The Plant-Based Universities open letter has now gone public
This afternoon, the Plant-Based Universities campaign published an open letter to University Vice-Chancellors, Catering Managers, and Student Union Presidents in the UK and Ireland calling on them to support the transition to 100% plant-based catering in universities.
Over 860 academics, notable figures, healthcare professionals and politicians from the UK and Ireland and around the world have put their names down in support of this initiative, with more than 650 academics representing 94 universities across the globe.
In addition to its direct impact, this is a low-cost intervention that has several multi-dimensional avenues for high impact through the norms and behaviours it encourages. By influencing key educational institutions to adopt plant-based diets, we not only affect immediate communities but also send ripple effects that can shift global standards toward more ethical and sustainable choices.
The Plant-Based Universities campaign is active in over 60 universities in the UK and Ireland, and is ever growing. Since the University of Stirling voted for a transition to fully plant-based catering at all university restaurants and cafes in November of last year, 6 more universities have followed with successes.
This is undoubtedly a massive opportunity to kickstart positive change at a large institutional scale with minimal cost or risk involved. Now that the open letter has been released to the public, I would like to invite anyone who knows of any academics, philanthropists, board members of EA-aligned orgs or well-known figures (also politicians, healthcare professionals) who would be interested in signing to share the open letter with them (If you fit into the above criteria yourself, it would be fantastic if you could sign it!). In order to sign the open letter, you just need to email your name, title, role and organisation/institution to email@example.com. So far only a small handful of notable figures in the EA community have put their names down, but I believe there would be a large market for support for this campaign in the EA sphere and I want to make the most out of it.
I also know that many people who visit the EA Forum are themselves university students. If you are a student and are interested in starting a campaign in your university, you can fill out this brief form and they will get in touch with you. From talking to people who successfully campaigned at their university, you really only need somewhere between 3 and 7 committed students for this, and they provide multiple different online (and in-person if in the UK) training sessions throughout the year (all free of course) along with lots of other useful information and resources.
The primary motivation of this campaign may be for universities to limit their contribution to climate change and to shift public opinion in favour of a plant-based food system, but as you’re probably well aware if you’re reading this on the EA Forum, there are simply so many positive effects of a plant-based food system other than just climate change mitigation. (In fact, you could say this one stone has the potential to kill so many figurative birds, it might even be counterproductive in the end!)
I believe this campaign offers a potent way to align our institutions with values that benefit all. Engagement and critical insights can make it even more effective, so please share your thoughts in the comments.
I’m in the group chat for sending the emails before the letter was released, and have been liaising with the Plant-Based Universities core team so that’s how I know this. Also this
I’m not 100% sure of the financial costs to run a campaign on average, but if it says on their donation page that “Donating to the Plant-based Universities campaign, you will help fund cost of renting the campsites [for the weekend-long summer camps they hold to train students who want to run a campaign], travel for students and speakers, leaflets for students to hand out on campus, table banners for outreach stalls and large banners for banner drops”, and I know that the banners are made by the students/core team themselves (i.e. they’re not bought). I don’t know exactly how much this all costs, but I wouldn’t guess it’s that much. Of course, non-financial costs include the student’s time and energy, but given that these are university students they would likely be highly motivated and thus this is less of an issue. There is also the counterfactual cost of not putting as much time and effort into your studies, but I’d imagine that this is quite small relative to the positives in the vast majority of cases, and even just on a personal level it would provide you with many valuable skills and experience, along with (probably) a higher level of satisfaction.
The other 6 universities being University of Cambridge, University of Birmingham, Queen Mary University of London, London Metropolitan University, University of Kent and University College London
I’m not on the core team myself, but I do know the people who are and have received permission from them to mention this here, and I am also starting a campaign myself at my university (Trinity College Dublin) this year. So potential conflict of interest here maybe (though I don’t receive any sort of direct funding/grants or any other form of payment from them)
In case anyone isn’t familiar with the idiom “kill two birds with one stone”, it means to solve two problems with a single action. I then made use of this idiom in an ironic manner to refer to the many ways in which a plant-based food system is really good for many different reasons and causes, such as animal welfare, biosecurity/pandemic prevention, antimicrobial resistance, food security, climate change, moral circle expansion, etc. A plant-based food system does not actually kill or harm birds! I just thought it was funny and wanted to find a way of fitting it in somewhere.