The jury may still be out to judge the taste of vegetarian meat versus the real deal. But the fact that reducing the amount of meat you eat is good for the environment should no longer be up for debate. Just last year researchers at Oxford University found that removing meat and dairy from our diets could reduce our individual carbon footprint by up to 73%. The demand for meat-free products grew by 987% in 2017, and retailers are unsurprisingly responding to the increased popularity. From the now infamous vegan sausage roll at Greggs, the bleeding beetroot burger at TGI Friday’s to the M&S meatless ready meals, meatless and vegan products have been making headlines, appearing on our menus and shopping lists up and down the UK. This is without mentioning the growing popularity of ‘Veganuary’, a campaign that encourages people to follow a vegan diet for a month.
Now it seems that, following a passionate and hard-fought campaign for ‘Meatless Mondays’ by students, including some from GLOBUS’ partner department, Global Sustainable Development, the Warwick Student Union is responding by supporting a ‘Meatless Month’; Warwick students, staff and visitors will be able to choose from a ‘wide range of vegetarian and vegan meals in every SU outlet throughout January’, according to the Warwick Student Union promotional posters spotted by this correspondent on social media and around campus.
But has the SU’s response to the student campaign been a meaningful move to encourage a more sustainable lifestyle, or is the SU simply partaking in a commercial gimmick?
If this article is the first time you’ve heard about the ‘Meatless Month’ at Warwick, you’re unlikely to be the only one. On the 9th of January Warwick Student Union’s social media, Warwick stated that all of the SU outlets are ‘supporting a meat free month’, but finding any specific details about the nature of this support is difficult. In fact, if there is any information about it on the Warwick Student Union website, it is very well hidden. Googling ‘Meat Free Month Warwick Student Union’ and other reasonable synonyms does not provide any relevant results. Once on the website, there is nothing on the ‘News’ or ‘Current Campaigns’ section, nor is there any mention of supporting the month in the Warwick SU food and drink area. The Bread Oven website does specifically highlight its ‘Meat Free Monday’ special, but there is no reference to supporting a meatless month on their webpage or any of the other Warwick SU outlet webpages. Instagram and Twitter are the only online places that appear to mention the initiative. Advertisements can also be found on screens around the Student Union building and a large physical poster advertising the idea is hanging in the entrance to Curiositea. Before even stepping foot inside a Warwick SU outlet, it seems that the stated ‘support’ is a halfhearted exercise what with the limited information available and no specifics on what the ‘wide range’ of promised food will be.
Unsurprisingly, given the lack of information online, visits to the three most popular Student Union outlets by this correspondent did not provide much evidence that supporting a meatless month is being taken very seriously.
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The Dirty Duck, visited on the 15th of January, had no relevant posters or advertisements on display and no additional menu to expand their vegetarian and vegan options in January was available. It was stated on social media that people needed to ensure they don’t ‘miss out’; but as there is no change to the menu it is not clear what people would be missing out on. There is precedent for additional items being added to The Duck’s menu which makes the lack of effort even more disappointing – towards the end of 2018, the ‘Lunch Specials’ section was edited to include Christmas themed meals. The same initiative has not been employed for January and its meat-less promises.
Moving on to the Bread Oven: in order to give them the best chance of living up to the advertised ‘wide range’, they were visited by this correspondent during lunchtime on the 15th of January, coinciding with their Meatless Monday initiative (it is worth mentioning that ‘Meatless Monday’ at the Bread Oven is a well-advertised promotion both on site and online, with multiple posters dotted around campus, so some dedication to meat reduction initiatives can be found.) However, at 1pm there was no Meat Free Monday option available as it had already sold out. The explanation and apology given by a member of staff overheard by this correspondent was that they assumed people hadn’t realised the vegan Peking Duck was not actually meat, resulting in an unexpected level of popularity. Whilst this is excellent news for the realistic presentation of mock poultry, it is less good for the promised ‘wide range’ of meat free options seen on SU promotional materials. All relevant ‘Meatless Monday’ and ‘Meat Free Month’ advertising materials appeared to have been removed as a result of selling out too, although if people didn’t realise what they were buying wasn’t really duck it does raise the question of the effectiveness of the advertisement in the first place.
Curiositea, also visited on Monday the 15th, fared slightly better as they did have the previously mentioned large poster on display, and once inside there was some clear advertisement of vegan products such as a vegan oat milk cold brew and a vegan shortbread. However, in terms of savoury food there was no additional vegetarian or vegan paninis or pizzas advertised when visited – so, again, not a wide range of options available. Drinks have fared better during Curiositea’s Week 3 “Vegan Week Specials”, with vegan hot chocolates, coffees and shakes (only) avialable until the 27th of January.
From the research conducted it would appear that Warwick Student Union’s dedication to supporting a ‘Meatless Month’ is questionable. If they were not going to expand their menu at any of their outlets then it seems bizarre that they even bothered to advertise their support anywhere at all. Perhaps this absence of commitment explains the total lack of information available. Either way, the misleading statements of support and assumed lack of organisation is disappointing and perhaps even embarrassing. The addition of two or three vegan and vegetarian specials at The Dirty Duck, a vegan panini at Curiositea and a month at The Bread Oven where all specials were vegetarian would have been achievable actions, and, coupled with effective advertisement, would most likely have been popular.
Read More: Our Climate Emergency – Our Time is Now
More importantly, these are actions that shouldn’t need a special month. With 12 years left to avoid a climate change ‘catastrophe’ (as stated by the 2018 IPCC report, and later by GLOBUS’ own Editor) we should all be taking simple steps to do our bit and Warwick Student Union and their food outlets are not exempt. Whilst campaigns like ‘Veganuary’ are important tools to encourage everyone to reduce their meat consumption, climate change isn’t just an issue for one month of the year and adopting a more sustainable diet cannot be viewed as a trend or fad. Changing the way we eat is an important discussion that needs to engage as many people as possible. But, in the case of our Student Union, it would appear that there is still a great deal more to be done to contribute to combating the greatest threat to ever face humanity.
If you’d like to ensure that the university upholds it’s commitment to sustainability by also committing to an entirely carbon netural state by 2030, please sign the climate emergency petition.
Header Image: Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash
Great article Tori – a really important contribution to help our community reflect practically on the knowledge we research and learn in the classroom.To echo your conclusions:
I’m really pleased that the SU has responded to student campaigns for more vegetarian options on campus. However, I agree the term meatless is being misused by the Student Union. It’s categorically inaccurate, as the outlets are not meatless on either mondays or during January. This phrase referring only to the option of individuals to choose from more veggie options, and I think this undermines the genuine meatless provisions of other food providers more seriously committed to sustainability. More academically, it’s a dilution of radical discourse, which is a very socially unhelpful part to play.
Therefore, personally, I’d like to see the SU withdraw their use of this phrasing until they are prepared to take the very needed decision – we might well only have 12 years to radically restructure ever aspect of our global economy – to move beyond marketing and the low hanging fruit. I would argue the SU has a responsibility to echo the science, and to create an offering which communicates to our degree educated future generations that we are going to have to make some less-than-ideal adjustments to our lives over the next decades: and I for one would prefer this to mean less meat on campus one day a week, than some of the more extreme future adjustments that will be necessary if we fail to act appropriately now.
A previous relentless carnivor, now a weekday vegetarian