Survey shows that Student majority says “No” to 100% Plant-Based Students’ Union

14 mins read

The motion for a plant-based Student’s Union passed with a 55.4% majority with 127 people in attendance, whilst the survey carried out by Brig with 120 responses from Stirling students shows that when asked whether Studio, Venue and Underground should only sell plant-based products by 2025, 64.2% said no. Even if seven more people voted “Yes” in the survey, the “No” votes would still be a majority.

Image Credit: Nikita Vance via Canva

Students were also asked if they would visit Studio; Underground or Venue following the implementation of a 100% plant based Union, and surprisingly as many as 42.5% said they would not. If such a large percentage from a small group of responses has garnered such a response, the Union should seriously consider how this motion will effect their already poor profit margins.

Image Credit: Nikita Vance via Canva

Despite General Meetings (GM) having a traditionally low turnout, making it easy for them to be hijacked in favour of personal interest, the Student Union felt this was a fair representation of the direction students want the Union’s food outlets to go. To put it into perspective, the university has a student population of approximately 17,000. The 127 students in attendance account for 0.75% of this.

Less than 1% of the university’s student body should not have this much control over the Union.

By sending out a survey, we managed to reach many students who weren’t even aware that the motion was being considered before its passing was announced, so why aren’t big decisions made in a similar way? If each student received a voting link via email, the Union would have better insight into what changes students want to see in the Union.

A main argument for the 100% plant-based Union is that it is “more inclusive.” However, the Union, as it is caters to all – offering Halal meats for those who can only eat halal, various vegan/veggie/plant-based options, gluten-free options and more.

With this in mind, students were asked if they felt 100% plant-based products is more inclusive. 69.2% voted no.

Image Credit: Nikita Vance via Canva

We also asked students if they already ate a plant based diet and, unsurprisingly, 87.5% said no while 12.5% said yes. This leads to questioning of how a 100% plant based Union is fair for all students if its only catering for the choices of the minority.

Image Credit: Nikita Vance via Canva

However, when asked if they would consider an 100% plant based diet many were open to the idea, with 42.5% saying yes. But the overwhelming majority of 57.5% said they would not.

Image Credit: Nikita Vance via Canva

These are some of the reasons provided as to why they would or would not consider an 100% plant based diet:

One student said, “I think it is a small sacrifice I can make towards tackling climate change and ensuring the welfare of animals. I don’t think everyone should be expected to change to a completely plant based diet. However, with such a great variety of plant based options to choose from, I think the university can ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy. Personally, I think this is a big step in the right direction – towards a more sustainable future.”

Another, ” I would never consider a 100% plant based diet; I cannot imagine limiting myself in that way. It’s one thing to provide options that are 100% plant based alongside options that incorporate diary and/or meat, it’s another to force this on everyone regardless of their personal dietary choices. I personally really enjoy dairy and I enjoy meat, and I very much agree that the meat and dairy industries need significant reform but I don’t think this is the way to encourage that change. I also have concerns as most foods that are wholly plant-based are often more processed or contain more chemicals than their meat/dairy inclusive alternatives. Finally, I personally find that 100% plant-based food simply doesn’t appeal to my palate, the flavors and textures often don’t agree with me.”

Some students also cited illness as their reasoning, “I have to eat a low FODMAP diet or I get really sick. Most vegan food is high FODMAP.” and, “I have coeliac disease, so already have a very restricted diet for medical reasons”.

Students were also asked if they had any alternative suggestions.

One said, “Choice is key. You can’t restrict the options people have to the point of forcing them into adhering with a certain agenda. Increasing variety is important but the answer is not to remove meat entirely. A 100% plant-based menu does not represent the majority of students. I think a 50% plant-based [Union] would be a suitable option.”

Another, “Expand the number of food options, let people make informed decisions by educating them, don’t just dictate what people can and can’t eat. Make an effort to source locally and from ethical, sustainable farmers. Provide more fish options as they’re far better for the environment than red meats. HOLD A SECOND VOTE THAT EVERYONE IS AWARE OF. Burying the notice in the deluge of emails that we receive every week isn’t democracy, and make sure there is a significant enough difference between the votes that the changes will be an inclusive decision, not a divisive one, implementing such a huge change shouldn’t be another Brexit. Present us with what a plant-based student Union would look like instead of asking us to vote on a mystery outcome. Create options to have a 50% plant-based [Union], so that there are degrees that people can choose so that it isn’t an absolute, all-or-nothing vote.”

One student particularly voiced their concerns over the direction the Union is taking, “I don’t agree with the move towards 100% plant based within Stirling University Student Union. We weren’t made aware that this was a decision up for debate at the November General Meeting as it was not publicised very well. I think for a decision like this, the union should have went above and beyond to ensure all students were aware of the motion and the potential implications it could have on them. All students are represented by the student union and therefore should have a say in matters as huge as this. I don’t understand how the motion was still able to pass when it was less than 100 students who voted for it and therefore making the decision for the entire 17000 student population. I don’t think there was a true representation of all students opinions and feelings towards the motion at the meeting.

Image via Stirling Students Union

“I think the Union should have ensure they had representation from farming students or those against the motion to share their view. The student union have an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Policy which aims to ensure they take equality very seriously at the University. However, by going 100% plant based, they are excluding the community of students from a farming background. Farming plays a big role in the local community around Stirling and a community should work together to support each other. Graham’s Dairy and Scotbeef are two of the biggest employers in the area and by going 100% plant based, the student union is not supporting some of the local businesses. I think the biggest impact on students is the fact they are not getting to choose what they are going to eat.

“Everyone has the freedom of choice, but the student of union is taking away a student’s right to choose whether they want to eat plant based or not. We should all get to decide what we eat. By not offering a variety of food options, the Union is encouraging students to shop elsewhere which will have a damaging commercial impact on the Student Union. This perhaps could result in less jobs for students within the Student Union. Ultimately, I think that students should have a choice in the food options available within Stirling Uni Student Union.”

As a Student Union employee I have to agree. In my personal experience, we sell very little of our plant based options (vegan wraps/melts, veggie burgers etc.) and those higher up in the Union who manage finances and catering orders would also be aware of this. I cannot understand how such a Union altering decision has been made without considering the financial impact this is going to have on the Union. People who eat meat, who are seemingly the majority, are just going to eat in other University outlets and avoid the Union entirely if it doesn’t cater to them. The ultimate decrease in footfall that will be caused by this motion will be the final nail in the coffin for an already dying Union.

Some respondents that were in favour of the motion had a poor attitude, leaving suggestions like “Go vote next time if you don’t like the outcome of an election,” and “I don’t see any reason for questioning this decision. Anyone who is not happy with eating at these 3 plant-based outlets is free to eat at one of the other 10 outlets that offer predominantly meat-based foods, often with very few vegan options “

In this day and age where the masses campaign for inclusivity and equality, the attitude of “if you don’t like it go somewhere else” from people when you don’t agree with them is a disgrace. If it were the other way around and we told those in favour to “go somewhere else” there would most definitely be an outcry of how unfair it is.

If we truly want a fair outcome for all students, the only way to achieve this in my opinion is a 50% plant-based Union is the only way to go. This means that there will be more vegan/plant-based options on the menu so those in favour of the motion will be happy, while still keeping ‘regular’ options on the menu and therefore not excluding those who can’t or don’t want to eat a plant-based diet. The Union is for all students and should continue to cater for the interests of all students.

Featured Image Credit: Stirling’s Vegan and Rights for Animals Society (@stir.vera on Instagram)

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