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!

1. Research…

…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!

Sample Letter

Dear [Head of Catering and/or Head of Sustainability],

We hope this email finds you well! We are very pleased to see that [the University of…] is affirming its commitment to environmental sustainability, this is increasingly important as the climate crisis worsens.

A million species are currently living under threat from human activity, deforestation is ravaging the natural world and atmospheric carbon is pushing sea levels and temperatures ever upwards. We must do something about it – and that is why we are sending you this letter on behalf of the undersigned students, staff and societies.

For these reasons and others – including personal health and animal welfare – more and more people are adopting plant-based diets. This is especially common in universities: according to research by Magnet, students are up to six times more likely to be vegan than their parents. The UK now has over two million vegans, seven million vegetarians¹, and around 20 million flexitarians².

In addition, 55 per cent of students (and growing) would like to see more plant-based options in university catering outlets³.

According to the United Nations, animal agriculture is: “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”⁴ Locally-sourced animal products are not the solution, as they are significantly worse for the environment than even the most unsustainable plant-based products.⁵

Joseph Poore, an environmental researcher at the University of Oxford, summed up his research conclusions in 2018 by stating, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth.“⁶

In response to the research and latest consumer trends, many universities are starting to make significant changes in their catering strategies. The University of Cambridge cut out beef and lamb entirely from its menu back in 2016 to great effect.⁷ More recently, University College London made oat milk the default option in all its cafés while King’s College London opened an entirely plant-based café.⁸

We are asking that the [University of…] adapts its menus to reflect its commitment to inclusivity and environmental sustainability. We strongly encourage you to utilise ‘Viva!s Vegan-Friendly University Catering Guide’, a free and comprehensive guide to developing vegan-friendly menus. We would also be very keen to work as representatives of the student plant-based movement to meet with you and discuss the above.

Thank you for your time and consideration, and we look forward to working with you in the future.

Yours sincerely,

[Students, staff, societies]


  1. Waitrose and Partners. 2018-19. Food and Drink Report
  2. NatCen, 2016. NatCen Social Research
  3. Tuco. 2019. UniVe website launched for students to rate their university’s vegan meals, as new poll shows 55% of students would like to see more plant-based options in their university canteens
  4. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s long shadow
  5. Ritchie, 2020. You want to reduce the carbon footprint of your food? Focus on what you eat, not whether your food is local – Our World in Data
  6. Carrington D. 2018. Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth
  7. The University of Cambridge Environment and Energy Team. 2019. Our Sustainable Food Journey
  8. King’s College London. 2022. Sustainable Food and Drink

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 or 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.

Good luck!

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