Default Dal

Let’s make sustainable, inclusive, plant-based food the default on Dalhousie’s campuses.

Inspired by ‘Greener by Default‘ and ‘DefaultVeg‘, we advocate making plant-based food the default for campus catering, while giving diners the choice to opt into meat/dairy.

This strategy will help us to meet carbon reduction goals and improve health and inclusivity, all while preserving freedom of choice.

Join other members of the Dalhousie community — including students, staff, and faculty — in making plant-based your own default and calling for Dal to commit to food services that promote sustainability and inclusiveness while preserving space for individual choice.

Do you order food for campus events? If so, please consider making plant-based foods your default.

Are you a member of the Dal community–whether student, staff, or faculty–who wants to see more sustainable, inclusive, plant-based food available on campus? If so, please join us in encouraging food providers to make plant-based the default.

Curious to know more? If so, read a letter sent to Dal’s President Saini that sets out a case for defaulting to plant-based foods, and if you agree, add your name to the list of members of the Dal community calling for change:

August 31, 2021

Dear Dr. Saini,

We are writing to you as concerned members of the Dalhousie community to urge you to adopt a plant-based default for catering at all official events hosted by the President’s Office and to ensure that the mandate of the Office of Sustainability also promotes plant-based foods as the default across campus. This would put Dalhousie in line with other sustainability leaders who have adopted a plant-based approach to catering on campus that nonetheless gives members of their communities the choice to opt in for alternatives with animal products. Such a change impedes no one’s choice to consume animal products while it promotes more environmentally sustainable, equitable, and inclusive policies and practices. 

This summer has seen unprecedented weather events across the world that highlight the unspeakable costs of our collective inaction in addressing the causes of greenhouse gas emissions and catastrophic climate change. In the public eye, these emissions are often associated with the fossil fuel industry, but there is increasing consensus that animal agriculture also is a major contributor. Though it can be tempting to focus on animal emissions and waste, it is important to take a panoramic view of the total environmental and social costs of animal production.  These costs garnered significant attention in  the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations’s 2006 report titled Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Since then, evidence has mounted that confirms the FAO’s contention that  animal agriculture is “one of the top…contributors to the most serious environmental problems” (FAO 2006, p. xx). Recent studies suggest that current targets of no more than an average 1.5 C increase in global temperatures over pre-industrial levels will not be possible without significant changes to our food systems, including reducing meat consumption (Clark et al., 2020; Hayek et al., 2021; Springmann et al., 2020). Other serious environmental problems to which animal agriculture contributes include deforestation, habitat and biodiversity loss, environmental and soil degradation, and ocean dead zones (Breitburg et al., 2018; Godfray et al., 2018; Schiermeier 2019). Particularly over the past 18 months, the risks of intensive animal agriculture on public health through zoonotic pandemics have also received considerable attention and prompted calls for an approach to health that appreciates the continuities between human and non-human animal populations (Astbury et al., 2021; Rodriguez-Leyva & Pierce, 2021). 

While the climate implications of current catering practices alone are enough to encourage  sustainable menus, there are additional, equally compelling reasons to move to plant-based defaults that include upholding Dalhousie’s ardent commitment to inclusiveness in all aspects of our daily practices. It is not simply that many vegetarians and vegans are often discriminated against by current default animal product-based catering norms; many religious practitioners, such as Muslims who follow Halal and Jews who keep Kosher, as well as some devout Hindus, Buddhists, Sihks, and Jains would find their dietary requirements better met by default plant-based options. Further, an estimated 68% of the global population experiences lactose malabsorption, the majority of which are Indigenous peoples and those of Asian, African, and South American descent (Storhaug et al., 2017). As a number of us can attest, there are few ways that are more effective for undermining one’s sense of belonging at an institution than being greeted with catering that one cannot eat or being required to assert one’s difference every time one hopes to be included. The spirit of inclusiveness means, of course, that people should retain the ability to opt in for alternatives containing animal products. However, as everyone can eat foods derived from plants, a plant-based default is more inclusive.

The case for moving to a largely plant-based diet is tremendously compelling, as also evidenced by Canada’s Food Guide that emphasizes plant proteins and reduces the focus on animal products (Government of Canada, 2021). As demonstrated at Harvard, Oxford, and Cambridge universities, leadership is necessary to effect desirable and beneficial changes (Harwatt et al., 2020; University of Cambridge, 2016). Indeed, credibility-enhancing actions are known to normalize and encourage desired behavior. Because of their mandate to foster research, innovation, and education, universities have a vital role to play in effecting larger social change, and the President’s Office has an essential leadership role.   

Shifting to plant-based defaults would mark Dalhousie as a leader of change across the higher education sector, demonstrating Dalhousie’s ‘Third Century Promise.’ We welcome a discussion with you to help advance these timely and critical steps for a healthy, inclusive, learning community.


Members of Default Dal

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[Click here to go to the Google Form to add your name to the call]

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