When, in 2016, UK music fest Shambala decided to go entirely meat and fish free, it was for purely environmental reasons. In 2006, the United Nations stated that the livestock sector was “globally one of the largest sources of greenhouse gasses in the world.’ Shambala had the ambition to be the most sustainable festival on the planet - this seemed like the natural thing to do.
But the organisers were convinced that removing all meat and fish from on-site food offerings would drastically affect ticket sales. They wondered, only half-jokingly ‘would we be regaling future generations about the great Shambala Bacon Riots?’
Turns out, they needn’t have worried…
Alongside Glastonbury, Shambala is one of the most environmentally conscious festivals in the UK. “Music with a mission” is their ethos, and since the festival’s foundation the organisers have sought to ditch plastics, introduce sustainable travel and run from 100% renewable energy.
But despite all of the fest’s proactive, environmentally friendly policies, there was a lingering unease about what the organisers described as ‘the meaty elephant in the room.’
Historically, vegetarianism and veganism have been associated with ethical concerns for animal welfare. Organisations such as PETA have sought to spread awareness about what they perceive as barbaric mistreatment of animals in the meat and dairy industries, with battery and factory farming becoming a particular target of anger and dismay.
However, since the turn of the millennium, the ‘inconvenient truth’ of global warming has become an increasing part of the activist agenda, and there has been a broader focus on the damage the livestock sector does to the planet. The notorious 2014 documentary Cowspiracy acknowledges that the burning of fossil fuels is a huge contributor to global warming, but argues that it is actually animal agriculture that’s the primary source of environmental destruction.
Newsweek famously responded to the film with the article headline “Want to save the planet? Go vegan.”
So that’s what Shambala did. Food traders on site sold exclusively vegetarian or vegan food, with no exceptions. The festival’s organisers were open to debate the issue, and wanted to think more broadly about ethical meat consumption. They ran the ‘insect café’ in 2016, and hosted a workshop on the ethics behind eating invasive species – but overall the festival became an entirely meat free experience.
A year later, Shambala released a survey with baited breath, and the results were pretty remarkable. 77% of respondents voted to keep proceedings entirely meat and fish free. The following year, that figure rose to 94%. Even more incredibly, 33% of revellers reported reducing their meat and fish intake since attending the festival, having realised the multitude of delicious meat-free options available to them. Shambala had set out with the intention to “spark debate and get people talking about what we eat and how it impacts the environment,” and this was the exact response they were hoping for.
The surprising response to a seemingly drastic measure shows how vegetarianism and veganism are no longer niche lifestyle choices or dirty words. Innovations such as lab-grown meat and the ‘impossible burger’ that ‘bleeds’ shows that there’s a popular movement towards cutting down or eradicating our meat consumption. So whether it’s animal or global welfare that’s on our minds – or both – even going flexitarian can make a significant impact on the harmful affects of our livestock industry.
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