Following hours of Senate deliberation and online outrage from students, no decision was made regarding an Associated Students bill requiring all events hosted by the organization to only serve vegetarian food. The bill, which received criticism both for cultural insensitivity and overreach of Associated Students authority, has been shelved until Fall Quarter 2021.
The bill was authored by Taylor Tait, who served on the 71st Associated Students (A.S.) Senate and is now a current senator in the 72nd. Initially, the bill came before the Senate on May 12, but was postponed to this week’s meeting, where it was postponed once again until the fall.
Tait proposed the bill as a way to promote sustainability and reduce the carbon footprint among students. After receiving extensive criticism from students as well as fellow senators, Tait pulled the bill from the May 19 Senate meeting before it could receive an official vote.
The bill was an amendment to the original A.S. sustainability policy, which requires public events funded by A.S. with over 30 attendees to provide “sufficient vegetarian and vegan options that are comparable to non-vegetarian options, unless doing so would significantly impair the cultural value of the event.”
The proposed amendment would require all events funded by A.S. to only serve vegetarian food, as well as for events with 30 or more attendees to provide sufficient vegan food options. The bill would impact all events that receive A.S. funding, including events held by student organizations and Boards, Commissions and Units (BCUs).
Tait said her proposal included a clause to accommodate cultural BCUs, where serving certain meat options is part of a cultural custom. The clause would allow cultural organizations to file a request to serve non-vegetarian food when seeking funding from the Finance and Business Committee (F&B Committee).
However, when questioned during the May 12 Senate meeting by Esmeralda “Esme” Quintero-Cubillan, former senator and current External Vice President for Statewide Affairs, about whether Tait and her student sponsors had consulted with cultural organizations when creating the bill, Tait said they did not.
“I’m uncomfortable with this [bill], coming from the perspective of how veganism and vegetarianism are specifically rooted in white supremacy and anti-Indigeneity,” Quintero-Cubillan said.
“I’m very uncomfortable with the idea of this [amendment] being enforced and being ignorant to cultural foods and cultural orgs. A.S. has so many BCUs that put on culturally specific events, and this feels like it lacks tact,” she continued.
Tait told the Nexus she didn’t consider reaching out to cultural organizations, “mostly because I see environmentalism as something that is open to all identities, and I haven’t met an environmental org that was exclusive to anyone’s culture; at the time I didn’t realize the importance of it.”
“I did my best to reach out to my peers. I asked my housemates and my friends, ‘Hey, what do you think about this: Instead of free pepperoni pizza you get free cheese pizza. How does that make you feel?’” Tait continued. “These are student fees for everyone, and what we do affects all the students, so I did my best to be mindful of different areas of campus.”
The bill was sponsored by students Bella Niven and Varun Iyer, co-presidents of the Health, Environment, & Animal Rights Club, and Kat Lane, a sustainable foods chair on the Environmental Affairs Board.
Quintero-Cubillan was not alone in their critique of the bill; prior to its initial proposal, the bill was posted about on the r/UCSantaBarbara Reddit, with many students expressing criticism. During public forum on May 12, several students and senators expressed concerns about how the bill would apply to cultural BCUs.
Emanuel “Manny” Roman, former senator and chair of the F&B Committee, did not think that the clause was sufficiently accommodating of cultural BCUs.
“I think when you have to make people go to F&B to request based on culture, that in itself is problematic,” Roman said. “Why are you forcing people who don’t have this culture to request because of the way that they live? Do you realize you’re telling people, ‘You need permission in order to do this?’”
During the senate meeting on May 12, Roman proposed a motion to table the bill indefinitely because there were “good intentions, but it was not thought out.” However, many senators felt further deliberation was needed. The motion to table the bill indefinitely was voted against by a 9-10 vote, as senators noted that some students had shown up to speak at public forum on the sustainability bill and should be allowed to voice their opinions before tabling.
During public forum, current Senator Cesar Castillo also spoke out against what he deemed as the bill’s “overreaching” nature.
“[The sustainability bill] is a little overreaching in my opinion. It seemed as though A.S. is taking a little too much control over what individual student organizations can and can’t do,” Castillo said.
Former Senator Shva Star proposed requiring that food options be 50% vegetarian, rather than listing it as the “default,” and allowing cultural organizations to “host food events as they please.” Several senators concurred with Star’s proposal.
After the proposed revisions, the Senate motioned for and passed moving the discussion to the Internal Affairs Committee (IAC) the following day for further deliberation.
In the IAC, Tait and the student sponsors presented their new bill and listened to several speakers, many of whom were “students who came from Reddit,” according to Tait.
Tait said the major IAC revisions echoed what senators discussed during the working group, including changing the requirement so that “50% of all food expenditures must be vegetarian” rather than vegetarian food being the default. The bill also had a new clause, completely exempting cultural organizations from this requirement.
Revisions were made and passed through the IAC with only one objection, according to Iyer, and later, they passed a vote for the bill to be put on the agenda for the May 19 Senate meeting — the last meeting of the 71st A.S. Senate.
Tait and the bill’s student sponsors said they compiled an extensive list of cultural organizations following the IAC meeting and began reaching out to them to hear insight on the bill, and they appreciated the criticism and revisions made by senators.
“Our intention was never to limit what cultural organizations can serve,” Iyer said. “However, several senators helpfully pointed out that the legislation could be burdensome or seem discriminatory towards those kinds of cultural groups, and we hadn’t seen it from that lens. When we were presented that view, we did modify [the bill] to a full cultural exemption.”
However, after a week of heated discussion and public outcry, the bill did not get a chance to be voted upon. Tait pulled the bill from the agenda on the day of the meeting. In a statement to the Nexus, Tait said the decision was made after “receiving new feedback from a few organizations and exploring the possibilities of this bill.”
“[My team and I] hope to engage more organizations during the summer, clean up the language of the bill a little more and present it to the 72nd Senate in the fall quarter,” Tait said.