2016 is the biggest ever year for vegans, with brands such as Quorn releasing egg-free products, Guinness planning to create a vegan beer, and Ben & Jerry's announcing dairy-free ice creams. Universities are generally known as places that advocate this sort of forward thinking and embrace positive change. Why then do so many British universities seem so behind on providing vegetarian and vegan options in their student unions?
Students at the University of Birmingham were recently appalled to find that the Guild of Students altered the only vegan option on the menu in Joe's Bar (vegan wedges) making them unsuitable even for vegetarians. This came as a huge blow to vegan students, especially as it followed the decision to introduce milkshakes to Joe's Bar rather than providing more vegan options. Lizzy, a French and Drama student at Birmingham, commented:
'I think it really speaks volumes when an accessory food option such as a milkshake is chosen over introducing a new vegan option (when no others exist). Also for a uni that claims to be going green, they're not really attempting to fight climate change at the heart, with food and agriculture. It just feels like a punishment for being vegan (as usual) and that the university doesn't take the lifestyle seriously, viewing it only as a fussy eating habit which they are not obliged to cater for, when it is so much more than that. Also, Joe's can't even give you the 14 allergens when asked which is pretty awful considering it's a legal requirement in restaurants and bars now. This makes it very difficult to find an unlabelled vegan option on the menu when the staff cannot tell you if it may or may not have dairy or egg etc in it. It's not very nice to have to sit and watch all your friends eat in Joe's every day while you have to hope that there's a vegetable samosa left in Spar.'
Rosie, a second year English student, was also disheartened by the change in menu at Joe's Bar. She said, 'it's outrageous that I can't eat in my own student union, they shouldn't only bring the wedges back but there should have been many more options in the first place [...] Veganism is a growing worldwide phenomenon and to not support it really illustrates an outdated element of the university as well as highlighting its failure to cater to all students. The uni claims to be inclusive but really falls short at this particular element.'
It is not just Birmingham that seems to be struggling with providing for vegans and vegetarians. Students at both Huddersfield and Middlesex University have started petitions to include more vegan and veggie options on campus. Mark from Huddersfield said that there is only so much cheese or hummus a vegetarian can have. In his petition he requested that the SU shop provide a wider selection of veggie options considering there are so many vegetarians at the university. 74 students liked the motion and it had no dislikes. In the comments, students seemed concerned that there were not enough dairy-free options, aside from just chips. Last year, Jack started a similar petition in Middlesex. He noted that the choice of vegetarian food was poor at best, not even catering to those who were lactose intolerant. Jack commented, 'I have no choice personally but to bring my own food due to this. I'm sure that others will agree.' The petition gained 48 likes and no dislikes. Students from Middlesex also noted that vegan options, as well as being few and far between, were extremely expensive, making them far less accessible.
However, it is not all doom and gloom; universities such as Bristol, Sussex, Sheffield and UEA are introducing more and more vegan and veggie options every year. Bristol SU offers a veggie Sunday roast, UEA have vegan sandwich options in the Grad Bar and Unio every day, and Sussex have a vegetarian café on campus serving Quorn Bolognese, mezes and quiches. Sussex also holds Go Green Week, the UK's largest week of student climate action, where you can get vegan hot chocolate, vegan-friendly cider, and vegan bean burgers. Alastair, a final year Drama student at the University of Birmingham, said 'I can remember eating in the Sheffield SU back in October and the vegan options were incredible!'
If you would like to see more vegan and vegetarian options at your SU, start a petition, and remember that you are not alone.