Goldsmiths, the university that brought us Britpop and YBAs, now has a beef-free canteen. It’s not the only thing the institution is doing to become carbon neutral by 2025; but it is the first, the simplest and somehow the most inspiring. It’s easy to imagine one workplace installing solar panels without feeling that your own workplace should immediately do the same. But once someone else’s canteen has gone beef-free, yours has to have a really good reason not to.
Beef wellington? Not a good reason. If your canteen has this, it’s likely because you work somewhere posh, like in financial services, and, if so, there are more useful things you could do to save the planet, such as divesting from fossil fuels.
Salt beef sandwiches; now these would be missed, particularly in a canteen that also does chrain, that beetroot-horseradish wonder-condiment. The thing about salt beef is that you only want it when someone mentions it. So we should all just stop talking about it.
There is an argument to be had that this obsession with personal choices distracts us from the urgent necessity of structural change. This is certainly true of milquetoast schemes such as Earth Hour – which asks us to turn our lights off for an hour, presumably so we can see what life will be like after an environmental apocalypse. But the population at large moving on to a plant diet will, ultimately, be one of those structural changes – and such transformations happen incrementally. Think of smoking. One day they banned it on public transport. Wham, 30 years later, you couldn’t do it anywhere.
Wouldn’t it be more environmental to cut out meat altogether? Beef has an unbelievable footprint: it requires 28 times more land and 11 times more water than pork or chicken, with five times more carbon emissions, which include, but are not limited to, flatulence. I am not in the market for fart-shaming cows, but concentrating on beef is a useful statement of environmental intent. It’s much more useful than trying to persuade people to give up cars. In the future, we can hope to see milk-free canteens, too. Although we will struggle with the latte lobby.