Katie Hopkins speaks at Union vegan debate

On the 30th of November, Katie Hopkins debated at the Oxford Union for the opposition on the motion “This House would go Vegan”.

Hopkins is a controversial far-right political commentator and media personality. Her social media presence has attracted a lot of controversy and accusations of racism. 

She for instance wrote in 2015 “I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, and described them as “cockroaches” and “feral humans”. She has also faced backlash regarding repeated misuse of language related to the Holocaust, for instance in 2017 when she called for a “final solution” against terrorism”.

On social media in September 2023, Hopkins accused vegans of “using their children abusively” to “push messages on other people”, and claimed that “if these animals weren’t farmed, they wouldn’t be alive at all”.

The debate was opened on the proposition by Disha Hegde, the current Union President who was chairing her last debate in this position. She encouraged the audience to keep an open mind during the debate, and emphasised that going vegan was a “transition process” and that “small steps” mattered. 

Hegde then referred to one of Katie Hopkins’ previous appearances at the Union, where she had said “short people and vegans, two people I can’t stand, they must never run this Union”, which was met with laughter from the audience, as Hegde falls into both categories. 

Hopkins previously visited the Union in Trinity 2019, when her appearance had been heavily protested leading to arrests, and in Hilary 2016.

Hegde then refuted the argument that “animals are less intelligent than humans” and can therefore be eaten by making fun of Hopkins: “You wouldn’t want to go around eating Piers Morgan or Katie Hopkins” – again met with laughter from the audience.

She finished by saying that because eating meat and dairy was not necessary, it could not be justified, and that this only brought “more suffering to the environment, to ourselves, and to animals”.

Hannah Edwards, Union President-Elect, was the first speaker in the opposition. She started her speech by saying “there is a spectre haunting Europe: oat milk lattes […] and tofu”. She carried on with a ‘Day in the Life’ of Disha Hegde, essentially mocking her vegan habits and highlighting the paradoxes and difficulties of this lifestyle.

Edwards then referenced cases of backlash against veganism, such as where a NatWest worker told a customer that “all vegans should be punched in the face”. Despite the sarcasm, Hopkins nodded emphatically at this statement.

She then argued that going vegan was not effective, mostly because there were risks of dependency on certain crops and GMOs, and closed her speech by joking about removing bacon sandwiches from the bar next term if the motion passed.

The next speaker on the proposition was Dr Sailesh Rao, the founder of a climate awareness NGO. He defined veganism as a philosophy, and going vegan as a journey rather than a destination. He argued that going vegan would help reverse climate change, by means such as giving back exploited land to nature. He concluded by saying that “lasting changes come from the heart, not the head”.

Rural geographer Dr David Rose then took the stand for the opposition, starting with a joke about the vegan dinner he was served before the debate, claiming that he was still hungry, which was met with no reaction from the audience. He claimed that going vegan was ineffective to stop climate change, and that more local and sustainable ways of production would be a better alternative.

Rose dismissed many “vegan calculations” of carbon footprint, encouraging more nuance and saying some fish could for instance be caught sustainably. He brought out props: a cow milk bottle and an almond drink carton, and compared their nutritional values, finding that the cow milk was overall more nutritious.

To one of Rose’s points, Hopkins retorted, “that point was made by a short person so you don’t need to listen to them”.

Dr Chidi Ngwaba, a lifestyle medicine physician, was the third proposition speaker. He emphasised that plant-based diets are good for our health and usually lead to longer life expectancies, according to various scientific studies.

Manon Hammond, a Union sponsorship officer, then spoke for the opposition. She claimed that it was difficult practically to be vegan, because of “judgement from family and friends”, because it was difficult to phase out meat and dairy, because “meat tastes better”, and because vegan foods are “more difficult to cook”.

Hammond highlighted paradoxes of being vegan, encouraged people to seek alternative methods to lower their carbon footprint, such as “cycling to work” or “using metal straws”, and concluded by saying it was “impractical to go against a habit” we have had for millennia.

The last proposition was Joey Carbstrong, an animal rights activist who made several controversial claims during his speech. He said that meat eating was the “greatest atrocity in human history”, and called it the “new Holocaust”.

He then quoted a German sociologist, who had said “Auschwitz begins when one looks at a slaughterhouse and says, ‘they’re only animals’”, and compared this to slaughterhouses. He concluded by stating that we will look back on eating meat in “the same way we look back at slavery, apartheid, and the Holocaust”. 

Finally, Katie Hopkins spoke for the opposition. After complaining about the chamber’s temperature and attempting to insult the proposition speakers, to which the audience did not react, she claimed “death is what happens to you when you’re a vegan”. 

About vegan people, she said vegans “lie to you, nothing they tell you is true, they even lie to themselves – the Bible says lying is one of the seven deadly sins – if you lie it is because you hate yourself – that is true of every vegan – they suck on quinoa”.

Hopkins then complained about the vegan dinner she was served, which consisted of a “festering aubergine”, and minutes later smashed a cauliflower on the chamber floor to prove a point about what vegans eat.

She criticised the “barbarity, cruelty, and hatred” of vegans, referring to the proposition as “miserable little friends who are all short”, and took pride in “eating a whole cow from head to tail on a daily basis”.

Using the argument of the “survival of the fittest”, Hopkins then said vegans had “low testosterone” and a “low sperm count”, so if this house goes vegan it would “not have a biological future”, suggesting that meat-eating men are more virile. She concluded by saying she had “one of the most miserable nights of my life”.

The motion passed, with 112 in favour and 84 against.

On 29 November the Student Union released a statement condemning the Oxford Union for inviting controversial speakers this term, such as Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk. The statement specifically condemned Katie Hopkins for “propagat[ing] divisive and harmful rhetoric”.

This debate was the last of the Oxford Union’s bicentenary.

A protest was initially planned by Stand Up To Racism two hours before the debate, but it was cancelled due to a lack of participants.