University Of Cambridge Students’ Union To Serve 100% Plant-Based Food

University of Cambridge students have voted for fully plant-based catering

By & Chloe Balhatchet

4 Minutes Read

Students at the University of Cambridge, where the Students' Union has voted to serve 100% plant-based food at internal meetings and events Cambridge University's Students' Union has voted to serve 100% plant-based food at all internal events and meetings - Media Credit: Jeremy Peters / @JezPete

Cambridge University’s Students’ Union (SU) has voted to make its catering 100 percent plant-based.

Student representatives voted for the Cambridge SU to “serve fully plant-based food in all of its internal operations, and at all events and meetings.”

The motion was proposed by members of Plant-Based Cambridge (PBCam), a student-led environmental group that is working with the University of Cambridge to transition towards accessible, plant-based catering.

Last year, Cambridge students passed a motion to support a similar move within the University Catering Services (UCS), which manages a handful of cafeterias around the university.

William Smith, a campaigner with PBCam, said in a statament: “After last year’s vote, it’s only logical that the SU should make their own catering fully plant-based too. It’s only a small change but the precedent it sets is important for climate action and environmental justice.”

Students lead the way on climate action

Student campaigners from Plant-Based Cambridge, which is working with the University of Cambridge to make its catering fully plant-based
Haley Huang Plant-Based Cambridge student campaigners at a training session at Hempsall Farm in Willingham

Plant-Based Cambridge runs local campaigns with involvement from students, academics, and catering managers in colleges and departments across the University.

Since last year’s vote, PBCam has been working with the UCS on transitioning its outlets towards being fully plant-based.

One branch of the PBCam campaign is focused on helping the University align its investments with its ethical and environmental principles. This involves fully divesting from animal agriculture, which will help “erode its social licence,” according to students involved with the campaign.

In the past few years, dozens of institutions, including the University of Stirling and London Metropolitan University, have taken steps towards 100 percent plant-based catering. Meanwhile, more than 650 academics signed an open letter calling for universities to transition away from animal agriculture.

Plant-based catering for environmental justice

The motion passed by the Cambridge SU argued that fully plant-based catering will help combat environmental injustice and “dismantle [the SU’s] connections with industries that profit from the death and destruction of communities across the globe.”

One student who spoke in favor of the motion said that a shift to plant-based catering represented “institutional boycott and divestment from the most egregious harms in our food system” and would “send a powerful signal to industrial livestock corporations that they cannot continue to inordinately harm communities through their violence, brutality, and disregard for human and animal life.”

Haley Huang, a campaigner with PBCam, said: “All communities should have access to clean water and air, safe shelter, and freedom from exploitation.”

Plant-based menus follow climate science

Peer-reviewed research from leading universities has repeatedly shown that switching to a plant-based food system would have dramatic climate benefits. For example, animal agriculture is responsible for around 60 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions from food production.

Farming animals also causes an array of other environmental problems, including water pollution and deforestation.

Dr Chris Macdonald, Fellow at the Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability, said: “Animal agriculture is inefficient (global land use for livestock is as large as the land area of the Americas), harmful (it is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions), and unethical (unnecessarily artificially breeding, confining, and slaughtering more than 80 billion land-based animals every year).”

Students and academics at a Plant-Based Cambridge event
Plant-Based Cambridge Plant-Based Cambridge has co-hosted sustainable food events with leading academics

University of Cambridge’s climate commitments

The latest vote in the Cambridge SU is part of a significant shift in the University of Cambridge’s catering.

Earlier this year, CamEATS ZERO, a university-wide working group on sustainable food, made “increasing the proportion of plant-based meals” its number one priority. 

As a first step, the initiative aims to make at least half of all college meals plant-based. Their work so far has included chef training programs in plant-based cuisine from award-winning plant-based restaurant Stem & Glory and the Tipsy Vegan. 

Andrew Balmford, Professor of Conservation Science and a member of the CamEATS ZERO Working Group, said in a statement: “Shifting to largely plant-based diets is critically important for mitigating the catastrophic consequences of climate change and the extinction crisis. Very few other actions can yield such dramatic benefits in a short span of time.”

Since its founding in October 2022, Plant-Based Cambridge has worked closely alongside CamEATS ZERO, Cambridge Zero, the Cambridge SU Ethical Affairs campaign, and the Cambridge SU Black and Minority Ethnic Environmental Justice campaign, as well as the wider Plant-Based Universities movement. In 2023, PBCam’s Coordinator was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s award for Social Impact in Sustainability. The campaign was also shortlisted by the Cambridge SU in that year’s Campaign Impact Awards.

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