In my four years at Stanford, not a lot has changed. The fountains are still churning, students are still freaking out over the next organic chem midterm and the weeks of the quarter still fly by with an uncanny speed (is it really week 10 already?). But there is one thing that has dropped dramatically: the amount of meat Stanford students are eating.
You may have noticed it too — an increasing number of Stanford students are going vegan or vegetarian or taking steps to reduce their meat consumption. In the last year, over 1,700 Stanford students pledged to go meatless every Monday; that’s a quarter of the student body. And while this trend of meat reduction is particularly strong at Stanford, it is not unique to Stanford: All across the country, people of our generation are ditching meat. From 2005 to 2011, the number of vegetarian college students grew by 50 percent, and the number of vegan college students more than doubled. And while only 1 percent of baby boomers and 4 percent of Gen Xers are “faithful vegetarians,” 12 percent (and counting) of millennials identify as vegetarian.
Stanford dining has heard the unambiguous call for more plant-based foods. Last year, Stanford was proclaimed the “Most Vegan-Friendly College” by PETA. And earlier this month, the CEO of the Humane Society of the United States praised R&DE for its trailblazing work to increase the number of plant-based food options on campus.
With all the euphoria surrounding the delicious developments in both plant-based and even cultured meat products, it can be easy to forget why this movement really matters. At the end of the day, folks are not choosing different foods just because of the health benefits and delicious food products available (although those are certainly good reasons to do so!). They’re doing so because they recognize that meat production is destroying the environment and hurting humans and animals alike.
Meat is one of the top two causes of climate change (depending on what study you look at); in fact, it is likely that animal agriculture is responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, halving one’s meat consumption reduces one’s carbon footprint by over 35 percent. Meat is also a massive waste of water; going vegetarian reduces one’s water footprint by almost 60 percent. From a public-health perspective, animal agriculture is catastrophic: Its excessive use of antibiotics is leading to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which just a few months ago were found to be resistant to even our last-resort antibiotics. Scientists estimate that a vegan world would avert 8.1 million human deaths per year by 2050. Meat kills, and not just the animals.
Speaking of which, what about the animals? It probably won’t surprise you to hear that their lives are filled — from start to finish — with intense agony and constant physical and emotional pain. Indeed, just because a farm animal is born with feathers instead of body hair or four legs instead of two, they will suffer immensely. They will be confined in cages so small for their entire lives that they cannot even turn around or fully extend their limbs. They will be surgically mutilated without painkillers. They will be boiled alive. Mothers will be forcibly separated from their offspring at birth. Would we tolerate any of this behavior if the victim were a dog or a cat? Legally, it wouldn’t be allowed; if we treated a dog or a cat the same way we treat chickens, pigs or cows on animal farms, we would be arrested on an animal cruelty felony.
Of course, not everybody has access to vegetarian food. There are food deserts in the U.S. and the rest of the world, and it is absolutely crucial that we fight for institutional changes to address this grave problem. But let’s be real for a moment: Stanford and the broader Bay Area are not food deserts. If you’re on a meal plan, you can pick from the plethora of delicious plant-based foods in the dining halls. If you’re in a house, chefs will more than accommodate (if you ask them to). And if you’re buying your own food or dining out, veg eating has never been easier. Moreover, studies have found that going vegetarian saves at least $750 each year.
These reasons — the moral necessity of decreasing meat consumption and the ease at which most students can do so — may explain why overwhelming numbers of Stanford students are ditching meat.
– David Kay, ’16
David Kay is the founder and former president of Stanford PAW (People for Animal Welfare)
Contact David Kay at davidkay19 ‘at’ gmail.com