just how many students are demanding vegan products. Just yesterday we sold out of vegan pies within the first hour of opening. And most university cafes, instead of just having one vegan option, will have three or four now.”
To whet the appetites of the vegan-curious, the organisations that promote meat-free living will be giving out food to students over the next few weeks. The Vegetarian Society is planning to send thousands of vegetarian and vegan food parcels to universities for Freshers’ Week. Record numbers of campus reps appointed by Peta will be distributing free vegan milk, yoghurt, cheese and tofu “meat” to students. The number of these reps has more than tripled over the past two years, the organisation says.
Last year, the most comprehensive study ever carried out on farming and climate change found that avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet. “With growing concerns around animal rights and climate change, young people are really starting to act upon these issues,” said Dominika Piasecka, spokeswoman for The Vegan Society.
Emma Heiling, 20, a former president of The Vegan Society at Cambridge, said some colleges have recently introduced “Veggie Mondays”, where all the meals are either vegetarian or vegan. She said her survey showed 70% of students and staff who responded liked that.