The dining hall of Magdalene College, CambridgeWIKICOMMONS

“How do you know if someone is a vegan...? Don’t worry, they’ll let you know!”. Sometimes the old jokes aren’t the best, but one thing I don’t find amusing at all is climate change. Yes, another self-righteous plant-eater banging on about climate change and animal welfare, that’s great. But, the fact is that though the vegetarian movement is rapidly growing, too few of us have truly considered the damage of meat consumption on the planet.

The evidence is pretty overwhelming, and nearly ineluctable. Since few meat and dairy companies publish or even bother to calculate their carbon emissions, figures vary, but those we have conclusively demonstrate their role in global warming. One recent study has predicted that by 2050, these two industries will be responsible for 81% of global emissions, whilst the global top five meat and dairy companies produce more annual greenhouse gas emissions than ExxonMobil, Shell, or BP already.

This doesn’t even touch upon the issue of how these industries contribute to the destruction of worldwide natural habitats, for land to rear livestock. It is estimated that 70% of deforestation in the Amazon is as a result of cattle ranching. And yet while 83% of all farmland is used for livestock globally, these foods produce just 18% of worldwide calorie intake and 37% of protein intake.

The arguments for a plant-based diet are steeped in scientific evidence and reason. They are undeniable, and freely available. It is completely understandable to have concerns about cutting out such a large part of one’s diet. But, going vegetarian should by no means be hard, given just a bit of personal research and a genuine commitment. For all those unconvinced, I barely noticed the change given the right information and a little added expense, to the point that I started to wonder why I never did it earlier. Increasing numbers of my friends who have also made the change say the same thing.

“Apathy towards vegetarianism can be shifted to an apathy towards meat”

But even if a vegetarian or vegan diet isn’t for you, cutting down meat consumption is a great start. And in the setting of Cambridge, there is plenty of opportunity, especially when it is as simple as choosing the vegetarian option at hall. Genuinely struck by the facts (or maybe just to shut me up), three of my closest friends have pledged to cut out all meat in hall for the foreseeable future. A small step you may argue, but the impact produced will be far from small.

To make things easier, the university and college serveries are increasingly making efforts to ditch the worst offending foods, as a direct result of student demand. Leading the charge is Magdalene, where just one portion of beef or lamb will be served once a week from the start of Lent Term. Magdalene’s catering manager, Vincent Howard, says that this change is a direct result of students demanding action.

Elsewhere, in a move that has seen noticeable success, some colleges and non-college serveries now place meat-free options first, giving priority to vegetarian dishes. These are small, almost imperceptible changes, which grant a vegetarian diet the normalisation already given to meat. In a sense, apathy towards vegetarianism can be shifted to an apathy towards meat, with only a few modifications.

Despite this, the pressure to eat meat is still more noticeable outside of more progressive areas such as Cambridge. The recent controversy surrounding Piers Morgan and Greggs’ new ‘vegan sausage roll’ is testament to the scale of the uphill struggle in wider society. Besides the irony that someone who complains so much about ‘snowflakes’ is himself so outraged about the sale of a simple meat-alternative (God forbid!), this ordeal is evidence of the continual pressure upon all individuals (vegan, vegetarian or otherwise) to continue to eat meat. While it is clear businesses are starting to realise the profitability of plant-based diets, as a direct result of consumer power, pressure on vegans remains.


Mountain View

Vegetarianism is one of the best ways to stop climate change

Anyone who has visited the Sidney Street Sainsbury’s over the past few months cannot fail to notice the burgeoning section of plant-based alternatives, an encouraging expansion of consumer choice. Although we are moving in the right direction, we must ensure we continue on the right course – that is, removing the remaining pressure on vegans and vegetarians to eat meat, and shifting the media spotlight onto destructive habits concerning meat and dairy. Never has it been easier to make such a positive change.

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