Oxford college test-drives Meat Free Wednesday

Students at Pembroke become the latest to vote meat off the mid-week menu at the world-famous university

Pembroke College crest and aerial view of Oxford

Bacon is popular in Pembroke College, Oxford – the artist, that is. The college’s Junior Common Room (JCR) sold a work by Francis Bacon in 1997 for £400,000 and has been benefiting from the proceeds ever since. The other kind of bacon is less popular – which is why students are trialling a Meat Free Wednesday.

This week and for the next three weeks of the new term, meat will be off the mid-week menu, before students hold a vote on whether a Meat Free Wednesday should be integrated into the college’s constitution. Oxford’s 38 colleges and 6 permanent private halls are self-governing, meaning they can decide what is served in their dining halls.

The idea was put the JCR by final year students Rebecca Lander and Sam Dennis, who are both vegetarian. “It caused a bit of a stir to begin with but after a debate about the environmental impact MFM would have, the motion passed easily – roughly 85 per cent from a show of hands,” said Dennis. To help persuade people, the pair argued that taking meat off the menu was not the same thing as limiting the range of dishes available.

Dennis also worked out that substituting beef for soya in one meal a week would have the equivalent carbon footprint impact of permanently removing 700 lightbulbs from the college.

Pembroke will not be the first at Oxford University to go down the meat free route. Regent’s Park College voted in January last year to adopt a Meat Free Wednesday, while Pembroke’s sister college, Queen’s, and Wadham are both Meat Free Monday devotees. Brasenose, Balliol and Oriel are serving far more meat free meals than ever before. Pembroke has an ongoing rivalry with Christ Church, so it’s possible the latter will rise to the challenge and make its own meat free commitment.

Kevin Dudley, the head chef at Pembroke, has noticed that dietary habits have changed significantly since he began working at the university. “When I started catering in Oxford colleges 25 years ago, we only had two vegetarians,” he says. “Now about 30 per cent have a vegetarian card.” Veggie cards entitle students to eat a meat free option in the college hall, while all other students must have the meat option – something many are unhappy about, according to Lander and Dennis.

That’s why they are so enthusiastic about a move towards a Meat Free Wednesday. “I’m so excited to be a part of this at Pembroke,” says Lander. “I think this decision is a great reflection of people’s changing attitudes, and even though this is a small change it will collectively make a big difference.”