On Thursday night, the Oxford Union voted in favour of the motion “This House Would Go Vegan.” The final count had 112 members voting for the motion and 84 members voting against. Katie Hopkins, whose invitation to the Union has been quite controversial, spoke against the motion, stating “every vegan I know hates themselves.”
Speaking in favour of the motion were Joey Carbstrong, an animal rights activist with over 300 million total Youtube views; Dr. Chidi Ngwaba, a physician specialising in lifestyle medicine and wellness; and Dr. Sailesh Rao, the founder and executive director of Climate Healers. The Oxford Union President Disha Hegde also spoke for the motion.
Opposing the motion were media personality Katie Hopkins and Dr. David Rose, the head of the “Change in Agriculture” research group. Lincoln college student Manon Hammond and Union President-Elect Hannah Edwards also spoke against the motion.
Katie Hopkins’ invitation to the Union has proved to be the source of much controversy, eliciting condemnations earlier this week from the Oxford SU. A statement released on various SU social media justified the condemnation by stating that Katie Hopkins has propagated divisive rhetoric by “denigrating Islam, blaming crime on multiculturalism, and expressing discriminatory views against various ethnic and social groups.”
Union President Disha Hegde began the case for the proposition by informing the audience that she has been vegan for four years and vegetarian for eight. She argued from personal experience that becoming fully vegan was not “an overnight process” and that voting for the motion did not require already being vegan or being willing to go vegan immediately after the debate. Rather, it simply required a commitment to embarking on the “journey” of veganism.
She stated that the three prongs of the proposition’s case would be “environmentalism, health, and ethics.”
Throughout her introduction, Hegde referenced previous comments made by opposition speaker Katie Hopkins. She cited Hopkins’ declaration from her past Union appearance: “Short people and vegans. Two things I can’t stand. They must never run this Oxford Union.” Union President Hegde then told the audience that this had been “the perfect sound bite” for her campaign last Hilary Term.
She also addressed Hopkins while rebutting arguments against veganism that invoke animal “unintelligence,” stating: “There are lots of unintelligent humans. But you wouldn’t want to go around eating Piers Morgan or Katie Hopkins.”
President-Elect Hannah Edwards opened the case for the opposition on a light-hearted note, declaring: “There is a spectre haunting Europe. Oat milk lattés.” She continued, telling the audience that people generally do not like vegans and that the House should accordingly vote in opposition. After all: “Being a social pariah is not something this House should subject itself to.”
On the question of ecological damage, she said that she had no environmental expertise but that she nevertheless believed the environmental case for veganism to be overly simplistic.
The President-Elect closed her speech by urging the audience to think carefully about how it would vote, given the binding effect it might have on future Union policy. If the motion passed, President-Elect Edwards said she “may have to ban Prêt coffees from the building.”
Continuing the case for the proposition, Dr. Sailesh Rao defined veganism as the philosophy that “seeks to exclude as far as is possible all exploitation of animals.” He echoed the threefold case mentioned in President Hegde’s introduction but stated that his focus would be the environmental case for veganism.
Dr. Rao spoke of the “imminent danger of runaway climate change” and said that meat consumption was a leading cause of ecological destruction. He discussed the inefficiency of meat agriculture, which he said leads farmers to destroy forests only to replace them with grass, drastically decreasing biodiversity. He also claimed that some animals “must eat 39 pounds of plants to produce one pound of meat for humans.”
Dr. David Rose began his speech for the opposition by stating that he “want[ed] to interrogate a little bit more some of the climate points that are made on the vegan side of the debate.” He cited research which purportedly demonstrated that “we don’t actually need to lower meat consumption to stabilise global temperatures.” Throughout his speech, Rose called for more nuance on the environmental side of the debate.
At one point during the debate—when Rose was discussing nutritional discrepancies between cow’s milk and its substitutes—an audience member raised a point of information about alternative sources of nutrition. Before the audience member could finish formulating his question, however, Katie Hopkins interrupted to say: “The point was made by a short person so you don’t need to listen to him.”
The third proposition speaker, Dr. Chidi Ngwaba, focused on the second prong of the “environmentalism, health, ethics” triad. He cited a large survey conducted in China that showed meat and dairy consumption was positively correlated with risk of developing cancer. He told the audience that eating meat was unhealthy and that our bodies instead appear “perfectly designed” to consume fresh fruits and vegetables.
Lincoln third-year Manon Hammond emphasised the impracticality of going vegan, stressing the serious demands a restricted diet makes on people who might not have time to plan their meals. She also spoke of the ostracism she might face if she opted for a vegan diet. Manon told the audience that if she became vegan, it was not impossible that she would be “kicked out of her house.”
She addressed the moral question, dividing it into sub-questions concerning animals, humans, and the environment. According to Manon, on all three counts veganism was not the correct dietary choice.
She was forthright about her dislike of vegan options, claiming that they simply taste bad. Monon declared that eating meat was a “pleasure in [her] life [she was] not willing to give up.”
The final speaker for the proposition, Joey Carbstrong, focused exclusively on moral questions, arguing that “animals pay the ultimate price” when humans choose to eat meat. Throughout his speech, he compared our treatment of animals to atrocities and repeatedly used the phrase “the animal holocaust.”
He claimed that “speciesism” has pernicious consequences and cited Theodor Adorno’s remark that “Auschwitz begins wherever someone looks at a slaughterhouse and thinks: they’re only animals.” Carbstrong concluded his speech by telling that audience that it would eventually look back on crimes against animals the way we look back on “slavery, apartheid, and the holocaust.”
Katie Hopkins spoke last in the debate. She began by attacking the final proposition speaker – whom she called “Mr. Holocaust” – for his reporting on animal slaughterhouses: “That’s what vegan people call a hobby… That’s the way he chooses to spend his time, watching animals suffer.”
Her speech was replete with personal attacks against vegans. She claimed that: “Every vegan I know hates themselves” and “death is what happens to you when you’re vegan.” She addressed the vegans at the event, saying “I love you and encourage you to sit together with your miserable little friends who are all short.”
This was not the only time she mentioned the issue of stature. After claiming that veganism was “a biological deadend” and that men who didn’t eat meat had lower testosterone levels, she declared: “what I need is a massive meat-eating man… with a massive cock.”
There were multiple back-and-forth spats with members of the audience throughout Hopkins’ address, which often elicited a great deal of laughter in the chamber.