Close-up of a grill with vegetarian products and a hand of a person cooking
There was no bacon to be found on the barbecue at the Schie Dinner, only meat alternatives. (Photos: Jaden Accord)

After all association meals being vegetarian last year, the OWee and the Schie Dinner were next in line on the first evening. Has a turning point been reached in student life?

Lees in het Nederlands

Groups of first years chew down on plates of oven-baked pasta at long beer tables in the sun at the Proteus-Eretes rowing association. Completely veggie says Helena (23), a food committee member. “It’s easy and fun to prepare. I challenge myself to make it as vegan as possible.”

This year, all the meals at the OWee are vegetarian. In previous years this was the case for the meals at the student associations. New this year was the completely meat-free Schie Dinner on the opening evening. There were no pork chops on the barbecue, only soya bean sausages and veggie burgers. Make everything vegetarian was an easy option, says Feline Kaaij, OWee Vice Chair. “It is a logical step for sustainability reasons.” What helped was that as people did not really enjoy the meat on the BBQ last year, the Board thought it would be better to have tasty meat alternatives. This was backed up by only positive responses to the associations’ vegetarian meals at the OWee last year being received.

Rice, chick peas and sauce: food at Sint Jansbrug. 

Vegetarian introduction weeks

It is not only at TU Delft that the introduction week is vegetarian. The only meals served at Leiden University’s EL CID have been vegetarian since 2020. And the Eurekaweek in Rotterdam, the Intreeweek (UvA) and the Utrechtse UITweek are also entirely vegetarian. The KEI-week in Groningen has a Meatless Monday, and in Enschede the lunch at the Kick-In is always meat free. All these cities also offer a vegetarian or vegan option.

We are sneakily reducing the consumption

TU Delft’s Sustainability Coordinator, Andy van den Dobbelsteen, applauds this step. He was not involved in the decision and did not know that the OWee this year is entirely meat free until Delta called. He considers it ‘daring’ that the Board opted for a completely vegetarian menu. He estimates that the introduction week will halve its greenhouse gas emissions. He does note however, that it is important that the meat is not simply replaced by cheese, which does not emit much less greenhouse gas than meat. More sustainable options are nuts, pulses or meat alternatives. 

The students that Delta spoke to at the dining tables at the student associations are overwhelmingly positive. A lot of them are even vegetarian or eat very little meat. At the C.S.R. Christian student association – which served pasta alla vodka without vodka but with vegetables and Parmesan cheese – table, even the meat eaters said that they had no problem with the vegetarian menu. Sander (17) said that “I usually don’t enjoy vegetarian food that much, but I think that, given it is the only option, they have really done their best here.”

The OWee attendees at C.S.R. are served pasta alla vodka. Without meat and vodka, but with vegetables and Parmesan cheese. (Photo: Jaden Accord)

Student associations

Even outside of the OWee the C.S.R. serves more meals without meat than with, says Board Member Lucas van Rossum, himself a vegetarian. “It’s definitely taken off over the last few years. People really understand why we do this. The impact of meat on the climate is enormous and animal welfare is a pressing issue. It’s no more than logical that the OWee is completely veggie.”

The agreements between the OWee and the student associations about vegetarian food only apply to the evening meals. Still, this year Proteus is only selling vegetarian hotdogs at the bar while last year the first year students could choose between meat or veggie burgers. Very little meat is eaten at the rowing club says Board Member Renze Dijkhuizen. “Just twice a month. We are sneakily reducing the consumption.”

I don’t like it being imposed on us

While the decision to hold a vegetarian intro week was taken by the OWee Board, none of the student associations that Delta spoke to felt that this was imposed on them. Even more so, they note a change in culture among students. A couple of years ago, members of De Bolk stated ‘yes to meat!’ in their food preference, says Board Member Joris Hesselink. These days this hardly happens at the fun club at de Buitenwatersloot.

Plastic with herbs

That said, not every first year student is happy. Thijmen (19) thought the meat alternatives on the BBQ tasted like “plastic with herbs”, he says while eating an oven baked vegetarian pasta dish at Proteus. His group companion Fiete (18) wonders why he is the one who has to compromise. “You can surely offer the choice of with or without meat? Meat should be an option.”

At De Bolk (pasta bolognese with lentils and without minced meat) Mike (18) is also critical. “It is fine to have a vegetarian option, but I don’t like it being imposed on us. I want to choose myself.”

A vegetarian plate at rowing association Proteus. 

It’s understandable that there is resistance, says Sustainability Coordinator Van den Dobbelsteen. “It is an imposed change. Seniors, who have experienced otherwise, in particular may find this difficult.” But despite the resistance from some, he sees the proportion of students thinking about sustainability grow every year.

Social impact

Apart from reducing emissions, he believes that a vegetarian OWee can also have a major social impact. “In doing this we have set a new standard and show that large events like this one can also be vegetarian and vegan.” He also believes that it shows students that vegetarian food can be tasty too.

The bio industry is really not good for the world

It may encourage them to eat meat free more often during their period of study, and this will have the knock-on effect of making student houses, student associations and TU Delft more and more vegetarian. Now that the OWee has set the new norm, the tipping point whereby veggie rather than meat becomes the norm, may have been reached in student life at TU Delft.

This is very much needed, says Van den Dobbelsteen. “If you know about climate change, you have very little choice other than eating a lot less meat. Not everything needs to be meat free, but we should eat a more plant-based diet. The bio industry is really not good for the world.”

With the collaboration of Oscar Greenwell