Giving you the insight into matters directly related to student life is the Pi Comment column, Spotlight: UCL, Universities and Young People, where our team of columnists the tackle issues affecting students today. As Veganuary draws to a close, Cathy Meyer-Funnel discusses the tactics used by proponents of veganism to promote a vegan lifestyle.
When going to buy food in one of the uni cafes, the choice appears relatively varied – sandwiches, pasta, salads, curries – something to cater to almost every taste or dietary requirement. One trend that is now starting to break through is the growing enthusiasm for veganism, gradually filtering through our Instagram feeds and into our local high street. Even the infamous processed meat haven of Greggs has brought out a vegan sausage roll that has proved so popular it has sold out practically everywhere. At UCL, while our Vegetarian and Vegan Society laments the lack of substantial choice for vegans on campus, it has a list on their website of good quality nearby options of both specialist vegan outlets and popular chains, such as Pret and Starbucks, who offer a good range of vegan foods. Veganism initially seems limiting, yet the possibilities are constantly increasing.
There are many different reasons why people choose to become vegan. One of the strongest, of course, is the moral argument; vegetarians have argued against the cruelty of the meat industry for decades, with vegans now extending this point to include all animal product farming. This is an undoubtedly understandable point, however, another argument which is beginning to come to the fore, particularly in light of current concerns over climate change, is the environmental advantages of removing animal products from the diet. The Guardian has stated that cutting meat and dairy out of our diets is ‘the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet’, with livestock making up over 80% of farmland while producing just 18% of food calories and 37% of protein. This method of farming is also responsible for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture, contributing heavily to the dangerous build up of these gases in the atmosphere.
Nevertheless, not every aspect of this movement could be considered positive, as some of the campaigners for the vegan cause have recently come under fire for their totalitarian ways of garnering support. In Brighton the ethical supermarket Hisbe has banned vegan activists from its premises after the vegan group Direct Action Everywhere ‘stormed the supermarket…. with megaphones and placards saying: ‘Meat is murder’’. Unsurprisingly, it is incidents like this that alienate the very people that vegans are apparently trying to win over. There are clear and admirable reasons behind the conversion to veganism, reasons that often inspire great passion in people, but the approach of some vegans in enforcing their views to an almost violent extent begs the question: does the protection of these animals overrule the right of people to choose the kind of lifestyle they want?
Of course, the majority of vegans are completely peaceful and respectful of their meat-eating friends’ food choices, yet there have been cases of animal rights activists using extreme methods to protest for their cause. These have included letter bombs being sent to government officials and a firebomb being placed under the car of an animal researcher for the Imperial Cancer Research Fund. While generally historical incidents, it is still interesting to ponder how protecting animals from violence justifies the use of it against humans. Some would say that the life of a human should take precedence over that of an animal, but even if you don’t subscribe to that view it seems strange to believe the opposite. One can believe in the equality of all living creatures, but by encouraging extremist behaviour surely you are just substituting one aggression for another? A similar example can be found in the killing of abortion doctors by particularly extreme anti-abortion activists. They claim to be preserving the life of unborn children, yet feel this must be achieved by taking the lives of others.
Returning to the murder-free UCL campus, our awareness of the impact associated with eating meat and dairy, both on our own health and on the planet, seems to be growing. The UCL Psychology and Language Sciences Department recently announced that they have gone 100% vegetarian, and perhaps others will follow suit. Veganism clearly has much good to offer the world, despite professional whingers like Piers Morgan constantly trying to take it down. Vegan options can still be hard to come by, yet the tide is starting to turn. Many shops and restaurants are beginning to understand the need to include vegan food amongst their products, while the now famous Veganuary capitalises on those New Year resolutions to eat healthier. With a wider range of food options now available for everyone, harmonious eating habits are possible and are best served with a healthy amount of respect for the right to choose.