Cambridge students push for entirely vegan menu

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Students at Cambridge University have chosen to advocate for an entirely vegan menu for all of the university’s food options. The Cambridge Student Union has decided to “initiate talks” with central catering services about eliminating all animal products from its cafes and canteens in order to develop a menu that is “sustainable and 100 percent plant-based”. The decision was reached following lobbying by the Extinction Rebellion-affiliated activist group Animal Rebellion and Cambridge’s Plant-Based Universities campaign.

72% of the student representatives who did not abstain supported the group’s resolution, which requests the change in response to “climate and biodiversity challenges”.

The decision of the student union does not, however, mean that Cambridge’s catering services will automatically adopt a purely vegan diet as the university retains the authority to alter its dietary guidelines.

The university’s 31 colleges are also not immediately impacted by the vote, despite the campaign’s claim that it gave them “an extremely strong mandate for colleges to begin transitioning to 100% plant-based menus”.

William Smith, 24, from the Cambridge branch of the Plant-Based Universities Campaign, praised the move, which he hopes will allow students to implement a “just” and “sustainable” plant-based catering service.

He said: “By removing animal products from its menus, the university could significantly reduce its environmental impact and showcase to the world its commitment to sustainability.”

While he acknowledged the University Catering Services had “already made important strides” by removing beef and lamb from its menus in 2016, he said students are eager to collaborate with them on the “next necessary steps”.

According to the motion, an entirely plant-based global food system could reduce the amount of land needed for cultivation by 75 percent. The land could then be rewilded to absorb as much carbon dioxide as is currently released each year through the use of fossil fuels.

The nationwide Plant-Based Colleges campaign was started by students who want to see all food served at their colleges and student unions come from plants.

According to the group, universities are required to implement scientific studies that they conduct on the effects of fishing and animal farming on the environment. 

More than 40 colleges are participating in the campaign, and the organisation is urging interested students to sign up to coordinate regional efforts.

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A study by the University of Cambridge of over 94,000 cafeteria meal options has found that doubling the proportion of vegetarian options – from one in four to two in four – increased the proportion of plant-based purchases by 40-80 percent without affecting overall food sales.

“Shifting to a more plant-based diet is one of the most effective ways of reducing the environmental footprint of food,” said study lead author Emma Garnett, a conservationist and PhD candidate from Cambridge’s Department of Zoology. 

She added: “Replacing some meat or fish with more vegetarian options might seem obvious, but as far as we know no one had tested it before. Solutions that seem obvious don’t always work, but it would appear that this one does.”

Co-author Theresa Marteau, Professor of Behaviour and Health at Cambridge, said: “Education is important but generally ineffective at changing diets. Meat taxes are unpopular. Altering the range of available options is more acceptable and offers a powerful way to influence the health and sustainability of our diets.”

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