Why pubs should take a firm stance on ethical and environmental issues

By Sophie Atherton

- Last updated on GMT

Meat in the middle: Pubs must tackle issues but show sense to all sides
Meat in the middle: Pubs must tackle issues but show sense to all sides

Related tags Environment

Sophie Atherton is glad to see pubs taking a stand on the environmental problems facing the world.

I am not a vegetarian. It used to make me quite cross if people suggested I was one and it happened so often it became a bit of a joke. (Incidentally I’m not quite sure why people think I am one, other than I love vegetables).

These days I feel more cross with people who criticise vegans and vegetarians or disparage those trying to reduce their meat consumption. Whatever people’s reasons, eating fewer animals helps reduce our impact on the planet. Although I accept there is a lack of understanding about why we need to eat less meat, it seems to me doing so can only be a good thing so why moan about it?

I came across an instance of both moaning and misunderstanding recently, from a story in The Morning Advertiser​. It was about how the Three Stags in Kennington, south London​, was dropping beef from its menu because of the recent devastating fires in the Amazon rainforest. Many of the social media comments about this raged about how there was no need to drop beef and why weren’t they using British beef in the first place, as that would solve the problem.

Except it wouldn’t because the issue is a wider one about the impact of intensive farming on a mass scale, the CO2 emissions this creates and – on top of that – the protein feeds given to livestock. I believe this last element is what the Three Stags move related to. The feeds are often soya-based and huge swathes of rainforest, which are rightly considered the lungs of the planet, are destroyed for it to be grown. So although I was pleased about the Three Stags’ move, I thought it could have gone further because cattle aren’t the only beasts fed on rainforest-trashing proteins.

Amazon rainforest story

Organic food only

It got me thinking about the value to pubs of making a feature of ethics and whether it could boost custom. So I asked around to see what pubgoers thought. Would they be more likely to go to a pub that shared their concern for the environment? It seems so.

West Wales-based artist, Deborah Rushton, is someone who can see the bigger picture and is concerned about how food is produced, not just where it comes from, “I would choose [a pub] that uses organic food, including all meat, instead of factory-farmed, but not one that was specifically banning just beef,” she says. “I try to use places that use locally sourced and organic, free range wherever possible.”

She’s not the only one. “I now find pretty much every decision I make about how and where to spend my money is governed by environmental considerations,” former Kew brewery owner and founder Dave Scott told me.

Follow the leader

Stacey Deamicis, a lecturer at Plymouth University, who describes herself as someone who ‘loves a good gastropub’ concurs. She also thinks ethical pubs encourage others to do good. “Setting examples for others to follow is instrumental in helping us manage this climate crisis,” she says.

Kelly Rose Bradford, a writer and a vegetarian, has no problem with fellow pubgoers eating meat, but is bothered by the environmental impact of pubs overusing paper.

“Not only is it annoying when it’s fluttering all over the table, and then becoming a beer sodden mess, but it’s largely unnecessary too; flyers about Christmas, flyers about quiz night, paper menus with the daily specials on... get a chalkboard!” she exclaimed.

I also asked people in the trade for their thoughts. “People might be eating less meat so when they do, they want to know it’s the best possible standard of meat,” says licensee Claire Alexander who has spent the past year ‘going organic’ at her two pubs the Ebrington Arms and the Killingworth Castle, in the Cotswolds and Oxfordshire respectively. Both have been awarded three stars by the Soil Association​ thanks to her commitment to use between 50 and 75% organic produce in their menus. She’s even gone so far as to swap to organic toiletries. But is it pulling in the punters? “We have taken a bit of a hit in costs, so we are still competitive, but it’s been received massively well,” she says.

My casting around for views on environmentally conscious pubs may be far from solid market research, but it demonstrates that people take notice of where pubs stand on the issue. From now on, expect to see more people complaining about pubs that do nothing in response to climate change, rather than gripes about ones that do.

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