by George Monbiot
September 8, 2010

I used to think being a vegan was the only ethical way to eat. But an important new book suggests we can change our food system to allow for healthy meat consumption.

Carracci - The Butchers Shop - 1583

This will not be an easy column to write. I am about to put down 1,200 words in support of a book that starts by attacking me and often returns to this sport. But it has persuaded me that I was wrong. More to the point, it has opened my eyes to some fascinating complexities in what seemed to be a black and white case.

In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue". I still believe that the diversion of ever wider tracts of arable land from feeding people to feeding livestock is iniquitous and grotesque. So does the book I'm about to discuss. I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat.

In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie pays handsome tribute to vegans for opening up the debate. He then subjects their case to the first treatment I've read that is both objective and forensic. His book is an abattoir for misleading claims and dodgy figures, on both sides of the argument.

There's no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong. Fairlie describes the feedlot beef industry (in which animals are kept in pens) in the US as "one of the biggest ecological cock-ups in modern history". It pumps grain and forage from irrigated pastures into the farm animal species least able to process them efficiently, to produce beef fatty enough for hamburger production. Cattle are excellent converters of grass but terrible converters of concentrated feed. The feed would have been much better used to make pork.

Pigs, in the meantime, have been forbidden in many parts of the rich world from doing what they do best: converting waste into meat. Until the early 1990s, only 33% of compound pig feed in the UK consisted of grains fit for human consumption: the rest was made up of crop residues and food waste. Since then the proportion of sound grain in pig feed has doubled. There are several reasons: the rules set by supermarkets; the domination of the feed industry by large corporations, which can't handle waste from many different sources; but most important the panicked over-reaction to the BSE and foot-and-mouth crises.

Feeding meat and bone meal to cows was insane. Feeding it to pigs, whose natural diet incorporates a fair bit of meat, makes sense, as long as it is rendered properly. The same goes for swill. Giving sterilized scraps to pigs solves two problems at once: waste disposal and the diversion of grain. Instead we now dump or incinerate millions of tons of possible pig food and replace it with soya whose production trashes the Amazon. Waste food in the UK, Fairlie calculates, could make 800,000 tonnes of pork, or one sixth of our total meat consumption.

But these idiocies, Fairlie shows, are not arguments against all meat eating, but arguments against the current farming model. He demonstrates that we've been using the wrong comparison to judge the efficiency of meat production. Instead of citing a simple conversion rate of feed into meat, we should be comparing the amount of land required to grow meat with the land needed to grow plant products of the same nutritional value to humans. The results are radically different.

Continue Reading Page 2 HERE:

Check Out This Book Review:

The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability, by Lierre Keith
* Posted by Dallas Gaytheist on September 8, 2010 in the Read Atheist group.

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Replies to This Discussion

good for you, u have free health care in canada, u will need it

Everybody will need it eventually.  Even good old Jack Palance who only lived to be 87 needed it - not sure if he would have lived longer as a vegan.  My great grandmother died in her mid to late 90's living off mostly meat and starches her entire life - but that was just the standard diet of the Cree.  My grandmother eats more veggies but always has her meat and she's well into her eighties now.  So what is your point - do you think you will never have health problems?

i will but it might not be as soon as urs, and my point is judging from ur picture, ur bmi is probably high and u could stand to loose some pounds and u already know from ur studies that vegans do have good bmi range. just trying to help.

My bmi is high now, but it was bang on in that picture - that was back before my accident when I was rock climbing and doing fingertip chin-ups, so look again. You, on the other hand, look like you are about to fall through the neck of that t-shirt.


I love how he tries to help.


[edited by moderator. - Nelson]

Ive never seen an attractive vegan woman. they may be out their but the thing i think most on meating a vegan woman is eat a sandwich you sickly stick figure.

Alicia Silverstone and  Natalie Portman.

Dont find either attractive personally.But like i said im sure they are out there.


The argument that vegan-ism makes you attractive/healthy is unfounded either way.

It does seem to have some appeal in the tree-hugging, hairy legged, lesbian community.  Visit Nelson, BC sometime and you'll see them in droves.

Pretty popular in SF for similar reasons...


Its a natural progression of the urban female here..


Divorce man

Live with dog considering it better company then man

Love dog decide not to eat meat

Switch to women.

Women are prettier - but there is something to be said for the feeling of strength in a man's arms, although that mostly applies to omnivorous men.


looks like somebody is bitter, maybe hitting a little personal nerve


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