By Dominic Stephen
Vegetarianism is on the rise in the West and UCU has only helped confirm this global trend. I’ve noticed considerably more students banging the vegetarian drum here at UCU than back at my old East London suburban school. I wonder why? Does the UCU Admissions team search for students with a certain intelligence and awareness; with qualities beyond the generic academic and extracurricular expectations, and a perspective that the Vegetarian Decision can entail? Maybe it’s just a coincidence. All I know is that either there’s more vegetarians in The Bubble than there are on average, or the Dining Hall’s pesto and cheese panini’s taste really bloody good.
I don’t think it would be too radical to say that the Dutch lifestyle is complementary to the philosophies often embraced by the vegetarian community – in Holland recycling is widely facilitated; freedom of speech and expression encouraged; the lost tourist will be kindly offered the correct directions by a local; and even after a month I still feel a touch sentimental about the Dutchie’s unshakeable and admirable devotion to their bicycle. It’s a country whose spirit is healthy, helpful and progressive – reflective of the average vegetarian’s principles, you might say.
Ethics is a messy business. The reader will be relieved to know that I will steer clear of this prickly issue, and spare them the animal welfare sermon that we know all too well. No, I think the conversion to vegetarianism – or its less restrained sibling, pescetarianism – is one of holism. Documentary-films such as ‘Forks Over Knives’, ‘Food Inc.’ and ‘Vegucation’ enlighten us to the inhumane, unnatural and unsustainable processes that may churn out their next meaty meal. I challenge the conscientious viewer to deny that they feel ever so slightly guilty about supporting these largely corrupt, contaminated and sociopathic industries. And this mental process requires an awakening. It challenges the consumer to look up, over their dinner plate and consider the implications of their purchase. It is bewildering to discover that the world’s transport industry is out-polluted by the methane-emitting farm animals; it is frightening to think of the corn given annually to the forty two million animals in the U.S. could be redirected to the deprived masses in Africa and Asia; and footage of veal-farmers dragging wailing calves, still covered in their protective in-utero slime, away from their howling mothers is heart-breaking.
Vegetarianism is the opposite of denial – it is a considered detachment from a Western culture that, directly or indirectly, perpetuates the obsession with exploiting Mother Earth for all that she provides. It is to understand that premature death through diet-related illness is a completely unnecessary risk; that by virtue of being modern human beings we have developed the cognitive faculties to counter a dietary protein and vitamin B-12 deficiency. My own vegetarian inclinations have not been for long, but after one month of living at UCU I feel anything but discouraged to put down my steak knife, take responsibility for my food choices, and grab another pesto panini.