A look at Cambridge’s vegan future

‘A sea of beige’ and what else students may be in store for after the recent SU vote for vegan catering at Cambridge

In March, the Cambridge Student Union voted by 72 per cent to support vegan food across Cambridge catering services. While there was a significant enough reaction to this result to merit a re-vote two weeks later, the outcome remained the same and implementation of this policy can be expected to begin soon.

The “Plant-based Universities Policy” is a part of the SU’s climate plan to reduce emissions at Cambridge University. This move will not be immediate but does aim to convert all food served on campus and within faculties to vegan alternatives. The University Catering Service stopped serving beef and lamb in 2016, so this new policy follows on from the direction of a previous move.

This scheme follows Berlin-based universities’ decision to only allow meat and fish to make up four per cent of meals served. Campaigns for similar policies to be implemented are also taking place at University College London (UCL), King’s College London, The University of Warwick, Lancaster University, Coventry University, and The University of Sussex.

This month, Darwin College announced it would be the first college to hold an all-vegan May Ball. Darwin said the event “intends to cater for as many dietary requirements as possible and will serve only plant-based food.”

When asked for comment, Darwin College responded: “Over the past 8-9 years the Darwin Catering team has increased the plant-based options offered in College, in response to research demonstrating the environmental impact of different dietary choices. This change has been made in collaboration with Fellows, staff and students.

“Much training has been provided to enable our chefs to produce interesting dishes, many of which are plant-based by default rather than vegan versions of an alternative dish. Feedback has been very positive, and the dishes are proving popular with both Darwin members and visitors.”

A look into Darwin’s catering (Image credit: Cass Kefford-Joyce)

Students at a variety of colleges are also now being approached by Plant-Based Cambridge and encouraged to start ground-roots “go vegan” movements at their own colleges. The organisation is running a launch event at Thrive Cafe on the 27th of April, which will include short training sessions on climate science and activism.

The emphasis in these policy changes and activist movements on climate change shows that veganism is not being viewed by students as purely an individual’s lifestyle choice but as part of a collective effort to save our planet.

With this in mind, we asked students for their opinions and experiences of eating vegan at Cambridge University to see what this vegan future will entail for students:

When asked which colleges consistently performed the worst on crafting satisfactory vegan meals, students named Darwin, Churchill, and St Cats

St Cats’ vegan food was described by one student as “a sea of beige.” The dinner under scrutiny here was comprised of “just bread and potatoes basically.” The vegetarian option included vegetables, such as red cabbage fried in butter. These were removed from the vegan selection, but not replaced with anything, leaving the vegans with significantly less to eat and far less variety or flavour as a meat-free gravy was also not provided.

Churchill’s bad reputation apparently comes from serving vegan options that “taste like school canteen food.” They also served a “portion of mashed potato the size of my little finger and I have very small hands.”

Darwin was reported to be “possibly the worst.” One student even described their take on vegan cooking as “blasphemous.” The portions are also said to be very small, though that appears to be a complaint echoed by meat-eaters dining at Darwin as well.

We were additionally informed that “Darwin literally gave me an Alpro chocolate pot they had decanted onto a plate.”

Alpro was strangely a re-occuring theme in college menus. Lucy Cavendish, whose vegan cuisine was generally stated to be “bland” also apparently served students “Alpro yogurt for desert.”

However, Lucy Cavendish have made it into the middling category as they also received positive reviews. One person recounted that their chef managed to craft vegan shrimp. An impressive feat that earned the thrilling review of “nice effort.”

Sidney Sussex also received mixed reviews. People mostly offered vaguely positive accounts, but some vegan options are said to have “off-putting textures.” They also slathered some meals in olive oil as an alternative to gravy, which does not seem to have had quite the desired effect. “Covered in oil, very odd.”

The three colleges that got all positive comments were Wolfson, Clare Hall, and Trinity Hall

Wolfson was mentioned in glowing terms. “Meat eaters were jealous of my food at Wolfson,” one student said, and “Wolfson know what they’re doing,” mentioned another.

Clare Hall was also described positively: “always decent,” and “nice and interesting,” were among comments, as well as “[Clare Hall] made me my own dessert, not a fruit salad, even though I was the only vegan in attendance.”

A dish from Clare Hall (Image credit: Cass Kefford-Joyce)

Trinity Hall is reported to be embodying the climate conscious policy more than any other college. Their vegan formal options are “plentiful” and “very tasty!” The college writes cards that inform diners of the amount of Co2 that was used in production of every meal served at their lunches and dinners. This is done to allow students to make their own decisions about how the food they eat may affect the planet.

The SU’s decision only affects dining on campus, but with Darwin’s May Ball announcement and Plant-Based Cambridge’s new efforts, we may see colleges turning more towards vegan menus. It remains to be seen whether the “sea of beige” or the “nice and interesting” will inform this new future for Cambridge. But the SU vote demonstrates that the majority of student opinion is on the side of policies that will aid the climate, and many will likely be happy to make the sacrifice of occasionally eating beige food for a better future for our planet.

Churchill College, Sydney Sussex College and St Catharine’s College were also contacted for comment.

Feature Image Credit: Cass Kefford-Joyce

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