This Michaelmas, St Anne’s College Oxford started offering a vegan option at lunch and dinner. Previously, St Anne’s only offered two meat options and one vegetarian option, with vegans having to ask for a ‘mystery’ option not physically displayed or listed on the online menu. The new changes mean that now one of the three listed options will be vegan, and sometimes a second may even be vegetarian.
Making vegan meals a standard option on the daily menu was the idea of St Anne’s new head chef, Ben Gibbons (formerly Head Chef of Hertford). “It is something I tried at Hertford College during my time there and it worked out well,” he told me via email. “The vegan options are great dishes that will suit themselves to the vegetarian diners when there isn’t a vegetarian option running alongside the vegan on the same service.”
Vegans at St Anne’s welcome these changes with it allowing both vegans and non-vegans to access to high-quality, ethical vegan food. Emmaleigh Eaves, a second-year French & German student at St Anne’s, is vegan and commented:
“I think that more people will opt for the vegan option simply because now they can see it. Often I’d come out and my friends would say ‘oh I wish I had that’, so it will definitely give a choice. From looking at the menu, the vegan options all sound like nice and ‘normal’ like ravioli and pie, so it’s not like anyone is being forced to eat raw kale and carrots!”
Another vegan St Anne’s student, second- year music student Toby Anderson, agrees that the change will increase transparency about the vegan option, as well as give it an equal place on the playing field. “In the past the vegan options always seemed to me to be this extra thing made on the side with little love or passion. Perhaps the way it was denied a space amongst the other meals gave it an image of lesser-ness. Also, more and more people around college are going vegan so the vegan options will start to become more popular and have more care given to them.”
The news comes amidst wider efforts to increase the quality and availability of vegetarian and vegan food at the University. In November, over 1660 students participated in the annual Veggie Pledge contest run by the Oxford SU.
In the last edition of the Veggie Norrington Table (a triennial survey-based ranking conducted by the Oxford University Animal Ethics Society, published in 2016) St Anne’s placed joint 13th out of 30 colleges. According to anonymised comments from the survey, colleges vary widely in terms of the vegetarian and vegan food offered. Colleges such as Keble and Christ Church offered meatless Mondays. It was commonplace for vegan food to be not on display but available upon request, as was the case at Lady Margaret Hall, while at other colleges, such as Exeter, vegan food would need to be booked beforehand or was not available at all. Respondents also noted the lack of protein, and the overuse of certain ingredients in vegetarian meals, such as mushrooms, tomato sauce, and cheese.
Felix Taylor, President of the Oxford University Animal Ethics Society and DPhil candidate in English at St Hugh’s College, commends the move and hopes other colleges follow suit. “Considering the bigger picture these kinds of changes seem utterly necessary,” Taylor said. “Last year this very university released a study suggesting that a vegan, plant-based diet is the single largest way to reduce our environmental impact – not simply in terms of greenhouses gases,but land use, water use, and acidification. It takes 15,000 litres of water, for example, to produce a kilogram of beef. 9,000 for lamb.”
“Livestock and humans combined now make up 96% of all mammals, and yet meat and dairy currently constitutes 18% of all calorie intake and a third of protein. The science is beginning to seem incontrovertible on the matter, not to mention the fact that philosophers are branding the practice of factory farming one of the largest ethical crises of the modern era. In terms of going a step further, Cambridge University colleges have recently taken beef and lamb off their menus because the production of these kinds of meats are the most damaging to the environment. It would be encouraging to see Oxford adopting similar, university-wide changes, if it wants to continue to lead the way in sustainable and environmentally-friendly initiatives.”
In terms of nutrition, Taylor believes the new options at St Anne’s won’t negatively affect students. “Just looking at the menu for Week one, many of the dishes offer sufficient sources of protein like puy lentils, jackfruit, tempeh, dhal (made using lentils”. He told me that “enough of the right fruits and vegetables will also cover iron and calcium, so there doesn’t seem to be too much to worry about on that front. “We know that a well planned plant-based diet is one of the healthiest options: various international health associations attest to this.”
Taylor doesn’t anticipate any backlash to this type of change. “For those who eat meat their options remain. For vegetarians there’s even less to worry about as the meals are technically vegetarian anyway,” he said.
“It’s also clear that vegetarians don’t particularly want meals simply covered in cheese, so this might provide some relief! One of the main reasons I hear from people who see the appeal of a vegan diet but who haven’t made the leap is that it’s too difficult,too expensive or too much effort.“
“For colleges to provide good-tasting and nutritional vegan options every day will allow people on the fence to eat vegan without extra effort on their part, and hopefully en- courage them to continue the change outside of college.”