New Refter discontinues Meat Free Monday
After three and a half years, the university restaurant will start selling meat again on Mondays. However, it's not a complete U-turn. 'We are continuing to pursue our sustainability ambitions.'
On 26 March, the refurbished Refter with six food counters will officially open. The ‘Refter 2.0’ is not only saying goodbye to the old interior: Meat Free Monday won’t be returning either. Opinions on the meatless day were divided when it was first introduced late 2015. ‘Patronising’ and ‘a restriction of freedom of choice’ according to some, while on the other side, arguments such as ‘the university needs to lead by example’ and ‘breaking away from the norm of meat’ dominated. What lies behind the discontinuation of Meat Free Monday and how do the students feel about it?
The disappearance of Meat Free Monday is not a step back, but rather the next step in the sustainability ambitions of Radboud University, Gerben Smit, director of Facilities and Services (F&S) explains. ‘Late 2017, we held a survey among our customers that revealed that our guests feel it is important we offer a wide range of sustainable products. Because of that, we have greatly expanded our range in the new Food Court concept and included a much larger selection of vegetarian and vegan products.’
So, in the future, the Refter will no longer be excluding meat one day a week, but will be offering more vegetarian and vegan products five days a week ‘to encourage people to eat sustainably’. According to Smit Meat Free Monday was a good initiative, because it may well have contributed to a raised awareness among students and staff. ‘We are continuing to pursue sustainable ambitions, but in a different way.’
So, is this really the end of vegetarian Monday? Not necessarily, says Smit. ‘We are still trying to ascertain what is important to our guests and what they would like to buy. We then translate that to our range. For example, many people asked whether pancakes would be returning to the new Refter. And we listened: we will still be selling pancakes.’
Having said that, F&S will not be allowing its sustainability agenda to be dictated by the guest. The Faculty of Social Sciences will be carrying out research into how Refter guests could be better tempted to eat vegetarian or vegan dishes more often.
Some students are relieved now that Meat Free Monday has lost out. Joppe Hamelijnck, student of Philosophy and enrolled in the Pre-Master’s Business Administration, for example, is pleased with the development. According to Hamelijnck, the idea behind vegetarian Monday (eating less meat for environment and health) is good, but the means were not effective and not fitting for the university. ‘The university didn’t want to force students in any way, so meat was available at other places on campus. This doesn’t benefit the environment: it’s gesture politics.’
The student argues that imposing an ideology is not fitting for a university. ‘Awareness is good, but not if it’s achieved by bullying the meat-eater. It should be achieved through facilitating discussion and informing people. We have all the tools necessary to conduct an intellectual discussion about matters such as the meat industry and sustainability.’
‘It’s not the university’s task to impose anything on students.’
Although Hamelijnck is positive about the freedom of choice that the student will now have in the Refter, he is critical of F&S’ ambition to nudge students towards eating less meat. ‘There’s a clear line between giving people food for thought and manipulating them. Intellectual exchange is good but imposing things or manipulating students is not fitting for a university.’
Master’s student of Environment & Society Studies Lisa Busink is disappointed that Meat Free Monday is disappearing. ‘I thought it was awesome that Radboud University had the guts to introduce Meat Free Monday. In doing so, the university demonstrated that going without meat for a day is not a problem. I also think that the university’s ecological footprint was lower thanks to the fact that no meat was served on Mondays.’
‘Eating less meat is still a necessity.’
According to Busink, the disappearance of vegetarian Monday is sending the wrong signal. ‘Radboud University is indicating that it’s okay to eat meat on Mondays again; that Meat Free Monday is no longer necessary. Which is strange, since there is still a need for eating less meat.’
Although Lisa feels that the university should be allowed to show some leadership and should fulfil its social function, she’s more interested in the result: ‘If nudging helps people to eat less meat and throw away less meat, then I’m happy.’