Despite a proliferation of eco-conscious student groups and well-attended Fridays for Future protests, Germany resists environmental changes in one specific direction: meat consumption.
Germany touts a popular Green party and endless recycling categories, yet many Germans are loath to abandon their local butcher, who they assure me has the finest fleischkäse (or leberkäse) in all the land.
Even the language betrays a meaty mindset, with “das ist mir Wurst” (it’s sausage to me, meaning I don’t care) and “Alles hat ein Ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei” (everything has an end, only sausage has two) representing two of many carnivorous idioms.
But the land of schnitzel and currywurst may be in the midst of a dietary overhaul as reports on possible Pigouvian taxes on animal products and increasing interest in reducing meat consumption point to a sea change in food attitudes. In Mannheim particularly, vegan activism and student-led green directives abound.
In part two of our Green Series on veganism and environmentalism in Mannheim, we speak to two advocacy and student groups in Mannheim who focus on animals and the environment.
The first installment in the series focused on Anonymous for the Voiceless, an international movement for animal rights with famed “Cube of Truth” in the Mannheim area.
Our first highlighted group is Earth Guardians, a student initiative that “tries to plan, organize, and execute projects and events around sustainability,” according to crew leader Niklas.
The group’s activities are diverse, ranging from past workshops and presentations to an upcoming podcast. Niklas himself has participated as a speaker and presenter in “Generation Gemeinsam,” an event that sought to unite older Germans and young people for discussions about sustainable diets. Niklas argued for a “seasonal and regional approach to dietary choices.”
In his own life, Niklas has been a long-time plant-based eater. He became vegan at age ten. “I think that a plant-based diet is far more sustainable, but I don’t judge anyone for whom it is not doable. A reduction in meat consumption could substantially decrease emissions and, even if you didn’t consider the environment to be important at all, it would still be better to feed the world, as most of the agricultural output ends up feeding our livestock while some people are still starving.”
In the future, Niklas envisions a role for lab-grown meats in aiding the transition towards a more eco-conscious diet. He sees these “promising innovations” as a vehicle towards more “environmentally reasonable” diets.
Students looking to join the work of Earth Guardians can get involved by messaging the group through Instagram. Niklas emphasizes, “we always welcome new people and need every help, even if it’s only an hour per week.”
Environmentalists looking to get involved in eco-activism will also find plenty of opportunities with the Green Office, a student initiative and part of the Green Office Movement.
Achilles Loureiro Vlasits is a fourth semester student in the B.Sc. Economics program at Universität Mannheim and serves as the first member of the board (1. Vorstand), thought he points out that team members in the Green Office work in a horizontal structure. Students choose their own assignments given the group’s overall initiatives.
He currently works on the “Arbeitskreis Nachhaltigkeit”, which combines representatives from “administrative, research, teaching and students” to address sustainability needs at the university. Within the Arbeitskreis, he focuses on the research and teaching group (“AG Forschung & Lehre”) while simultaneously helping the Green Office Team and running their social media.
“We are, on a long term dedicated to institutionalize an official Sustainability Office, making sustainability part of every aspect of the university,” Mr. Vlasits says. The long-term goals of the organization include continuing the work of the Arbeitskreis Nachhaltigkeit, with smaller events planned in the meantime.
Last year, the Green Office organized the “Erstsemesterakademie”, a series of workshops and lectures aimed at introducing students at the beginning of their studies to sustainability efforts.
The group also organized the “Hochschultage Nachhaltigkeit” with fellow student organizations. “The state-wide program ‘Nachhaltigkeitswoche Baden-Württemberg’ (NWB) will be two weeks long and incorporate several workshops, lectures and other opportunities to learn about sustainability and how to integrate it into your life on a personal and institutional level,” says Mr. Vlasits, who I spoke to before the event.
The Mannheim portion of the initiative ran from May 5th through 14th this year. From May 17th through 21st, students attended events from the state program. The schedule is available on the program website.
The group’s work also includes ongoing collaborations with the Sustainability Office. “We made it our goal get in contact with the several main actors of the University of Mannheim and together make the university more sustainable as a whole,” says Mr. Vlasits.
“The Sustainability Office will promote the networking of students and employees. Those participants will fill permanent positions and receive permanent funding from the university to make sure that sustainability is integrated into every developing process.”
The collaboration will yield annual sustainability reports, more Green Office campaigns and events, and a sustainability working group.
The Green Office is also involved in plant-based initiatives, working with AStA “for greater variety and quality regarding the vegan option in the campus canteen,” says Mr. Vlatis. “Our goal is to create a separate plant-based menu option. Even during the current lockdown situation, we have continued on working towards a more sustainable option for the canteen and hopefully the plant-based menu will be offered when we are all full time back on campus again.”
An upcoming article in the series will be speaking to Ira Herwig, a student spearheading the effort to add a permanent vegan option in the Mensa.
Mr. Vlatis stresses that plant-based diets are only one component of the Green Office’s mission. “As a group that works for sustainability, we have a very supportive and encouraging view on plant-based diets. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean that it is a criteria to become a member of Green Office or something like that. When meeting, we always make sure that we have vegan options and in general try to be as ecological as possible.”
Mr. Vlatis himself does choose a plant-based diet, but says the choice is an individual one. “One has to see if this is something feasible to do given one’s personal conditions, keeping in mind that just because something is vegan doesn’t mean that it is automatically healthy or sustainable. However, decreasing the consumption of heavily industrialized food and meat does have a positive impact on the environment. In all, we encourage [people] to be as eco-conscious as possible and adapting a plant-based diet can be one of the many ways people can incorporate sustainability into their personal life.”
A Bright Future
Vegan or eco-conscious students in Mannheim have a host of options for activism. Those interested most in institutional changes may be drawn to the collaborative efforts of the Green Office, while those interested in presenting and podcasts can look to Earth Guardians.
Keep an eye out for the coming additions to our Green Series for insights into changes coming to the Mensa, more environmental organizations, and ways to de-carbonize your shopping routine.