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Plant-Based Universities Campaign

Christina from the Plant-Based Universities campaign updates us on the brilliant work going on with the campaign across the UK and encourages students to get involved with supporting the transition to a sustainable, plant-based way of life for students and universities.

The Plant-Based Universities (PBU) campaign is a student-led decentralised movement where students demand a just and sustainable transition to a 100% plant-based catering system within their universities. The campaign is supported by Animal Rebellion, beginning in 2021, and is currently active in over 40 universities across the UK and Europe. Some recent achievements include: Stirling committed to 100% plant-based SU outlets by 2025​ and Queen Mary’s University London committed to 100% plant-based catering by 2028​.

PBU pushes for institutional changes because the world is rapidly approaching climate tipping points and a change to a plant-based society has been deemed an imperative​. Animal agriculture significantly contributes to the climate crisis through drastically higher emissions, land use, and water use, in comparison with plant-based agriculture​. Animal product production is the biggest cause of most environmental degradation such as deforestation, biodiversity loss, eutrophication, pollution, mass extinction, and ocean dead zones​. Animal-based food systems are extremely inefficient. It is important to acknowledge that even if fossil fuels were to be stopped completely today, it will still be impossible to prevent the worst effects of the climate crisis without transitioning to a plant-based food system​, which can free up to 76% of global farmland to be rewilded​, feed an additional 4 billion people​, see up to 51% reduction in emissions​, save up to 8 billion people by 2050 and 1.5 trillion USD from healthcare and climate damage​.

The PBU campaign at the University of York began at the start of 2023. We submitted a YUSUggestion to our student union around February for a 30-day voting period, achieving the highest number of net positive votes ever in YUSU history and the highest number of both positive and negative comments​. This highlighted the high level of engagement and also controversy on this topic amongst students, which is the primary reason for PBU's existence - to generate conversation. We have suggested many short-term goals to increase the availability of plant-based food leading up to the 100% transition goal in our conversation with YUSU, who are entering a consultation stage with students in the summer term following the success of our motion.

Like many other UK universities, the University of York declared a climate emergency in 2019 and claims to be committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030​. Yet, they are also amongst the 59% of UK universities that have failed their carbon emission reduction goal by 2021​. They need to do a lot more and transitioning to plant-based catering would substantially reduce their carbon footprint.

Although we have had much student support, we face some challenges. With student attitudes, the main problem we find is some apathy and fatalism about climate change. Some students feel that consuming animal products is simply a choice with little environmental impact. Others feel that their personal choices will be threatened by the omission of animal products on campus. In comparison to other changes, food is understandably more controversial due to its ties to personal habits, culture, and socialisation. Although the scientific evidence about animal agriculture is clear, this issue is often marginalised. This campaign aims to push agriculture to the forefront of the environmental agenda and public awareness.

There are a lot of things we must consider when we push for change. The catering facilities are concerned with the profitability and popularity of what they are selling, which can make them hesitant to modify their menus. We need to work with them to find changes that they can make. We are working on smaller changes, like improving the labelling for drinks and food, reducing the cost of plant-based alternatives, and increasing the plant-based options. The small changes are helpful as they help normalise plant-based diets and make them easier for students to try. It’s important to consult and engage with a range of people, especially those with dietary requirements and restrictions, to ensure that a plant-based campus is as inclusive as possible.

If you want to start a Plant-Based Universities campaign at your university, sign up through the linktree on @plantbasedunis on Instagram. For students who want to start a campaign, working with environment-related societies that will help spread the word is effective. The important steps are getting enough people to volunteer their time, spreading awareness at your university using outreach (outreach, posters, social media, chalking, etc.), and entering the democratic process at your student union (e.g. submitting a motion to be voted on).

If you are a student at the University of York, we encourage you to visit our Instagram @plantbaseduoy, where you can find our linktree with information about ways to get involved with our campaign. We have roles that involve different levels of commitment, from supporter, volunteer to core member. As this is a movement that relies on students for years to come to really implement the changes in our institute, please be sure to reach out if you are interested in being a part of our campaign.

About the Author: Christina Jones is a 2nd year social and political sciences undergraduate at the University of York. She enjoys going to the gym, cooking high-protein plant-based recipes, and reading non-fiction.

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