Bristol SU Council vote against transitioning to a 100 per cent plant-based student union

57 per cent of the student council voted against the motion


On Tuesday (14th November), Bristol University’s Student Union Council voted against transitioning to a 100 per cent just and sustainable plant-based student union.

The motion was opposed by 57 per cent of the council, whilst 32 per cent supported it, and 11 per cent abstained.

This comes after a group of students recently gathered outside The Victoria Rooms to call upon Bristol University to ban all meat and dairy products from its catering services.

The Plant-Based Universities Campaign, which is believed to be led by Animal Rising, were responsible for the protest (image via @plantbasedunisbristol)

The motion, proposed by Jesse Prince, the former Treasurer and Activism Representative of Bristol Vegetarian and Vegan Society, consisted of four key actions:

  1. For the SU to officially endorse the Plant-Based Universities Campaign and for SU officers to lobby internally for university-wide affordable, 100 per cent plant-based food
  2. For the SU to aim for 100 per cent plant-based catering, inclusive of all staff and students on campus, by the 2026/27 academic year
  3. For the SU to explore creating a sustainability accreditation and grant by 2025 for student groups that commit to offering 100 per cent plant-based food at their events
  4. For the SU to lobby for the on-campus vending machines to be 100 per cent plant-based by 2027

When presenting this motion to the council, Prince argued that in 2020, Bristol University committed to a 100 per cent divestment from fossil fuels and that this was far more radical than transitioning to a 100 per cent plant-based university.

Prince proceeded to focus on the ongoing climate crisis, claiming that it’s vital that not only Bristol but all universities across the world commit to 100 per cent plant-based catering as the production of meat and dairy products accounts for a significant amount of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Student unions at several UK universities, including Cambridge, Birmingham, and Warwick, have already committed to serving 100 per cent plant-based food.

Following Prince’s argument for the motion, Bakhtawar Javed, the SU’s International Students’ Officer, took to the stage and argued staunchly against it.

Discussing why she did so, Bakhtawar said: “Although I fully understand the intention behind the motion being proposed and strongly believe in sustainable eating choices, I don’t necessarily agree that becoming a 100 per cent plant-based Union means becoming 100 per cent just. This motion isn’t necessarily the way forward to encourage people to make sustainable choices and, if passed, would not be possible with the cultural diversity we have at the University of Bristol.

“As International Students’ Officer, I raised the issue that this motion is not culturally inclusive. As a Students’ Union for all 33,000 individual students, we must represent everyone. Both international and home students have specific dietary requirements which include animal products. It is not just to restrict the food options on campus for these students.”

Bakhtawar argued against Prince’s motion, and recieved support from several members of the council

Bakhtawar added: “I would also be concerned about the important cultural events that we host here at Bristol SU. For example, the Global Food Fair, in which all students celebrate and enjoy food from all over the world, and the celebration of Eid, to name a couple.

“My opposition to the motion was not because I do not believe it is important for individuals to make sustainable dietary choices. I think there are more suitable alternatives, such as lobbying the University to source meat and meat-based products from more ethical sources and creating awareness amongst people to opt for sustainable options. These alternatives find a balance that respects cultural diversity and personal decisions whilst promoting sustainable and healthy food choices.”

Bakhtawar’s argument was supported by several other council members, including Zi Qi Sin, the Chair of the Bristol SU Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic Network.

Other arguments against the motion included that the SU is meant to be pushing for cheaper meals to help students during the cost of living crisis, but this would be harder to achieve if the motion was passed as plant-based alternatives are more expensive.

In response to the vote against the motion, Plant-Based Universities Bristol, who were responsible for the aforementioned protest, told The Bristol Tab: “In light of the recent vote against a plant-based transition, we will be looking to open conversations with those who opposed the motion, in particular international communities.

“We believe that plant-based catering can and should be inclusive for everyone, and that it will serve to protect people all over the world from climate catastrophes, such as flooding and hurricanes.”

With almost a third of the council voting in favour of the motion and the climate crisis worsening day-by-day, this will certainly not be the last time this debate is held at the university.

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