The University of Nottingham was recently voted the Number 1 "Most Vegetarian-Friendly UK University," in a poll conducted by Peta2, the youth wing of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). In achieving first place, Nottingham beat Glasgow University, which has Vegan Society accreditation, into second place.
According to Peta2, the university has been "working alongside Vegsoc – Nottingham University Vegetarian and Vegan Society." Alex Claridge, the society's social security was kind enough to answer a few questions about what the group have actually been doing.
Q: What's your response to the university's success in the Peta2 poll?
AC: We’re delighted with the result, and incredibly proud of the accolade both as a society and more widely as a university. Although there have been previous animal ethics societies at the uni, this is our first year as ‘vegsoc’and, already, we’ve achieved a very great deal – although that isn’t to say there isn’t more to do! Recogition from PETA is really just the icing on the (vegan!) cake for everyone who has been involved in the society this year, and an affirmation that whatever we’ve done this far is working.
Q:What is your personal experience of being vegetarian on campus?
AC: It is probably more accurate to answer this one in terms of vegetarian and then vegan. As a vegetarian on campus, you can be sure that there will be options for you daily and usually a good selection. For vegans, Nottingham Uni is certainly better than many Universities; we’re currently going through the motions to finalise Vegan Society accreditation, and we hope to be the first English Uni and the second in the UK. In practice, this means that there will always be vegan options, which is a fantastic starting point, and beyond that we’re committed to ensuring that there will be a variety of exciting and great-tasting vegan friendly options.
Q: What have you been doing to encourage the university to become more vegetarian friendly?
AC: In terms of catering, the University have needed little encouragement! I think more and more people are recognising that vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have much to offer and attract a wide variety of people from all walks of life – including both students and lecturers! Perhaps we’ve hastened the process, by offering advice, feedback and the framework for development but our progress in terms of vegan and veggie catering has very much been a co-operative effort on behalf of both our society and the university. We went to the University with solutions rather than problems; I think it is important to be positive in whatever your goal – the emphasis is on what we can do, not what we can’t.
Q: What else do you hope to get from the uni?
AC: We don’t really see our work as a case of what we can ‘get’ from the University – we are after all technically part of the same institution! Rather, we hope that we can fulfil our role as a representative group for vegetarians and vegans at the University to the very best of our abilities. We hope to continue developing food at the University in the same direction to cement the University as truly a leader in terms of veggie and vegan catering. Likewise, we are always glad to tackle issues that might be raised by individual members.
We’re also hoping to expand our sphere of influence and involvement, beyond its current realm of food, to include other issues of concern at the university. We’re acutely aware that Nottingham, for all its achievements in some areas, doesn’t have the best reputation for its involvement in vivisection. We would certainly like to encourage a more open dialogue and discussion about the role of vivisection in the University’s research and teaching, and also open up the floor for feedback and discussion with the student population. Hopefully, this is something that the University will feel able to work with us on – it would be fantastic to boast of a University that is truly leading the way in all areas for vegetarians, vegans and animal-lovers alike.
Q: What other activities has the society been involved in?
AC: We maintain a busy social programme, including fortnightly meals out and a weekly bar night at the wonderful alley café. We’re developing a discount card for our members to get top offers at restaurants and stores around the city, and we’re currently administering a campus wide survey to get the first comprehensive impression of veggie/vegan numbers on campus and to tailor our work with the University over coming months to student feedback and needs. Over the summer vacation period we’re hoping to produce a essential guide to veggie Nottingham to distribute to new students in September. Members are also working on a compendium of great veggie and vegan recipes to offer online. We like to be kept busy!
Q: The group recently changed it's name from Animal Ethics Society to Vegetarian and Vegan Society. Can you say someting about the thinking behind this change and what it has meant in terms of your activities?
AC: The name change was, in many ways, one of practicality rather than any deeper meaning! The society is generally known as vegsoc - with the official title more one for forms and paperwork. Vegsoc is considerably easier to say, write and brand than Animal Ethics for a start. The society does have a different approach to the previous Animal Ethics society, although I would argue our aims are much the same - broadly speaking, we're in it for the animals. From the outset, our focus has been on showing the fun side of vegetarianism and veganism and dispelling any myths that people may have. We totally re-branded the society, and we've enjoyed a busy social schedule and met lots of new members along the way.
There are a million and one ways you could run a society under the banner of vegetarianism, but our particular take is that by creating a friendly, accessible, and relaxed atmosphere for would-be members and the curious we're doing our bit to take vegetarianism, and particularly veganism, to the masses. Recently, we've had a week of meals and vegan buffets and we had, at times, 50% non-vegetarians dining with us - non-vegetarians who chose to come to our events, on the basis of great food, and a good time. Veggies for the world, albeit one meal at a time! That isn't to say we don't have members who are interested in the academic, philosophical or campaigning side of things - certainly, we're glad to talk to anyone about the 'more serious' side of animal ethics - but there is no reason you can't have fun in the process. No egos, no attitudes, no nonsense - let the good (veg) times roll.
Q: As a society you've lobbied university authorities. You've also hosted former ALF-member Keith Mann an advocate of property destruction. Can you say something about the benefits of these very different campaigning methods?
AC: It was our pleasure to receive Keith, and we’d be interested in hosting similar talks in the future. The event itself offered our members and the local community alike a fantastic opportunity to watch ‘Behind the Mask’, an award-winning documentary considering the animal rights movement as a whole and also, the much-publicised Animal Liberation Front. Keith’s broad experience of the animal rights movement, and integral role in the documentary made him a fantastic speaker to introduce the film and also talk about his much-acclaimed book From Dusk ‘Til Dawn.
As a society we are strictly peaceful and campaign entirely within legal means for progress and change. Our approach is drastically different from that of direct action, however we also feel it is important to foster a wider awareness of the animal rights movement as a whole – both on an academic and a practical level. Detractors are keen to blurry the lines of distinction, or tarnish the animal rights movement as ‘extremist’ which is, I hasten to add, almost always unfounded. There is nothing extreme about opposing animal cruelty, and the issues at hand enjoy support from an ever-increasing and incredibly diverse cross-section of the general public. The best defence therefore, from would-be detractors, is to know your facts!