Using the stomach as a gateway to the student mind
In October 2015 two Winchester students, Connor and Joe, set up a Veggie and Vegan student society at the University of Winchester. The society recently attracted much attention through their free food give-away with vegan ‘chicken’ nuggets, sweet chilli strips (by Fry’s Family Food), and cakes and biscuits made by members of the group. The give-away was a great success. Students were queuing to get some of the delicious food samples, and the first batch of nuggets was gone after 20 minutes.
The Veggie group was initiated as a platform to advocate veganism. The main focus lies on meat-reduction in general and not veganism only, so as to be as inclusive as possible. Yet, meat-reduction is advertised through the promotion of vegan food, for example at the give-aways or the sharing of vegan recipes. Moreover, Connor and Joe consider the student time as the most important phase for the development of critical thinking and behavioural change. Thus, universities are an ideal platform to raise awareness about the considerable animal welfare issues as well as environmental issues intrinsic within food production.
Besides the main focus of raising awareness, the Veggie and Vegan Society also offers a social medium to meet other vegetarians and vegans, or people who want to reduce their meat consumption. It aims to give guidance towards a meat-free diet, and to help people stay vegetarian/vegan. The social platform takes place primarily within an open Facebook group where people can ask questions (e.g. on which restaurants offer good veggie menus), share recipes, advice, and related events, etc. Get-togethers for the members also happen, with one in November and one coming up at the end of this semester.
The primary aim of vegan-outreach is achieved mostly through the free food give-aways. Prior to and during give-aways, the Veggie and Vegan Society distributes flyers from Animal Equality (so far up to 1,000 leaflets) about the reasons for a meat-free diet, and to promote the give-aways. The first give-away, with hot dogs (Linda McCartney sausages), and brownies and cakes baked by society members, took place in November. Student responses were good, and the veggie society managed to double its members.
The second give-away was initiated to further promote Animal Aid’s Vegan University Challenge in February. An additional 1,000 leaflets were distributed for the Vegan Challenge. I am a PhD student in the university’s Centre for Animal Welfare and am exploring the work of animal protection organisations. This helped me to facilitate the contact between Animal Aid and the Veggie Society, and I also helped to promote the challenge and give-away. This time around, the give-away focused on free samples, and (unsurprisingly!) the student responses were even better. The vegan ‘chicken’ nuggets in particular were a great success, and were described as ‘tasting like meat’.
The Veggie Society successfully manages to show other students that living on a meat-free diet does not mean missing out on tastes and textures. We also try to fill the gap for students who often do not have the time and/or money to spend on elaborate meals out of fancy cookbooks. Thus, with some advice by Nick Cooney (well-known activist, director of education for Mercy for Animals, founder of The Humane League, author of How To Be Great At Doing Good 2015), we created the ‘Lazy Student’s Guide to Meat-Free Meals,’ with seven quick and easy meals for every day of the week. The guides are available for free at the give-aways.
Currently, the Veggie and Vegan Society is planning another give-away at the end of this semester, another social gathering, an event to screen the documentary Cowspiracy, and a Green Day. The latter two events will target climate change, and what can be done about it, with an emphasis on animal agriculture. The University of Winchester is also actively supporting these efforts through the provision of resources and space; which is in keeping with the University’s commitments to animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
Responsible food sourcing, as well as concern for food animal welfare and rights, should be of interest for every student. The increasing intensification of industrialised farming contributes significantly to environmental change, and raises critical issues about the treatment of non-human sentient beings. Both the environmental impacts and individual welfare of animals can be addressed in terms of social (in-) justice. Thus, the Veggie and Vegan Society exemplifies the university’s value commitments towards social justice, as it further facilitates students’ development into effective and fulfilled global citizens.
Madelaine Leitsberger is a PhD student within Winchester's Centre for Animal Welfare