It is said that university will be the best three years of your life. That very much depends on how you spend them. I will say this though, university can be one of the most formative experiences that you will go through – for better or for worse.
For many of us who chose that route, university was the first time we spent living away from our parents, the first time we had real autonomy and something resembling adult-like responsibility.
University is therefore also the prime time to go vegan. I should know, I went vegetarian just prior to starting university and vegan shortly after. University exposed me to new ideas and to people that I might never have heard about otherwise.
Students are also leading the way with veganism: according to research by Magnet, students are six times more likely to be vegan than their parents.
So, what’s the big deal with veganism in universities?
Independence is the name of the game
If you’re anything like me, the independence of university was both exciting and daunting – at least, for the first few weeks. Doing the first ‘big’ food shop to stock up on supplies was in equal parts fun and confusing – how do I start building up a repertoire of recipes and ingredients from scratch? What do I need to eat to survive?
I wish now that I had known about Vegan Recipe Club, but, for the most part, I was ‘flying blind’. That meant a lot of beans on toast at the start, but meals got a little more interesting pretty quickly. As a young, single, self-catering person lucky enough to have no other dietary requirements and who was now doing all his own shopping, I was perfectly placed to reinvent the cheese wheel that was (formerly) my diet.
After the first few weeks, an enjoyable and varied plant-based diet was as easy as anything I’d eaten before.
Why are students so keen to be green?
One thing that made it easy to transition at the time that I did was the fact that I was surrounded by a great many like-minded people. That is not to say that I was surrounded by vegans (though there were a few) – but, as part of Generation Z, I did find myself in amongst a crowd of vegetarians and flexitarians who, like me, were often trying out plant milks and vegan meats.
They, like me, were concerned about their environmental and ethical footprints, and wanted to do something about it. The history of social awareness stretches back particularly to campus activism in the 1960s and 70s in the US, UK and elsewhere, with students and academics being some of the most voracious protestors campaigning about nuclear weapons, war, civil rights and racism, women’s rights, animal liberation and, more recently, LGBT rights and the climate crisis.
Partly as a result of this, many universities around the UK now have their very own vegan societies, many of which engage in activism and outreach. In fact, vegan societies are the best place to meet new people and build your very own vegan support network! Want to lament the lack of plant-based options at your favourite study spot to sympathetic ears? Want to look for recipe suggestions or get opinions on the best vegan cheese? Well, you’ve come to the right place!
If you’ve been waiting for the right time and place to explore veganism further, there’s almost nowhere more suited to it than university.
After all, university provides the perfect environment to reinvent and better yourself, in the free-spirited, creative atmosphere that neither school nor the ordinary workplace offers. Take a leap – try vegan!
What more can I do?
Of course, if your university doesn’t have a vegan society, you can always start one. Gather a few vegans that you know, or go hunting via social media, and ask your student union how to set up a society. Put together a term card (I can recommend pot-lucks, film screenings and vegan picnics – as well as non-veganism-related activities!) and invite vegans and non-vegans alike!
For those who live in catered halls of residence, the chances are that the vegan options available to you might leave a little something to be desired. This is not necessarily true everywhere, mainstream vegan food provision has come a long way, but it has some way left to go in many places.
This is why Viva! have produced a brand-new (and totally free) Vegan-Friendly University Catering Guide aimed at helping your catering departments provide for plant-based students.
Staying educated on topics of animal rights, animal welfare, farming practices, climate science (and climate catastrophe!), human health and nutrition is also key to being an effective activist in many situations. Viva!’s blog and educational resources aim to help arm people like yourselves with all the facts you might need to know – whether you’re talking to caterers, academics, fellow students, people on the street, or trying to explain to your family during the holidays (often at length!) why you decided to go vegan and where you get your protein!
If you’re comfortable and confident enough, you can even organise your own activism events. Many universities up and down the country are lively hubs for activism, from causes like environmentalism and conservation to animal rights and social justice. Vegans promote a solution to so many different problems that there are doubtless those willing to throw their hats in the ring and get involved with your events.
You can set up petitions, share them on social media, schedule open meetings, and even demonstrations in the street. If you need advice or resources, just get in touch with Viva!. As the UK’s leading vegan campaigning charity, we are very willing to lend a helping hand to students wanting to make a difference (at no cost to you, of course!). Nobody knows all the answers when they first start out – activism is a live-and-learn, trial-and-error process!
Ultimately, there is no bad time to go vegan. Environmental researcher, Joseph Poore, describes going vegan as “probably the single biggest way” to protect the planet, and we know that each individual who refuses to fund the animal agriculture industries chips away at the edifice of animal suffering more and more. Will you be the straw that breaks the camel farmers’ backs?
Every day, more and more people are making the switch, either step-by-step or all-at-once, all across the country. Whenever you go vegan, you won’t be alone – but this is especially true in our universities. At the time of writing, thousands of students across the UK are gearing up to start the next phase of their lives, and, statistically, a great many of these will end up journeying towards veganism in one way or another.
If you care about the planet, about animals, about human health, and about preventing the next zoonotic pandemic – why not join all the other thousands upon thousands of students who will go vegan this year?