Leacsaidh Macdonald Marlow
Student-led Plant-Based Universities is a national campaign supported by Animal Rising which has branches within over 70 universities. Leacsaidh Macdonald Marlow explores the UK-based campaign which began in 2021 with the intention of encouraging universities to tackle climate change through plant-based eating.
Plant-Based Universities emphasise the importance of running campaign groups within universities: universities not only have a massive influence but they are also responsible for the education of future workers. They have an ‘obligation to follow the research they produce’ regarding climate change, land use and sustainability.
On September 4th, Plant-Based Universities published an open letter demanding UK universities switch to an entirely plant-based catering system in order to better work towards sustainability and tackling climate change. The main crux of the letter is that academics are “acutely aware of the climate and ecological crises”, as well as demonstrating their belief in the importance of implementing sustainable, plant-based eating on campuses because “animal farming and fishing are leading drivers” of these crises.
60 of these signatures came from the University of Nottingham
On September 5th, following the publication of the letter, Plant-Based Universities wrote a press release including quotes from many well-known and influential academics and workers who had signed the open letter themselves and were encouraging others to do the same. The open letter now has over 900 signatures predominantly from academics, but including those from other professions such as healthcare workers. 60 of these signatures came from the University of Nottingham. Notable figures who signed the letter include: Zack Polanski, the Deputy Leader of the Green Party, and Will McCallum and Areeba Hamid, the Co-Executive Directors of Greenpeace.
I just signed a petition from @plantbasedunis calling on universities to transition to 100% plant-based catering to tackle the climate and nature crises. It’ll boost student health too of course. And help prevent animal abuse.— Dale Vince (@DaleVince) September 4, 2023
Animal farming is a major driver of the climate… https://t.co/Lkwt0sC1xd
As a result of this open letter and the general traction that the campaign has gained, multiple UK universities are announcing their intention to switch to plant-based catering and are beginning to document their transition. In an article written for the university’s newspaper on September 12th, Julia Benko and Ross Collie of Stirling University describe the changes being made to their university’s catering as a direct result of their campaigning for a more sustainable system. Stirling University’s Student Union is the first to commit to fully phasing out non plant-based food options, and it is hoped by many across the UK that other universities will follow suit.
As many who signed the letter explained, one of the largest issues exacerbating the climate crisis currently is the inefficient and excessive use of farmland; with studies showing that livestock farming currently accounts for 77% of global land use, while only producing 18% of the global population’s consumable calories.
universities simply cannot reach their own sustainability goals without switching on-campus catering to a plant-based system
As a whole, the campaign aims to educate students and employees of UK universities with regards to their role in tackling climate change, encouraging people to get involved in the fight to make their university more sustainable. With one of the campaign’s key mantras being to align universities’ actions with the scientific studies that they themselves are conducting into climate change, it’s important to note that the vast majority of academics who signed the open letter will have done so in the knowledge that their university is contradicting their own publications with regards to the necessary climate action which must be taken.
Findings from a massive global study of farming (Dr Poore and Dr Nemecek) show that “beyond all reasonable doubt, the production of animal products is causing enormous damage to our climate…it’s evident our insecure, unsafe and unfit-for-purpose food system cannot continue unchecked.”
The Plant-Based Universities campaign does not intend to bar people from eating what they wish on campus – any and all food may still be brought onto campus by staff and students. However, it makes clear that universities simply cannot reach their own sustainability goals without switching on-campus catering to a plant-based system.
Leacsaidh MacDonald Marlow
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