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Goldsmiths university beef ban
via Reddit

Goldsmiths uni’s beef ban is the institutional change our planet needs

A student from the London college writes about what impactful resistance to climate change should look like

Loony Left Arts Uni Bans Burgers! It’s the stuff Piers Morgan dreams about. You can picture him now: his doughy, pink thumbs ablur, nudging the character limit with asinine garbage about vegans and communism and The Mad Left. This is the news that Goldsmiths has just banned the sale of beef products across its campus, in the first decision of its kind for a university. Beef, for the unaware, is one of the biggest contributors to climate change through methane (cow farts) and deforestation (for pasture). And if you’ve spent much time on the internet recently, you’ll see that the ban is big news, with the BBC, Sky, Metro, The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun – even CNN – all weighing in.

But, why? I mean, clearly there’s that delicious ‘culture war’ aspect of left-leaning, liberal arts unis banning people from exercising their individual freedom to eat industrially-processed dead animals. The Horror. But aside from that wild world of divison, clickbait, and ad revenue, it’s also big for a much more important reason: it represents change at an institutional level, which, if you’ll indulge me, is one of the main ways we can do something tangible about climate change. It’s non-partisan grassroots pressure, applied to publicly facing bodies. And while the beef ban wasn’t the result of some hard won battle between students and governors, it is going to pave the way for other groups to pressure their unis, or their workplaces, or their schools, or their constituencies, to enact meaningful legislation against the climate catastrophe.

Because, if you’re anything like me, you’ll see a fuckton of individual ethical consumerism, but very little large-scale policy, like the beef ban. Ethical consumerism is all well and good, but it’s easy and low-impact – and it’s also the luxury of a privilege that often manages to skirt under the radar of social consciousness: economic. If you’re poor, which, statistically, most people are, then you don’t get to ethically consume: you do what the masses do, and you do what’s cheap, and readily available, because you’re too exhausted and too busy to shop around or pay more – or to sacrifice the pittence you earn for some abstract idea of the greater good.

“When it comes to the climate catastrophe, we’re waaaaay beyond bowing to people’s individual choice. Debating idiots is a luxury we can no longer afford, and with the climate, we simply must act

This is why big institutions paving the way via prohibition could actually work – it’s easy not to eat beef when you can’t eat beef, and that same principle could be applied to so many things (for example, that all new houses must be carbon neutral, all water must be sold in recyclable containers, all new cars must be electric). Then it isn’t a choice, it’s an adjustment that easily becomes the new normal. When it comes to the climate catastrophe, we’re waaaaay beyond bowing to people’s individual choice. Debating idiots is a luxury we can no longer afford, and with the climate, we simply must act. Ultimately, it’s down to young people, students especially.

Now though, the elephant (or… the very enormous, hormone-glutted cow) in the room for the beef ban is how badly Goldsmiths has handled the anti-racist campaign (GARA), which recently relinquished its occupation of Deptford Town Hall after four months. The campaigners managed to get some of their aims met, but failed to bring the (mostly BME) cleaning and security staff in-house. Because it’s clearly cheaper to stop selling beef than it is to default on those lucrative private contracts they signed with the staffing companies. However, the kicker of the situation is that banning beef is an objective good. It’s exactly what we need to be doing more of. And while our warden, Frances Corner, is tastelessly courting the press junket, this whole issue is a clear example of (a) the influence and power of institutions, and (b) the need to swallow our pride in the impending doom of the climate apocalypse. Extinction is the great, sad leveler.

Even the hallowed EU, whose flag has become an emblem for open-minded, cosmopolitans across the UK, has just signed one of the most environmentally-damaging trade deals in Europe’s history, agreeing to import 99,000 tons of beef a year from the South-American Mercosur trade bloc (btw, South-American beef means deforested Amazon Rainforest beef). But, again, it’s sure as hell better to apply pressure from within than to opt for isolation, whatever your reasoning.

The truth of the matter is that there is no playbook for this situation: we’re all looking our own extinction straight in the eye, and we feel absolutely fucking powerless. Modern capitalist society is designed to make us feel powerless: to divide us into tribes and echo chambers, who then construct their identity around what they consume. If the beef ban shows anything, it’s that institutions can and should be doing more, and that if we can organise grassroots power, then it couldn’t be clearer where we should direct it.