Bella at her college, Churchill, which has a wide range of vegan optionsMaddie Baxter

Last Monday, the SU voted to support the removal of all animal products from the five University Catering Services cafés across Cambridge. This decision angered many — with one student writing on Camfess that “the world is doomed”. But Bella Shorrock, President of Cambridge’s Vegan Society, can’t understand what all the fuss is about.

To Bella, the idea that the SU’s decision to start talks with the UCS constitutes a violation of students’ freedom of choice is “a bit ridiculous, if you look at the scale of the thing that’s actually being proposed.” She emphasises that it’s not colleges that are no longer offering meat, but just five cafés: “choose a different café if you want to go and get a bacon sandwich.” She is firmly convinced that it’s a step in the right direction. “In 50 years everything will be plant-based, so it’s kind of inevitable.”

Bella turned vegan after watching Okja, a film about a genetically engineered giant pig which is taken away to a slaughterhouse. The film sent Bella down a research rabbit hole, where she saw “harrowing” footage of animal slaughter and “chicks on conveyor belts.” It was then, at age 15, that she jumped straight from meat-eating to veganism.

“In 50 years everything will be plant-based, so it’s kind of inevitable.”

Bella doesn’t recommend skipping vegetarianism like she did — “don’t go vegan overnight” — but also says that “it was so easy”. Despite her certainty that she wanted to go vegan, she was reluctant to tell people that she was a vegan until recently, choosing not to bring it up on dates in case it was seen as a ‘red flag’. Since becoming VeganSoc President at the start of Michaelmas term, Bella is now more vocal about her veganism, but nevertheless tries not to bring it up herself outside of her society work, “because it’s something that I do tend to get really quite impassioned about.”

In fact, Bella thinks that “angry vegans with their pictures of dead animals [...] give veganism a bad name.” She explains that this fuels the discourse in British media that militant vegans want to forcibly change everyone’s eating habits, which doesn’t reflect the majority of vegans, who are just interested in getting on with their day.

Bella quickly lists off some of veganism’s environmental benefits, pointing out how many more litres of water are used in the production of a steak compared to a block of tofu (one and a half thousand more litres per pound, I later found out), and also teaches me that “80% of deforestation of the Amazon is for cattle ranching.” Bringing back these trees to the Amazon would restore a vast carbon sink, or, as Bella puts it, “The lungs of the Earth could breathe.”

With these environmental benefits to a vegan diet, why aren’t more people going vegan? “I think people just don’t like to be called out,” Bella replies. When she tries to explain veganism’s environmental benefits, many people respond with an excuse, “Oh but I don’t fly.” As Bella sees it, “People want to prove they do the most, but don’t want to change fundamental aspects of their lifestyles.”


Mountain View

SU votes to support University meat ban

In fact, if there’s anywhere to make the change to veganism, it’s Cambridge. Bella directs me to the Vegan Soc’s Fresher’s Guide as a starting point for hungry vegans, but emphasises that plant-based options in Cambridge are everywhere, from the market, to ARC, to the Mainsbury’s aisle next to the fruit. “If there’s a McDonald’s, you can get a McPlant, at KFC you can get the [vegan] ‘chicken’ katsu burger.” Bella explains that it’s just about making small steps out of one’s comfort zone — having oat milk in your tea, or veggie sausages at brunch.

However, Bella admits that slip-ups are all a part of the process. For the first few weeks after turning vegan, she still ate pesto, only realising that it contained cheese once she read the label. Once, Bella’s mum bought ‘free-from’ chicken nuggets, but realised too late that they were free from gluten, not meat: “I sobbed for days.” This was also the time that Cambridge offers were released, so when Bella went into school crying, she had to explain to her friends that she had got in — what she was crying over was a chicken nugget.

Bella looks back at the SU’s decision with excitement, but recognises that there is more to be done. She wants every Cambridge college to be like hers, Churchill, where they serve several vegan dishes a night and only one meat option. A meat eater myself, I had expected that the President of a Vegan Society would be champing at the bit to ban meat completely — but exclusionary ideas like this aren’t Bella’s style at all. For her, veganism is about “adding things rather than taking things away. We’re not about cutting people out. We’re about inviting people in.”