A 200-year old debating society expressed its support for veganism last week, with a majority of Oxford Union members agreeing with the motion “This House Would Go Vegan.”
The vote followed a fierce debate between advocates for veganism, including animal rights activist Joey Carbstrong and physician Dr Chidi Ngwaba, and its detractors, including controversial media figure Katie Hopkins. In total, 112 members voted for the motion and 84 voted against.
The debate comes amid growing awareness of the ethical, health, and environmental benefits of veganism. In the last year, Plant-Based Universities (PBU), a student-led climate group campaigning for plant-based catering at over 75 universities, has won student votes at universities including London Metropolitan and Kent.
What is the Oxford Union?
The Oxford Union is a world-famous debating organization currently celebrating its 200th birthday. Founded in 1823 to promote free speech at the University of Oxford, it remains an independent, student-led society two centuries later.
The Union hosts weekly debates during university term time. Recent topics have included artificial intelligence, the economic rise of China, and sex education.
Ethical vegan defeats far-right figure
During the debate, Joey Carbstrong set out the ethical case for veganism. In the closing speech for the proposition, he outlined the harms that “speciesism” causes animals and wider society.
With more than 150,000 subscribers on YouTube, Carbstrong is well known for his street interviews about veganism. Earlier this year, he released the first ever UK footage of pigs being gassed to death in a slaughterhouse. At the Oxford Union, Carbstrong talked about the “crimes” that humans commit against animals.
On the opposite benches was polemical media figure and far-right commentator Katie Hopkins.
Her appearance had already caused backlash ahead of the debate. The Oxford Students’ Union condemned her invitation to speak in the famous chamber. In a statement on social media, they condemned her for “denigrating Islam, blaming crime on multiculturalism, and expressing discriminatory views against various ethnic and social groups.”
Hopkins has also attracted attention for her comments about veganism. In a social media post earlier this year, she told vegans: “Don’t abuse your children to push your message onto others.”
In the debate, she wasted little time in seeking controversy. She declared that “every vegan I know hates themselves” and said that watching animals suffer was a “hobby” for vegans.
The health benefits of veganism
Earlier in the evening, Dr. Chidi Ngwaba, a physician specializing in lifestyle medicine and wellness, had made the case for veganism on health grounds.
Studies have repeatedly shown positive health outcomes for people following a plant-based diet. Links between meat consumption and disease, including type 2 diabetes and some cancers, have also been well established by a growing body of scientific research.
Plant-based eating better for the environment
On the environment, Dr. Sailesh Rao, founder of Climate Healers, explained how animal agriculture is having disastrous ecological consequences.
In response, Dr. David Rose, head of the “Change in Agriculture” research group, made the case that animal agriculture is given too much flack.
Citing meat industry-funded research, he claimed that global temperatures can be stabilized without reducing meat consumption. Emissions from food alone are set to push the world past the 1.5C limit set out in the Paris Agreement, research has shown.
Growing focus on plant-based universities
Oxford is not the only university where veganism is a hot topic.
Earlier this year, more than 650 academics signed an open letter calling on universities to adopt plant-based catering on campus. This followed successful student votes at universities including the University of Stirling, London Metropolitan University, and the University of Kent.
“The climate crisis demands bold and decisive actions from us all,” PBU co-founder Nathan McGovern previously told Plant Based News. “We’ll continue to work with universities in the UK and beyond to make these changes as fast as possible.”
Countries including Denmark are also laying out plans to transition towards a plant-based food system. At COP28, currently happening in Dubai, environmental group ProVeg is leading a campaign calling on countries to swap animal agriculture for a plant-based future.