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A Plate of Potential: Food Policies at KTH

Viveka Brockman - Authorviveka.brockman@osqledaren.se

Angelos Miliadis - Illustratorosqledaren@ths.kth.se

An ambitious PhD student was on a mission to set the table for a new decade. At the Climate Strategy workshop hosted by the KTH Sustainability Office, she planned to voice her concerns: it was time for KTH to go vegan-by-default!

After some years spent integrating herself into the institution that is KTH, Letizia had many ideas dancing around her mind. Observing practices at KTH, juxtaposing them with those of other organizations and entities, a concrete plan was taking shape. On the 23rd of October, at the Climate Strategy workshop, it was time to put it forward. With high hopes, earnest determination, and faith in her university, Letizia gave her presentation at what appeared to be the opportune moment. The board gave her their full attention and she proceeded to make her proposal: introduce vegan meals as the default at all staff and public events. Backing it up with scientific research and a recent report from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), she argued that removing animal products from meals would be an effective way for KTH to reduce their climate impact. Falling short of dictating veganism, it still allows individuals to actively ask for meat, fish, or vegetarian alternatives. Essentially no options are removed, but people are nudged to consider their consumption. It is the attenuated version of a vegan norm. With a clear plan for action, her suggestion was simple and had already secured the support of her head at the Energy Department, where she pursues her PhD.

Committed to climate goals, the KTH Sustainability Office serves to fulfill expectations of a university dedicated to educating the scientists and engineers of the future. Prompted by recent student driven movements for climate action (#klimatstudenterna #levsomnilär), KTH responded by initiating a process to revise their climate goals; the resulting workshop was one of its milestones. Maintaining their well established position as a leading institute in support of sustainability, KTH is determined to take action. Considering the purpose of the office and its newly acquired ambitions, all had appeared to be in perfect alignment for Letizia’s proposal.

The minutes of the meeting were released, summarizing the scope of the day’s discussions. A sufficiently astonished Letizia read through the minutes, again. Having anticipated acknowledgment at the very least, she found no mentioning of her words. Contrary to their proclaimed goals, the proposal had been overlooked.

In an era of climate crisis, green events are invading our campus, bombarding students and staff with invitations to sustainability seminars and environmental events. However, beyond the proudly promoted, silent activism is also growing. Individuals have their own interpretations of high impact and understanding of how to contribute. From the “Underground Resistance to Consumption” to the unspoken consensus among students to transition to a vegetarian norm, certain aspects of the student body are organically morphing into a creature with a smaller footprint.

Among the astounding array of events a KTH student has the opportunity to attend, it is curious how consistently meat is absent. Although not explicitly spelled out anywhere, as is often the case within a group of students, it has become widely accepted that only vegetarian food will be offered. Spreading like a positive force, student groups, organizations, and even entire departments have begun to act. No board, no debate, no discussion, the simple mechanics of supply and demand have catalyzed change. Organizers no longer seem to bat an eye when ordering oat milk.

Departing from campus, the climate cause and sincere students have inspired industries and encouraged employers to meet market’s demand for modernization. Only by recognizing our requests will we be satisfied. That is the message. In the same manner that the students had seamlessly moved to a sustainable eating culture, Letizia suggested that the staff make the same switch. It seems strange that outside of the classroom, roles are reversed: the lessons are delivered by an audience of young people. Who should be leading by example when it comes to climate action? When the norm is carnivorous consumption, one may speculate as to their rationalization. Since KTH Sustainability Office works actively to combat climate change, it would only seem natural for them to gladly accept the students initiatives for climate betterment. So why didn’t they continue with her proposal?

Letizia demanded an explanation, but so far, the KTH Sustainability Office has offered no arguments against her proposal, simply noting that it had been difficult to reach a consensus. Student support (i.e. the student union THS) would help to bring the proposal forward, suggested Göran Finnveden, who is responsible for sustainable development within the Office. Without the opinion of THS, they will not proceed.

It is not for lack of interest that nothing has been heard from THS, whose views on the subject quite clearly align with those of Letizia. Rather, the lack of communication was an obstacle: THS was not informed. Both parties understand that cooperation and clear contact is critical for common climate interests to be adequately addressed. Announcing our concerns is paramount when it comes to provoking change. Actions are loud and they resonate.

Originally inspired by a similar initiative in the Netherlands, Letizia speaks to the intense influence KTH has in promoting change. KTH as a university has consistently been a leader when it comes to forging the path forward. Hence, exchanging existing defaults to make the easy choice the one which is better for the climate, is a winning strategy. Just as Letizia’s proposal is backed by science, we ascribe faith in the Law of Least Effort. Progress takes time, but if we manage to keep the real goals in mind, the passion and purposefulness of Letizia, and others like her, will take us there. On our campus, students strive to stimulate KTH to nudge for good.

Contact KTH Students for Sustainability at s4s.kth@gmail.com to get involved.

Publicerad: 2020-04-28

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Ansvarig utgivare: Simon Sundin
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