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London University Bans Beef on Campus

Goldsmiths says it’s essential in the face of a climate emergency, but beef production isn’t a simple evil

Steak on the grill at Gaucho, a British steak restaurant chain currently in administration Gaucho/Facebook

Goldsmiths University has banned the sale of beef and beef products on its campus, saying the move is part of measures to “deliver the step change we need to cut our carbon footprint drastically and as quickly as possible.”

The ban will come into force at the start of the academic year, alongside a new 10p levy on both bottled water and single-use plastic cups. Sample menus — though not updated since 2018 — suggest that beef is served twice a week at present, though these do not account for every food outlet on campus. The university’s student union has said, via president Joe Leam, that “It is clear our university has a huge carbon footprint. The promise to have ended this by 2030 at the latest, with the hope of doing so by 2025, is one which is needed.” The university has not provided figures on how much it expects to reduce its carbon footprint with the change.

Eater has contacted Goldsmiths to ask whether this choice was made based on beef’s measurable contribution to the university’s carbon footprint — which it cites as 3.7 million kilograms per year — or the increasing volume of climate research that cites eating less, or no beef as the most impactful dietary change humans can make, but without accounting for the ecological impacts and vested interests behind leading papers on the topic. In short: making a practical stand on climate change is never actually going to be as simple as banning beef, but symbolically, it’s a useful, and powerful place to start.

There’s also the question of what this beef will be replaced with, in line with the university’s food budgets and price structures. Industrially, intensively farmed beef is undoubtedly bad for the earth, but sustainably reared, grass-fed, and, ultimately more expensive beef is less so. It’s the rampant, intensive scale of beef production that is the problem, not beef production itself.

Eater therefore also asked Goldsmith’s whether it investigated a more sustainable source of beef before introducing the ban — if cost-prohibitive, then this tacit admission that the university’s supply chain cannot support well-farmed beef being acted on so decisively is an example that more institutions could do well to follow. If the replacements are tech-funded cash (plant-based) cow middleman pea discs, then the very real question about replacing environmentally ruinous economies of scale with potentially environmentally ruinous economies of scale will come into play. It’s worth noting that many of the headlines here focus on banning burgers, despite it being all beef: the patty’s status as a totem of a political culture war returning as a synecdoche for mass-produced, “democratic” meat.

Decisions like these, and recent research into common metrics around measuring food sustainability like food miles, are cut from two key cloths: a food system that seems broken is in fact a food system that is working perfectly for those that designed it and profit from it; the dictums adopted — ugly fruit, wonky veg, Impossible Burgers — by the mainstream around food systems often hide the truth behind supply chains and dismiss the presence of the global south — yes, half the globe — in the world’s food system. Goldsmiths’ decision will hopefully reduce its individual carbon footprint and continue a conversation about how dietary changes could be at the heart of stalling the climate emergency. It will definitely piss a lot of people — men, Jordan Peterson — off who think beef should remain at the heart of masculinity and democracy. It’s also more change than countless institutions have dared to make. More soon.