When James McAvoy’s character leaves home for university in the 2006 film Starter for 10, his mother’s last forlorn piece of advice rings briefly in his ears; don’t forget to eat some fruit and vegetables.
Even at the time, the joke was an old and not terribly good one. Today the Pop-Tarts and Super Noodles stereotype is positively outdated — undergraduates are embracing a range of food habits from vegetarianism to veganism to clean or organic eating.
The rise of the budget supermarket, the insipid quality of much university catering and the general permeation of culinary skills has pushed homemade fruit and vegetable-based dishes to the top of many students’ agendas.
“I think one of the biggest drivers of change has been the rise of lifestyle bloggers supported by Instagram growth,” says James Wragg, a University of Brighton graduate who works for the website Student Cribs.
“Students see ‘wellness’ imagery on a day-to-day basis so they are making a larger effort to work towards being healthy. People are eating less processed food and getting into the kitchen.”
With stars of the clean-eating movement such as the Hemsley sisters commanding thousands of young followers on social media, and staunchly pro-vegan films such as Carnage and Cowspiracy creating hundreds of converts, once fringe dietary trends are becoming mainstream, according to Hannah Morrish, a vegan who helps to run a popular university chat forum called The Student Room (TSR).
“Veganism is certainly on the rise, and I’ve noticed more discussion on TSR from students who are worried about staying vegan in university accommodation,” she says. “Meat is expensive and if students want to eat ‘healthy meat’, it’s going to cost a fair amount.
“Going to Aldi, you can buy almond or soya milk cheap. You can also buy nuts, pulses, beans and veggies for a discounted price compared with other supermarkets, which makes a vegetarian or vegan diet pretty affordable.”