Why I've got beef with festivals like Glastonbury

In Issue 3 of Do The Green Thing, Naresh Ramchandani tells us why it's time for festivals like Glastonbury to go meat free.

Do The Green Thing, an environmental charity that describes itself as a “public service for the planet that uses creativity to tackle climate change”, relaunched in February 2016 with an Oscars-Awards-timed piece on how screenwriters and the silver screen are contributing to the ongoing abuse of the planet by setting a terrible example. Their second issue, which was published in May 2016 around the time of London's mayoral elections, looks at London's unhealthy addiction to cars. In this third issue, founder Naresh Ramchandani tells us why he's got beef with his favourite festival. 

For 12 of the last 14 years, I have been one of the luckiest people on Earth. In each of those 12 years I have somehow managed to nab a ticket to one of the most spectacular gatherings of humanity, music and conviviality the world has to offer: The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary and Performing Arts, also known as Glastonbury, also known as the greatest gig on the planet.

Getting a ticket to Glastonbury feels like winning the alternative national lottery. Every year for one long weekend in June, I take a break from micro-stresses and humdrum mechanics such as how to raise a family and how to make a living, and take a pilgrimage to deepest Somerset; to an experimental society in a parallel universe where the language is music, where tribes form around levels of kinetic energy, where money brings no status and where corporate voices are shrill. Where society is all degrees of insobriety, where cynicism, impatience and privacy are somehow outlawed, where time is told by the universal clock of dawn and dusk and where the earth is fully embraced in the form of solstice appreciation, shamanistic cavorting, basic ingestion, graphic excretion and a full acquaintance with the grass you sit on, the mud you slip on and the stars you dance beneath.

Held on a farm and hosted by a farmer and his family for the last 46 years, Glastonbury invites a society of over 175,000 people to follow many principles of natural and sustainable living. It sources an increasingly impressive amount of its power from the sun and wind. It offers plates, cutlery and loos that are either reusable or compostable (you guess which are which). It houses all its water on site, asks all its revellers to arrive and leave by public transport or ride-share, forbids any plastic bags and invites 1300 brave people to be its tireless recycling volunteers. At the end of every festival, Glastonbury uses its profits to make the biggest single annual contribution to Greenpeace. Bravo Glasto.

But just as Glastonbury holds up an environmental model to the world, it trips over a carcass and the whole thing comes crashing down. Because Glastonbury serves meat, and lots of it. Pulled pork, beef brisket, burgers, steak and ale pies and more, offered by hundreds of vendors to provide a juicy array of carnivorous options for the half a million meals eaten at Glastonbury/Gastrobury every year. A menu that sticks in the throat of anyone who wants to proclaim the festival’s sustainability credentials.

Because, whichever way you chew it, our love of meat is a major problem for the planet. Meat means deforestation and needs energy to be fed, grown, killed, transported, stored and cooked. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the livestock industry is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global,” and according to the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative, livestock is a whopper emitter, creating a fifth of global greenhouse gasses.

Although it pains me to criticise a festival I love and admire, isn’t the presence of meat at a community celebration that respects sustainability a bit like the presence of a urinal in the middle of an operating theatre or an adultery booth in the middle of a church?

Certainly Banksy thought so when, in 2014, he confronted the uncomfortable relationship between meat and Glastonbury with his Sirens of the Lambsinstallation, consisting of a truck full of animals shrieking before the slaughter, created to surprise revellers at meal times.

Certainly George Monbiot thought so when, in 2015, he wrote a powerful piece asking Glastonbury to proclaim itself meat-free. He argued for the festival to consider the norm it enforces by providing meat options, and for the fabulous experiment it could offer by denying them:

“For many people, this might be their first sustained exposure to meat-free food. There would be grumbling, I’m sure. But people would quickly become used to it, just as they become used to much greater privations, such as the toilets and the mud. And, for some, the new norm might stick.” 

Could Glastonbury go meat-free? When pressed on this issue in the past, the Eavises have been strangely silent, and when we asked them to comment a couple weeks ago, we didn’t hear back; though it’s fair to say they were probably busy preparing to put on on the world’s biggest music festival. But maybe theirpriorities are wrong. If Glastonbury was to 86 the meat, it would not only inspire every other major festival to follow in its green footsteps, it would fit the original spirit of Glastonbury, a spirit that valued political voices as much as musical ones.

A ticket to the very first Glastonbury Fayre cost £1 with free milk. Now, when every festival is struggling to break even, your ticket costs £233 and nothing comes free apart from the music, which means that by the time you’ve added the cost of travel, wellies, tents, anoraks, food, drink and other recreational substances, every Glastonbury-goer commits to a serious slug of spending. Here perhaps is the gnarled commercial root of the problem. When you’re a customer and you’re splashing serious cash, you expect to get what you want. And if that includes meat, the Eavises are obliged to give it to you. Which means that for Glastonbury or any other major festival to stop serving meat, we have to stop wanting it.

So how do we resist, especially when we see festivals as holidays from normal life and all the permission that gives us to indulge in one too many beers or burgers? When we’ve danced to the early hours but then slept terribly because of (a) the tunes spinning around our head, (b) the gurning fool who stumbled into our tent by mistake or (c) the cacophony of chatter, lovemaking and baby wails from the rest of the tents in our vicinity, and we’ve woken up feeling rough and in dire need of some fuel, how do we turn our nose up at the aroma of the bacon sandwich? Or when we’re sipping lukewarm beer in the sunshine blissing out to some Kamasi Washington, or powering up at nightfall for a full Disclosure danceathon, how do we resist those sizzling Somerset sausages, especially when our mates are herding to the meat options meaning that we have to do a falafel wrap solo?

Well, we can resist with a little information. Far from a pick-me-up, meat is one of the worst foods to have when hungover. Our bodies process the fat of greasy meat through the same metabolic pathways as alcohol, so when your body is breaking down the alcohol it can’t fully handle the meat.

We can resist with a financial incentive. We can ask our non-festival friends to sponsor us to go meatless for the weekend and give that money to an environmental charity like this one. Or we can make a Seinfeld-style bet with our festival friends as to who can resist a burger the longest.

We can resist with some playful strategies in the form of a meat aversion podcast, or a game in which we all name Pop Veg Avatars (Damon All Bran, Cheeseboards of Canada, Quornelius, Lily Alpen, you get the idea).

Perhaps most effectively, we can resist with some great meat alternatives. In the Independent’s list of 12 best food stalls at Glastonbury last year, only two - The Cheese Truck, serving its fabulous local cheese toasties, and Wholefood Heaven, pedalling its vegan ‘Buddha Bowls’ - were vegetarian. But it’s not as if the veg options at Glasto are either scarce or poor, because I have had delicious halloumi wraps, veg thalis and barbecued corn in various Glastonbury fields over the years. Where? I’m not exactly sure, so it sure would help if Buzzfeed, The Indy and co gave us some great veggie-only lists and locations.

And we can resist with a little bit of pride. By telling ourselves and anyone else who is interested that we are conscientious omnivores (agreed - it’s not quite T-shirt worthy yet); people not fully vegan but practicing some moderation; people in transition from four legs to two legs to no legs; people prepared to cut their meat for a weekend for the sake of their planet.

As I head to my 12th Glastonbury, I’m feeling bullish, or rather the opposite. Along with my wellies, I’m packing a piece of knowledge that will help me go vegetarian at the festival once again. Running midway through the Glastonbury site is an invisible line. Below the line lies The Pyramid Stage, The Other Stage and a tempting array of carnivorous feeding stations. Above the line lies The Vale of Avalon, The Park Stage, The Green Fields and a non-meat-serving non-meat-eating festival-within-a-festival in which every living part of our world is as respected as any other. If I feel a little meat weakness this coming weekend, I know I can go high and be meat dry.

This line exists at Glastonbury, but maybe we can all draw such a line in any festival this summer, and use our knowledge, care and resolve to stand the better side of it.

Trying to shift corn on the cob or halloumi wraps to the dehydrated, danced-out masses is not an easy task. As Marta Zaraska, author of MEATHOOKED : The History and Science of Our 2.5 Million Year Obsession With Meat told us, “The meat industry knows what it’s doing - making us think we want and need meat more than we actually do.”

So, in an effort to break the meat-spell that entrances so many of us at Glasto and beyond this summer, the brilliant Craig Oldham has created six fabulous FestiVegi posters to help veg stall owners promote their fare and inspire festival goers to stay faithful to a climatarian diet.

Inspired by the visual language of market stalls, and incorporating some outlandish but not unreasonable claims, the posters are freshly served and ready for veggie vendors to download, display on their stalls and vans and redress the PR imbalance that has for so long tipped heavily in favour of flesh.

Download the posters, share them on Twitter and Instagram and show us where they end up using #FestiVegi.


Do The Green Thing's co-founder Naresh Ramchandani, Creative Director of Pentagram in London, presented at Design Indaba Conference 2016. His presentation was an ode to his eight favourite words, and beautifully demonstrated the (sometimes overlooked) power of language. One of Ramchandani’s eight favourite words is “change”. 

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