Meat Free Mondays.

So after my college’s JCR miraculously passed a motion supporting Meat Free Mondays, only for it to then even survive the challenge of a referendum, the buck was passed to the MCR to decide upon a stance. Since Somerville would never go ahead with such a contentious proposal without support from both bodies, the MCR’s stance would effectively make or break the deal. The motion was defeated on Sunday, so meat will be offered in Hall every day for the foreseeable future. Not that we need worry, because it definitely doesn’t contribute much to climate change:

Depending on where and how it is produced, the FAO estimates that the livestock industry is responsible for between 13.5 and 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A more recent report, published by the Worldwatch Institute, estimated that it could be as much as 51 per cent. Some of the emissions are from the methane emitted by livestock. Methane is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). Other emitted gases, such as nitrous oxide, come from the manure produced by ruminants and other animals such as poultry and pigs. Nitrous oxide has 298 times the global warming potential of CO2. Still more GHGs come from the fertilisers used to grow animal feed, and from processing, storage and transport of meat products as well as from the clearing of rainforest to make room for livestock. Beef is the most energy intensive of all the meats we eat. According to the environmental group Greenpeace, eating 1kg of beef (the average weekly intake of meats of all types in the UK is between 1kg and 1.6 kg) represents roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions as a flight of 100km per passenger.

Researchers at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, agree. In 2007 they found that producing 1kg of beef results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted by the average car over a distance of 250 kilometres.

Reading this, you’d think that any reasonable person would understand that the motive here is not to be paternalistic and force a healthier diet upon people. Nor is Meat Free Mondays about a group of hipsters insisting upon animal rights (Mondays only would in that case be remarkably arbitrary). It’s about the environmental impact of current meat consumption levels, period.

And yet, the opposition largely consisted of people worrying about potential students with medical quirks such that they must eat meat on a daily basis, as if such extreme cases couldn’t warrant exemptions when and as they arose, but rather simply had to override all considerations of sustainability to the contrary. If it wasn’t that, the objection was that Meat Free Mondays would constitute some sort of Stalinist tyranny in which a contentious moral value is imposed upon free people, unreasonably coercing them. Yes, because all students would be dragged in chains to the dining hall and forced to eat vegetarian food. It’s not like any alternative kitchen facilities are provided in college for those so desperate to dodge their duties.

And that raises another point here: even if this was coercive, that doesn’t demonstrate that it’s wrong. Coercion is easily justified when done in the name of a good cause. Nobody other than the most absurd of anarchists objects that the government threatening thieves with imprisonment violates their right to liberty. And similarly, when the environmental interest here is this strong, it’s clear that there are overriding reasons which make concerns about liberty irrelevant. Nobody has the right to eat meat whenever they wish, because that right would have to be encompassed, by entailment, under the apparent right to act in an environmentally destructive manner. And if you insist that such a right does exist, invoking them as valid moral claims quickly starts to lose its value.

If exceptionally intelligent Oxford students aren’t able to see and act on this, preferring to rationalise their desire to selfishly continue consuming the amount of meat that they currently do, there’s a good chance we should declare the world Fucked right now.

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2 thoughts on “Meat Free Mondays.

  1. I’m one of those pesky MCR members who voted against your motion, but I’m actually in favour of less consumption of all commodities (and therefore lower CO2 emissions).

    Firstly, I still don’t understand how someone with a medical condition would require an “exemption” from eating in hall? Do you mean they would be permitted not to eat in hall that day? As far as I know, no one is forced to eat in hall. Or do you mean that there would be a small number of meat dishes available to those with a medical condition—in that case, who decides what medical conditions are valid? Slippery slope.

    Second, if your goal is lowered CO2 emissions, wouldn’t an active education campaign—on more than just meat-issues—have a greater long-term and overall impact than preventing students from eating meat once per week?

    Let’s say you reduce meat consumption by 2 meals/student/week (lunch and dinner), or 90ish meals over the course of a 3-year degree. And let’s say that the average meat meal is 225 g (8 oz), so that’s about 20 kg of meat in total. By your quoted numbers, that would be equivalent to a flight of 2000 km, roughly equivalent to a round trip from Oxford to Munich, Vienna or Prague—hope you’re not planning on going on any trips.

    The pain of enduring all of those crappy meals made meaningless by a single trip…Then once that student leaves Oxford, daily meat consumption returns because all the student learned was that the dining hall didn’t serve meat on Mondays.

    Where does college get its vegetables from? Hopefully they are not air-shipped, although they most likely are. Better not eat any out-of-season vegetables. Want green in the winter? Too bad for you. M&S flies their cheap green beans in from Africa; I can only imagine college might have a similar source.

    What you want to do is change people’s ideas about consumption of all resources, not force them to consume less without knowing why. Encourage them to pick vegetarian options on days where that dish appeals to them. Highlight the impact of purchasing products with a lot of packaging, or leaving their laptops plugged in while not in use. Show them the cost savings of being energy efficient. Then they will look throughout their lives for ways to be efficient.

    If you want to change something at the college level, there are many things that could be done. Convince college to have a less ridiculous recycling programme—did you know that the scouts won’t collect recycling from the kitchens in Margery Fry? Instead, the bulk of that recyclable aluminium and glass is going straight into the rubbish bins. Encourage the installation of modern energy-efficient fixtures and appliances—the rooms in Margery Fry are so poorly insulated that most students leave their heat on full blast during the day because the heating is turned off from 11PM to 7AM. There is so much room for improvement here.

    So yes, the reason we’re all fucked is that we decided that people should be able to eat meat on Mondays. Global climate change is in part caused by having too many meat-eating mouths to feed—why don’t we have Abstinence Tuesdays while we’re at it? (I included that last bit because I figure this comment won’t pass your moderation, but prove me wrong that you have the courage to address dissenting opinions rather than calling anyone who disagrees with you a moron.)

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