The 2022 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is alarming. With the current rate of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the world is heading towards an increase of 3 °C by the year 2100, despite 1.5 °C degrees being considered the critical limit. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the raising of animals for food production causes around 15 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. According to the final report of the Finnish Government’s FoodMin project, the production of meat and dairy products cause a total of 65 per cent of the climate impact of the average Finnish diet. Universities and other institutes of higher education can therefore effectively reduce their emissions by making vegan food available in canteens.
The nutrition recommendations of the Finnish Food Authority state that a vegan diet is suitable for people of all ages if it is carefully planned. Moreover, a balanced vegan diet is recommended from the perspective of health also – nutrition recommendations for adults emphasise adding vegetables and limiting meat products in the diet.
As part of the scientific community, it is also the duty of students to take the lead in putting the latest research-based developments into practice. SYL and many student unions have taken steps to switch to plant-based meals in the events they organise. SYL is also committed to being a pioneer in this and other important issues and to helping bring about a sustainable future. The demands of the student movement and the broader scientific community for climate action must now be widely implemented in the entire university community.
Student restaurants participate in the meal subsidy programme of the Social Insurance Institution of Finland (Kela), which is why Kela’s criteria and recommendations play a large role in how the student meal system is developed. Kela’s meal recommendation for students in higher education does not oblige restaurants to serve animal products if they offer only vegetarian food. However, the recommendation mentions that there should be a student restaurant on campus that offers mixed food near the student restaurant that only serves vegan food. For one thing, this takes into account the right of people with special diets to obtain the type of food they need. From the perspective of competition between restaurants, the requirement that there must be a mixed food restaurant in the vicinity of a vegan restaurant puts restaurants that offer environmentally sustainable foods in a weaker position compared to others.
Through its recommendations, Kela aims to promote healthy and environmentally sustainable diets. However, promoting an animal-based diet does not further environmental sustainability. Special diets must still be accommodated in student restaurants. However, the emphasis must be shifted from vegan food being available as a special diet to it being the primary option. To this end, Kela’s meal recommendations must be changed to encourage a vegan diet by removing the requirement regarding restaurants providing mixed food.
The SYL climate network urges that all student restaurants switch to vegan meals, so that we in the university community can take the lead in combatting climate change and contributing to national and EU-level emissions reduction goals. We must bear the responsibility for helping ensure a better future as a community, and we will not leave the burden of taking action for the good of the climate to individuals alone.
SYL’s Climate Network is an independent actor calling for ambitious climate action and is made up of the following members:
Chair: Liina Korkiamäki (JYY)
Suvi-Tuuli Ryhänen (LTKY)
Tiitu-Lotta Paju (OYY)
Julia Kerkelä (LYY)
Oskari Hakala (JYY)
Silja Kallio (HYY)
Mari Van Den Berg (TYY)
Laura Koivisto (VYY)
Hanna Vähävuori (TREY)
Katja Karjalainen (LYY)
Chair of SYL’s Climate Network