How to Improve Vegan Options at Your University: A Guide for Students
Students: would you like to see your university catering departments become more ethical, more sustainable, and healthier for all? Read on to find out how you can be the change.
A recent YouGov poll has shown that 55 per cent of UK students support a move towards plant-based. Two million people in the UK now identify as vegans, seven million as vegetarians, and as many as 20 million are flexitarian. These numbers are all rapidly growing – especially among the student population.
As climate change becomes more pressing, and as organisations like Viva! uncover the realities behind factory farming, the tide of public opinion is certainly changing. Unfortunately, many of our university catering departments do not reflect this change as accurately as we would like.
Thankfully, there are pockets of activists and change-makers across the UK – again, especially in our universities and amongst young people like yourself – who are willing to put in a little legwork to make change happen. If you want to make your contribution, keep reading! You will not be alone.
First of all, reach out to your university’s vegetarian, vegan, and environmental societies – there, you will find like-minded individuals who are willing to build a support network for creating real change on campus. You can also join Viva!’s university outreach programme for university-specific resources and direct support.
Through Viva!, a diversity of resources can be accessed to support activists and the spread of plant-based foods for the benefit of humans, animals, and the environment. For example, Viva!’s Easy Guide to Plant-Based Substitutes contains a diversity of fantastic alternatives to suggest to your catering departments. We have even produced an entire Vegan-Friendly University Catering Guide specifically aimed at your university catering staff – for free!
But how exactly can students support transitions towards improved vegan catering, you ask? By following these five steps!
…the current circumstances and progress of your university. Look at the menus of your various university outlets. How are the vegan options? Find out which staff are responsible for catering. Who would be effective first points of contact? (We recommend staff like the Head of Catering, Head Chef, or Sustainability Officers.) Their contact information should be accessible through the university guild/student union website.
2. Write a letter…
…to the appropriate staff at your university. Viva! has created sample letter templates for you to edit. Remember: it’s always a good idea to praise a department’s strengths as well as criticise their weaknesses. For example, ‘The vegan burger at [outlet] is very popular but plant milks and meat substitutes should be cheaper and more varied’. It’s often helpful to get environmentally-oriented staff (like a sustainability lecturer) or alumni to add their names as signatories, too. They don’t need to be involved in further campaigning – just having their names behind the cause is enough!
3. Start a petition…
…to attach to your letter. The petition can be very similar to the letter in that it states the importance of vegan-friendly catering, encouraging your university to adopt plant-based catering and to use ‘Viva!s Vegan-Friendly University Catering Guide.’ By creating local awareness, petitions are strong incentives for university catering to improve vegan options and reduce animal products on campus. We recommend using www.38degrees.org.uk or www.change.org because digital petitions can be easily shared among students, societies, staff, and alumn
4. Organise a meeting…
…with said university staff after you have received a response from them. This allows you to gain valuable insight into the staff’s perspectives and to further advocate your proposal if their response is less than satisfying. Be prepared for disagreement and compromise here and there, but also remember that you have the knowledge, evidence, and communal support to drive effective change at your university. By the same token, staff members don’t want to be shouted at!
We highly recommend encouraging your university catering staff to adopt ‘Viva!’s Vegan-Friendly University Catering Guide’ which contains all the information a catering team needs to expand and innovate its menu to cater to the growing community of vegans and vegetarians. Perhaps suggest termly catch-up meetings to keep track of progress.
5. Share your successes…
…and promote it on social media to inspire other students/staff to take positive action and facilitate more ethical and sustainable food options at their universities!
Along with the support of your fellow students and staff, remember that Viva! is available to provide you with guidance and you can contact us… for any help that you may need along the way.