One year of DefaultVeg at the Uehiro Centre

Today (1 November) is ‘world vegan day’. This is a good moment to reflect on a decision that the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics took almost exactly a year ago. In October 2021, we chose to firmly commit to a DefaultVeg approach to help reduce meat and dairy consumption. Such reduction will help transform our current farming practices, which are extremely harmful to our planet, and all those who live on it. [National Food Strategy. Independent Review for the Government]

What does this DefaultVeg commitment entail? Over the past year, we have provided plant-based food and drinks by default for all meetings and events that we host, and for our staff and visitors at the Centre during normal workdays. The choice to opt for meat and/or dairy remains, but those who want this have to opt in. Given the high numbers of vegans among our admin team, staff and students, we had already adopted a DefaultVeg approach to some extent, but DefaultVeg has ensured that we do this more consistently and explicitly. As we expected, almost everyone opts for the default: plant-based options.

We hope that, by explicitly and firmly committing to a DefaultVeg approach, the Uehiro Centre also sets an example for other research centres, institutions, and workplaces in general. Going DefaultVeg is not difficult in a world with an increasing variety of plant-based food and drinks.

‘Why are we opting for DefaultVeg and not going vegan ‘all the way’?’, you may wonder.
We think that preserving freedom of choice is valuable. Food is deeply embedded in cultural and social values, and we realise that people do not always find it easy or desirable to entirely change their eating habits overnight. It is important to acknowledge this, and not rush people into different food choices, though, we hope that most people will opt for plant-based diets eventually. Forcing a food choice onto people may not always be the best way to convince people that they should eat less meat and dairy. It may make some people feel hostile towards, and hence resist, veganism. And this may result in a slower transition to a society in which most people are happy to eat (mostly) plant-based food.

Last year, the Oxford City Council approved a proposal to only offer plant-based options during council meetings. Conservative councillors objected and said whether one opts for a vegan lunch should remain a choice: “Veganism should not be forced down people’s throats. It should be a matter of choice and education.”  At the first lunch, two conservative councillors walked out in protest, and around 15 Conservative councillors enjoyed a self-funded lunch at a nearby pub and one of the councillors confirmed it ‘contained meat’.

I’m not saying that the Oxford City Council took the wrong decision by making the lunches vegan. But as the strong reaction shows, perhaps a more incremental approach towards a vegan society may work better in some contexts. Perhaps when not forced, people may find it easier to shift. And changing the default to vegan, helps to shift people towards the vegan options. As more people reduce their meat and dairy consumption, more plant-based food options will become available, which, in turn will make it easier, and thus more attractive, to become vegan. Both approaches (all vegan, and DefaultVeg) have benefits.

We find that, for the Centre, the DefaultVeg approach, has worked well (though it has taken some trial and error to find caterers and restaurants with enough good vegan options). It has been an exciting and positive journey, and we look forward to continuing it.

For those of you who are interested in adopting a DefaultVeg approach, feel free to get in touch (katrien.devolder@philosophy.ox.ac.uk) if you would like more information about how to get started.

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6 Responses to One year of DefaultVeg at the Uehiro Centre

  • Paul D. Van Pelt says:

    I am not much for standing on a soap box. It is good that people still have choice regarding such things as nutrition, whether or not the current stance is default vegan. Precious little free will, these days. When I was a kid in school, we were glad to get a thirty-cent school lunch. It would not have dawned on us to reject a cheap meal, whether we liked the food or not…if you did not want what was offered on a given day, you brought a sandwich with you. So it is that times and human consciousness have changed. Another development which sounds decidedly unappetizing is laboratory cultured meat. Not saying it won’t happen, no, just that it sounds abhorrent. A long, long way from a thirty cent school lunch. Lots of people find their soap box now. Their freedom of speech and association has become a threat to others who only wish to be left alone. Precious little privacy now too. There was once a law about privacy. I don’t know if that little statute still remains in effect. People lost interest, changed preferences and developed different motives.

  • Pavel Novak says:

    The basic idea on which the Western countries stand is the rule of law.

    That principle means that the society observes the laws that ensures the clue thing: that public power does not infringe the individual’s freedom.
    This non-activist approach treats evil as something natural. That is why that the eliminating the evil is not the matter. The matter is to respect freedom.

    But recently this “West” approach has been getting closer and closer to the “East” colectivism. The individual is no more primary. The primary is collectivity.

    There is a ban on smoking. Now you are talking about the ban on meat. What will be the next?

    This is not life in free society. It starts to resemble the life in correctional facility.

    So far you look like to be very moderate. But you say that you want to decide what is beautiful. Not us but you say what is Good. This is road to totalitarianism.

    So please remember: the truth is relative. What today seems to be beautiful the next day can proved to be horrible. In this day you condemn us. But another day you can be condemned.

  • Paul D. Van Pelt says:

    Mr. Novak:
    Any ideas, opinions or assumptions directed towards me and mine fail when they are based on yours, assuming of course, you were directing them at me. When you put interests, preferences and motive into my expressed ideas about things; interpreting those according to your own, you look foolish. Argument and debate is mostly pointless. It is more so when an antagonist changes narrative to suit his own interests, preferences and motive. Perhaps you think your position(s) is/ are philosophically sound and defensible. I have encountered them before. They rely upon misdirection and misinterpretation. A lot like modern politics. Maybe you ought to run for office? You could not do much worse than others—no matter where you are.
    With some exceptions, of course.

    • Pavel Novak says:

      Mr. Van Pelt:
      It is my fault or perhaps just misunderstanding. My intention was to comment the article itself, not your opinion. So probably by mistake
      I pressed the button “Reply” instead of putting just a comment. Sorry about this.

      • Keith Tayler says:

        Pavel
        You did not press “Reply” (no indent) and it was obvious you were commenting on the article. A few months ago Paul incorrectly assumed a comment a made was a reply to his comment.

  • Paul D. Van Pelt says:

    To the kind folks at Practical Ethics, thanks for your tolerance. I am accustomed to seeing dissension. Been doing so for years.

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