According to behavioural economics specialist Jan Stoop (Erasmus School of Economics), EUR is lagging behind from an international perspective with the transition to a fully vegan campus. The University of Cambridge started this process already in 2016, for example. A vegan assortment has been proven to be better for the environment. But why should we want this? And is it feasible?

Morally obliged

According to Stoop, the university is ‘morally obliged’ to strive towards a fully vegan campus. In his opinion, a non-vegan campus infringes animal rights and that is inconsistent with the university’s values.

Stoop explained, ‘At the university, it goes without saying that we value rational and consistent arguments.’ He assumes that most members of the academic community would want their activities to cause as little suffering as practically possible.

Intelligence level of a cow

He also considers it inconsistent that slaughtering people is unacceptable, while slaughtering a cow is acceptable. Any difference between slaughtering a cow or a human is ‘illusory’, claimed Stoop.

‘If you argue, for example, that a cow can be slaughtered because of its lower level of intelligence, we can probably find a person who objectively speaking has a lower level of intelligence than the cow.’ And if you are comfortable with people being slaughtered just so you can eat a hamburger, then you are against human rights and that does not align with the university’s values, he argued.

The only logical conclusion is thus that the campus should become entirely vegan. Rationale: ‘Every free choice can only be free when you are not harming others, including animals.’

Not feasible

But is a fully vegan campus feasible? Michel Flaton, manager of catering company Vitam, is sceptical about that.

Vitam is willing to change, said Flaton. ‘In recent years the company’s assortment has already begun to include vegetarian options, and for every meat option still on the menu, there is a vegan alternative.’

According to him there are various practical problems involved in transforming the company completely.

First of all, an entirely vegan assortment is not cost-effective for the company. Flaton added, “Circa 20 percent of the products that we sell is vegan. That is disproportionate to the rest. We sell about half as much of them.”

Limited assortment

The problem starts with the suppliers, continued Flaton. The company can exert little influence over the assortment of wholesaler Sligro that Vitam buys from. “They do not have so many vegan products and ingredients for vegan recipes, and we cannot buy products ourselves, like Albert Heijn does. We just don’t have that negotiating position.”

According to him, most of the visitors to his restaurants are not vegan. ‘I see plenty of people ordering a vegan sandwich with vegetables and then slathering it with cream cheese.’ As long as the demand is not there, he argues for improving the mix of products in the campus restaurants. ‘We can make the meat products more expensive and expand the vegan options.’

The barrier to a completely vegan menu described by Flaton lies primarily with his customers. ‘After all, we cannot force people not to eat any more meat or dairy products.’

Do more

The Erasmus community could also do more to change, according to a survey conducted by EUC student Joachim Strzelecki. He interviewed EUR staff members and experts involved in developing a vegan assortment in the campus restaurants at other universities. ‘The best thing the university could do is to organise a series of events that focus on embracing plant-based protein products at which people who have experience with living a vegan lifestyle can talk to people who know little about it.’

Strzelecki’s possible solution resonates with Flaton’s ideas. “Meatless Mondays every week would be a fun way to acquaint people with a completely vegan menu.”

Meeting lunches

Some steps have already been taken to make the campus more meat-free. Meeting lunches are routinely vegetarian (vegan at Stoop’s faculty), and in 2014 there was an initiative called Meat-Free Mondays on the campus, in response to the documentary Cowspiracy about abuses in the meat industry. That initiative faded away, however.

The viewpoints in this article reflect the discussion of the ‘Let’s Talk Sustainability’ event organised by the Design Impact Transition platform and the EUR Sustainability Programme.