UC Berkeley must move toward a plant-based future

Illustration of the Earth on a dining plate, two hands above it holding a fork and knife as if about to cut into it
Aishwarya Jayadeep/Senior Staff

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Despite UC Berkeley’s reputation for emphasizing environmentalism and sustainability, the campus seems to do little to promote an environmentally conscious approach to our future, exemplified by its failure to eliminate usage of animal products. A lifestyle free from the consumption of animal products is not only sustainable but also affordable. Animal agriculture, on the other hand, is both immoral and destructive to the environment.

Animal agriculture, which refers to the “mass industrialization of the breeding, raising, and slaughter of animals for human consumption,” exploits innocent animals and takes a negative toll on our planet, as it is one of the biggest contributors to human-made greenhouse gas emissions.

UC Berkeley is a progressive institution. UC Berkeley students started the Free Speech Movement, advocated for peace and equality and fought for the rights of students with disabilities. UC Berkeley also joined forces with the nine other UC campuses to advocate for climate action as part of the UC Green New Deal Coalition. But social justice and animal rights are not mutually exclusive. So why does UC Berkeley continue to sell and offer animal products?

In an average American diet, beef consumption creates 1,984 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions annually. These emissions go on to disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color. If the average American were to switch to a plant-based diet, they would reduce their emissions by 96%, resulting in only 73 pounds of carbon emissions. Project Drawdown, a climate mitigation project, found that a single person’s global gas emissions can be decreased by 70% if they adopt a vegan diet, and can be reduced by 63% by adopting a vegetarian diet.

In addition to environmental benefits, plant-based diets have many health benefits. Contrary to popular belief, plant-based diets can meet the protein intake requirement for humans. Protein should account for 10%-15% of daily human calorie intake, which is a threshold that can easily be met by plant-based alternatives. Plant-based diets also improve heart health and are less likely to lead to chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, obesity or cancer. We understand the necessary first steps to make our Earth a more sustainable place and we need to take these painfully obvious initiatives.

UC Berkeley’s neglect of animal rights should not be an example to educators, families and students. We cannot embrace performative initiatives; we need to make actual change.

Berkeley Organization for Animal Advocacy, or BOAA, is UC Berkeley’s nonviolent animal rights group for the systemic social and political change of animal rights that preaches radical inclusivity, emergent leadership and informed activism.

A crucial pillar of BOAA’s mission is to foster a purposeful community that stands with marginalized groups, confronting transphobia, ableism, speciesism, homophobia, anti-blackness, sexism and racism as part of its activism. BOAA members also spearheaded the first student investigation inside of a factory farm that supplies UC Berkeley and observed piglets in a hideous case of animal cruelty.

BOAA recently hosted a virtual Zoom protest projected on Sproul Hall. Members delivered speeches as part of their Open Letter to Cal Dining, asking to ban meat sold at UC Berkeley, condemn the exploitation and slaughter of animals and invest in plant-based products for students.

BOAA’s efforts recently reached all 10 UC campuses. A team of student animal rights activists from different UC campuses expanded BOAA’s initial call for animal rights justice to formulate the Stop the Slaughter Campaign.

This campaign requests, among other things, that the UC Board of Regents and UC President Michael Drake immediately begin a five-year transition from animal food products to healthier and ethical plant-based foods in dining halls and at hospitality events and publicly condemn the exploitation and slaughter of animals through press releases and campus publications. It also asks that the Board of Regents redirect funds towards cruelty-free alternatives to nonfood products, materials and methods.

While calling upon the UC system to go plant-based may seem ambitious, it’s been accomplished at other institutions.

The University of London’s Goldsmiths, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford have banned the sale of beef and lamb on their campuses in line with the schools’ plans to become carbon neutral. While Ithaca College participates in Meatless Mondays, there is yet to be an American university that has completely banned the sale of meat on their campus. Even so, in 2019, 119,000 people supported a petition for meat to be banned across all UC campuses, which serve nearly 300,000 students.

If UC Berkeley is truly a progressive university, it ought to set a precedent for other universities around the world by adopting a fully plant-based menu.

We are failing to uphold our community principles and support the future of communities of color. We must do better. We must listen to the facts and research about the detrimental effects of meat consumption. And we must change the status quo once and for all.

Rina Rossi is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley studying economics and classics with minors in journalism, comparative literature and anthropology.