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The anti-meat agenda is coming for universities

Eating meat might be one of the only pleasures left at university. Credit: YouTube

September 6, 2023 - 1:30pm

Earlier this week, a new front opened in the war against meat in British universities. More than 650 academics have signed an open letter calling on higher education institutions to banish meat from campuses across the country.

“We are acutely aware — as you must be too — of the climate and ecological crises,” the academics write. “Not only this but we are also mindful that animal farming and fishing are leading drivers of them.” While they will generously allow “students and staff to bring whatever food they like on to campus”, they want universities to commit themselves to nothing less than 100% plant-based catering.

The anti-meat agenda is nothing new. Academics and Left-wing activists have been attempting to impose vegetarian or vegan diets on students for a decade or more. When I was a first-year student at Cambridge in 2017, Churchill College tried to implement “Meat Free Mondays” in a bid to improve its green credentials. After a protest barbecue hosted by the Monday Steak Club (founded by yours truly) and a college referendum, students rejected the idea. In April this year, students at Edinburgh similarly rejected a motion to ban meat from campus menus and for the university to become completely vegan by 2027.

Attempts to foist vegetarian or vegan diets onto students by force should be resisted wherever they arise because, even on their own terms, they’re a flawed idea. For one, the notion that meat is straightforwardly bad for the environment and vegan food straightforwardly good is far too simplistic. As Tom Bradshaw, the Deputy President of the National Farmers’ Union, has pointed out, it would be more productive for universities and other institutions to consider where they’re sourcing their food produce from. Air-transported fruit and veg, for example, can create more greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram than poultry meat.

By contrast, British beef and lamb are among the most sustainable meats anywhere in the world and come with minimal transport-related emissions. The evidence also suggests that properly managed pastureland can offset emissions produced in beef and lamb production through carbon sequestration. The best-managed farms can even become “carbon sinks” that remove more carbon from the atmosphere than they contribute. It would be far more profitable for universities to focus their considerable intellectual energies on these kinds of initiatives, rather than trying to enforce a lifestyle that barely 2% of people in this country subscribe to.

Of course, there’s also an important philosophical point to make — freedom of choice matters. Much modern environmental activism rests on the assumption that individuals are too ignorant to make sensible decisions and must therefore have their choices outsourced to an all-powerful and supposedly benevolent authority. The dangers of such ways of thinking are obvious. 

Spare a thought in this debate for students themselves, who are getting an increasingly miserable deal out of their university years. More expensive than ever. No guarantee of getting a bed to sleep in. Seemingly constant strikes and disturbances to a declining academic experience. The possibility of not even being given a graded degree. A grim job market upon graduation. And now, potentially, not even the solace of steak and chips on a Saturday night. Who would want to be a student today?


Harry Clynch is a journalist based in London, mainly covering global financial markets and international affairs. He is the Features Editor for Disruption Banking, and has also written for The Spectator.

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
10 months ago

It would be far more profitable for universities to focus their considerable intellectual energies on these kinds of initiatives, rather than trying to enforce a lifestyle that barely 2% of people in this country subscribe to.
I think universities’ funding should be cut, since it’s clear they have far too much time on their hands. Apparently, they’re doing so well at their primary function–the education of young adults and the transmission of our cultural heritage–that they have time left over to devote themselves to frivolous crap.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago

It seems that huge numbers of employees in public sector organisations dislike their jobs so much, that rather than actually doing those jobs – they just f**k about playing trendy culture wars instead. Even worse, it seems obvious that their managers are equally inflicted.

David Renton
David Renton
10 months ago

if universities ban meat, then the Uni cafes/restaurant/canteens will close as people will just go to the nearest pub, McD’s. i suspect food is an important source of revenue for Universities, that as you say 2% will not sustain

John Riordan
John Riordan
10 months ago

“Much modern environmental activism rests on the assumption that individuals are too ignorant to make sensible decisions and must therefore have their choices outsourced to an all-powerful and supposedly benevolent authority. The dangers of such ways of thinking are obvious. ”

It very clearly isn’t obvious at all, and I suspect that the dangers of authoritarianism do need spelling out in excruciating detail to most people under 40 years of age. It isn’t really young people’s fault that they uncritically accept mad ideas that the more experienced among us know to be dangerous nonsense: they’ve been radicalised at school and university, and consequently have no real idea how viciously destructive high-minded utopian ideas can become once they start to be enforced against people’s will.

Let’s stop thinking that certain things go without saying. They don’t: the arguments need to be had out again.

Last edited 10 months ago by John Riordan
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
10 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I blame their bosses for not “helping them” grow up.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
10 months ago
Reply to  John Riordan

I fully agree.
We need a Re-Enlightenment.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
10 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Indeed we need a thousand Voltaires hammering home the enlightenment message to overturn the new obscurantist orthodoxy of the essentially authoritarian and anti-scientific thinking of the woke religion.

Last edited 10 months ago by Jeremy Bray
David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago
Reply to  Jeremy Bray

Er – was the irony intended? While there is no proof that Voltaire was actually vegetarian – he was clearly extremely sympathetic.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
10 months ago

I am appalled by this campaign of nutritional bullying . The “Plant Based Universities Campaign” does not merely want to withdraw meat from university canteens, it also apparently wants to do away with dishes using eggs, cheese, milk, fish and honey. When I was a university student I needed student canteens in order to keep myself fed. If these lunatics get their way, there will be a wave of malnutrition among students in their teens and twenties who have not signed up to living on a vegan diet.

AC Harper
AC Harper
10 months ago

What the political left, even in democratic countries, share is the notion that knowledgeable and virtuous people like themselves have both a right and a duty to use the power of government to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on others.
~ Thomas Sowell
There are simply too many people who want to impose their superior knowledge and virtue on everybody else and feel safe to do so because they are surrounded by like minded colleagues.
Can you imagine the furore if the majority meat eaters insisted that vegetarians and vegans should be obliged to eat meat? It’s another demonstration that the tolerant majority are always at a disadvantage when dealing with intolerant minorities.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
10 months ago

I’m always shocked when I read articles like this, but I shouldn’t be. Universities have become home for intellectual lightweights who are more interested in enforcing ideological matching orders than the pursuit of truth. Ten years ago students were allowed to vote on such nonsense. It won’t be long before it is imposed in them.

Ben Scott
Ben Scott
10 months ago

Scrap the whole plant based = healthy myth. Plant based meat alternatives are made in a lab from chemicals.

Allow me to clarify for these over-qualified half wits:

If you want to be nutritionally healthy eat as many single ingredient foods as possible.

If you want to be environmentally friendly eat locally produced foods.

Combine the above and you’ve nailed it. Congratulations

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
10 months ago

They have become such strange esoteric institutions, modern universities. I’m sure the generation(s) reared on the Harry Potter mythos have much to do with this turn towards the old arts.
They are already breeding strange Idealist philosophies about the transubstantiation of alternative sexual identities and mystical transracial alternative history. I actually think they might go further and retreat into their old medieval interests as academies for alchemy, witchcraft and other Hermetic wisdoms.
Either way, they are definitely the problem rather than the solution.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
10 months ago

We have far too many universities for the spoilt kids of the middle class and far too little decent housing for useful people like nurses, paramedics and fork lift drivers.

The solution is obvious.

Simon S
Simon S
10 months ago

All I can say is that I think we should form an Unherd Commenters (Commentators?) Reform Club to add our on-tap voice against attempts to foist this globally-driven, woke and totalitarian boulderdash upon us. I write this, in all due humility for my good fortune and privilege, having just eaten raw, locally farmed, grass-fed, beef (mixed with an egg yolk) in rural Brittany.

Nuala Rosher
Nuala Rosher
10 months ago

Money will win in the end. They are not going to finance loss making cafeterias

David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago

Much modern environmental activism rests on the assumption that individuals are too ignorant to make sensible decisions and must therefore have their choices outsourced to an all-powerful and supposedly benevolent authority.

So does much of modern life: hence speed limits, planning controls, indeed much of the law, not to mention various social pressures. And the justification is the same – the activities of individuals come with externalities: costs which others must bear.

You may think this is going too far, and I’m inclined to agree, but you can’t base your argument on it being wrong to stop people from doing just what they want because there are wider consequences.

Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin
10 months ago

Most plant based foods are ultra processed and are of little use nutritionally to humans. It is one of the reasons it has been a flop in Supermarkets. The public don’t like the texture or taste. Even the milk alternatives fall into this bracket. But the people pushing Plant based foods won’t give up. Their zealotry knows no bounds.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
10 months ago

I suspect that Harry and his very strange chums didn’t have too many friends back in their university days.

Paul T
Paul T
10 months ago

The voice of experience.

David Morley
David Morley
10 months ago

To be honest he does sound a bit of a tw:t.

Andrew Wise
Andrew Wise
10 months ago

Plant Based Meat … next year’s RAAC concrete when we work out highly processed food is bad for us.

Edward H
Edward H
10 months ago

For every beef steak I eat, I estimate that enough grass is saved to feed a vegan for a year. They should be thanking us omnivores.

Ed Paice
Ed Paice
10 months ago

These so-called ‘academics’ who signed the letter would do well to concentrate harder on their research and teaching and less on political activism as they are mostly funded by the taxpayer. Furthermore, their letter is mostly infantile drivel.

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
10 months ago

Editor, why has my comment been held back while others have gone up?

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
10 months ago
Reply to  Dick Barrett

It’s the Eternal Mystery…solve it and you rule the world!

Dick Barrett
Dick Barrett
10 months ago

OK now, it went up.

Apex Predator
Apex Predator
10 months ago

Let them eat professors.

Derrick Milton
Derrick Milton
10 months ago

Many Canadians foolishly blame cows for the climate crisis. We have a strong anti-meat crowd here too. People forget that the plains of N. America were home to over 100 million bison before European settlement. There are fewer than 100 million cattle in N. America now. There were many other herds of farting and belching animals here as well; millions of caribou, elk, mountain sheep and goats, and deer provided tons of methane and CO2 without causing a global catastrophe. There were probably twice as many farters here before Europeans arrived. It is not cows per se that add significantly to climate change, but how and where they are raised that matters. Destroying rainforests in the Amazon or south Asia for cattle makes no sense. Raising cattle on the grasslands of the Canadian prairies is probably the most environmentally sensible use of that land. Simplistic, virtue signalling proclamations such as “don’t eat meat” do more harm than good.