Vegan activism is sucking the fun out of student life
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.
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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?