Make Utrecht University a fully vegan institution
Utrecht, December 2018
Dear staff and students of Utrecht University,
I have a dream that one day Utrecht University will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed ‘Bright Minds, Better Future’. Important things in life are easily overlooked. The way we eat has an enormous impact on the future and has more moral significance than we usually think.
Utrecht University is a bulwark of learning and science since its establishment in 1636. It is up to historians to find out if Utrecht University has been progressive when it came to moral progress. There is at least one case that points in the direction of progressiveness. Right at the start of the university, Anna Maria van Schurman was by special permission allowed to study at Utrecht University as the first female student in the Netherlands, although she had to sit behind a curtain.
At this very moment Utrecht University has again the possibility to be on the progressive side. Scientific evidence makes it abundantly clear that factory farming and the consumption of animal products is a major contributor to a plethora of ecological disasters including climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, erosion and water scarcity. In our present-day society is it perfectly possible to live a healthy vegan lifestyle. Sustainable development begins with a vegan diet which greatly reduces our ecological footprint. It makes no sense to discuss sustainable development without including a vegan lifestyle. Therefore, Utrecht University with its green and ideological ambitions, has a fundamental choice: do we really care for sustainable development, for future generations and walk the talk by making Utrecht University a fully vegan institution?
I have a dream that one day non-human animals are not victims whose flesh is served at Utrecht University. There is a moral blind spot – which philosophers have been pointing out for over 50 years – that there is no concern for the lives of animals. In all the canteens of Utrecht University each day there is a buffet of meat and dairy. That animals are excluded and continue to be excluded from the moral circle, especially from a place of learning, reflection and contemplation, is a disgrace. Philosopher Peter Singer and many with him have pointed out that excluding nonhuman animals from our moral circle is a form of discrimination – which he calls speciesism -, just as racism and sexism. We would not want Utrecht University to be racist or sexist, so why do we think that being speciesistic is morally permissible?
In a discussion our former rector pointed out that although he himself is a vegetarian (which is a stepping stone towards veganism), he would not want to force it upon the whole academic community. However, democracy only works within a moral framework. The moral framework itself cannot be decided upon by majority vote. What if the majority would be opposed to homosexual students and staff? Would one then say: I would not want to force my personal opinion on others? As long as there are no victims involved, democratic rule is fine. But the democratic process should not be used to victimize the oppressed, even if they are voiceless. Utrecht University has a chance to step up and contribute to moral progress.
I have a dream that one day – one day soon – Utrecht University will be the first fully vegan university in the world. Just as in 1636 our university was courageous enough to allow Anna Maria to university, not by majority vote, but because it was the right thing to do, we now have a chance to make a change which can be much broader then our university alone. Utrecht University can set a moral example for a better future. We have a chance here and now to make a change and to make history. Will Utrecht University be a place where students and staff enjoy their cruelty-free meals and walk together on their non-leather sustainable shoes?
Here is an opportunity for a better world, which does not cost a Euro. Take it. Make it happen. Now.
Speaking up for the voiceless animals and future generations, I greet you, in despair.
Dr Floris van den Berg
Assistant Professor Environmental Philosophy
Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development