Why we’re calling on catering services at the University of Cambridge to switch to a 100% vegetarian menu

view | Dhruv Makwana, PhD student in computer science at Trinity College and University Vegan activist in Cambridge, wrote about Student council vote calling for University Catering Services (UCS) to move to a 100 percent vegetarian menu.

Dhruv Makwana, PhD student.  Photo: Keith Hebel
Dhruv Makwana, PhD student. Photo: Keith Hebel

Despite our differences, many of us value similar things when it comes to our future and the future of our children: sustainability, food security, justice and compassion.

Yet the climate crisis we are facing threatens these, by endangering the lives of humans and animals alike who are vulnerable to greenhouse gas pollution in the air we breathe. Although most of us can understand how things like fossil fuels, transportation, steel manufacturing, and cement can contribute to pollution, an often overlooked cause is how our food is produced.

Animal husbandry and fishing interfere with what we value in myriad ways. It accounts for three-quarters of our farmland, but only provides a fifth of our calories and a third of our protein. Its emissions alone would exceed the 1.5°C carbon budget within 30 years. Industrial fishing, climate-induced droughts and floods drive societies into poverty, crime and emigration.

Animal husbandry enables people in high-income countries like ours to waste four to five times more food than if we ate crops directly, in a world where more than 800 million people globally face chronic food deprivation.

However, there is a way to not only slow the climate crisis but even partially reverse it. By transitioning to a plant-based diet, we can free up the land and oceans, help nature recreate itself and heal.

Not only would this sequester huge amounts of carbon, thus cooling the Earth, but it would also free farmed animals from the current conditions of torture; clean up, restore and return the jungle and oceans to wild animals; reduce the chances of a superbug or viral pandemic emerging; and achieving justice for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

Once one learns that a planned vegan diet is healthy for all walks of life, and up to a third cheaper, it becomes easy to see that it is a straightforward solution.

A reputable, innovative, and science-led institution like the University of Cambridge has a much stronger commitment than others to not only do something about the climate crisis, and use its privilege and influence to amplify the voices of those who are being overlooked, but also to lead by example and move University Catering Services (UCS) to a plant-based menu. by 100%. Given this commitment, the risks of inaction and the practical application of the solution, this step is a response commensurate with the magnitude of the challenges and injustices we face.

Recently, the University’s Student Council, made up of representatives from each college, voted in favor (72 per cent non-abstaining) of a Cambridge Students’ Union adopting exactly such a policy, after a month of deliberation within the colleges’ MCRs and JCRs. It was proposed by Plant Based Universities (PBU) Cambridge, a local chapter of a national campaign to move all universities to fair and sustainable catering services.

By itself, the vote sent a strong signal around the world about the seriousness of the issue and the social acceptance of the solution.

The vote was widely well received, which comes as no surprise: according to a recent SOS poll, 90 percent of UK students are very concerned about the climate crisis.

There has been some misinformation, usually about personal choice. Since the policy will increase sustainable options (as a current PhD student, I can attest there is hardly one most of the time) for students at the institutional level, and everyone will still be free to buy whatever they like from stores, colleges, and food carts or cook, the point does not stand up to scrutiny. .

Moreover, in the absence of literal coercion, every action someone takes is a personal choice—but as we’ve demonstrated, some choices are more harmful and less justifiable than others.

We at PBU Cambridge look forward to working with Cambridge SU and UCS, for a win-win strategy that meets the needs of catering staff, students and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

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