“This Campaign is Vital – We Want Systemic Change”

Student group, Plant-Based Universities York, protest meat and dairy products still being sold on Campus

(Image: Quinn Chen, Instagram @seirororrrr)

On Thursday, student protesters set off flares at Central Hall on West Campus, raising awareness about the importance of plant-based eating, and encouraging the University to switch all of their catering outlets to selling 100% plant-based foods.

The students, who are supporters of the national group, Plant-Based Universities (PBU), dropped a banner from the top of the iconic space-ship building that read “Plant-Based University End the Climate Crisis”, as well as setting off non-toxic flares to garner attention from passers by, and handing out leaflets.

This followed the publication of an open letter by the organisation which calls on all University vice chancellors, catering managers, and student union presidents around the country to take the matter seriously and end the sale of meat and dairy products in all of their catering outlets.

The open letter says that “animal farming and fishing are leading drivers [of the climate and ecological crises]” and that the current food system is “insecure, unsafe and unfit-for-purpose” and that it “cannot continue unchecked.”

The open letter was signed by over 1000 people, including academics and notable figures.

The group have confirmed that 40 signatures were from students and staff at the University of York, who are fighting for the UK to change its food-system to be plant-based, and to involve more rewilding projects – giving space back to natural habitats so that they can flourish and biodiversity can recover. 

So far, the open letter has gained significant support in Universities around the UK, including the University of Stirling, the University of Cambridge, and the University of Birmingham, who have all taken steps towards increasing plant-based foods at their institutions.

They have reached out to non-vegans, of which there are many on campus, clarifying that their goal is not to force you to change your diet, saying:

“Not vegan? That’s okay. We are not asking for individual dietary changes. Students and staff can still bring whatever food they like onto campus. What we are asking for is institutional divestment within procurement in the same way that universities are boycotting fossil fuel companies.”

Last year at the University, a motion was also passed through YUSU via their YUSU Suggestions forum, asking the Union to make campus catering services, including YUSU venues, switch to only plant-based foods. The motion received a record-breaking 142 votes. 

However, since then, PBU claims there hasn’t been much action from the University and the student Union, hence further protesting today.

Jazz Morley, a 21-year-old Biology student at the University, and a campaigner for the environmental group said “Getting the motion passed through our student union last year was fantastic, but that was really just the beginning, and we’re hoping that being here today raises more awareness of the campaign here at the University of York, especially since it’s Freshers’ week.

“Our actions today are sending a clear message to the Union and [the] University that their students take the need to transition to 100% plant-based catering seriously.”

Claire Sheldon, Campaigns Liaison officer at PBU York, told Vision,

 “This campaign is vital – academics at this university have been calling for plant-based diets, academics at the University have been publishing research on this.

“We want a systemic change over the individual changes. We want to make it as easy as possible for people to make the right choices.”

Claire highlighted the importance of making this change on campus as a way for the University to help make plant-based diets more accessible to people, regardless of their socioeconomic background.

She, along with others at the organisation, expressed disappointment that their motion has not yet received the ‘serious consideration’ that was promised.

YUSU Community and Wellbeing Officer Hannah Nimmo recently provided an update on the policy proposal to transition the campus to 100% plant-based food.

“Following work from previous YUSU Environment and Ethics Officers, YUSU’s food strategy has been updated to incorporate more plant-based options, which is also in line with proposals made by Plant-Based Universities York.

“I will be continuing to work on this proposal in terms of working with the University to develop their food strategy, as well as other sustainability measures across campus, in line with the non-food elements of this proposal. I will continue to provide further updates on the progress of this proposal.”

She also defended the claims of inaction, telling Vision that “the original proposers of the PBU motion on YUSUggestions have now all graduated, and no students besides our Environment and Ethics Officers had reached out to continue collaborating on the proposal.”

She said, “this doesn’t mean I will not still be working on it,” and said that she looks forward to continuing to progress the proposal in this new academic year.

“I actively welcome any feedback and suggestions from students on how to make our campus more plant-based, green and sustainable.”

YUSU President Pierrick Roger also told Vision that the reason for the delays has been because Full Time Officers have been on annual leave, and Part-Time Officers have been on summer break.

“The Proposal was submitted before the summer. Part-Time Officers are volunteers and therefore do not work over the summer break, and Full-Time Officers were on various periods of Annual Leave. 

“Officer Group has therefore not been in session throughout the summer, and the Policy Proposal is due to be discussed when the next Officer Group Policy meeting is convened.”