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

So you agree then that this is a 'right' that is agreed upon between various groups from time to time then. I don't understand the rest of your post at all - seems to be some sort of plea to emotion that fell flat. Oh well.

Honestly Heather you keep bringing up oysters, and I can tell you that even in the vegan community there is a debate going on that some vegan do find it okay to eat oysters and mussels. I personally don't because I don't like oysters or seafood and I don't agree with alot (not all, so just calm down) with some of the farming used for oysters, clams, shrimp etc. Believe it or not i'm alot like you. I love food, I love to prepare food and learn about it. I disagree with the meat industry and the dairy industries and I really don't have the time and energy to go around Ohio trying to find a farm that will meet my requirement to consume dairy and I agree with you only eating game meat, but I just lost the taste for any meat over the years andI I have to admit I do get emotional about killing animals, that is my personal opinion and I UNDERSTAND THAT, plus if my body doesn't need it why force it...the only way I would eat dairy again is if I raised the goats myself. That is something I am not prepared to do. These are the reasons why I'm a vegan, nowhere did I say I was better then you or have better morels then you or anything. Since I have time to cool down I can honestly say I got very defense in the past but the comment you and Stephen were making were truly irritating. You stated you thought vegan men were too scrawny and Stephen stated vegan women looked sick.It's stereotyping and it's wrong. I'm sorry that you have had bad experiences with vegan at your restaurant but I assure you that I'm as open as they come.....Obviously since I do live in a small town my husband and I are the only vegan in a 100 mile radius so most of my friends are not vegans and no I never get preachy or self righteous with them....ever. I think your mis conceptions about a vegan lifestyle might be why you feel the need to argue against it. And if anything just freaking try if for a week, it makes you feel go then do it...if not....different strokes.


Not go forth and tear me apart.....

Scrawny vegans? heh. 6'4" 250 lbs, haven't had anyone ever call me scrawny. =)

    Its important to be informed about the climate of the entire earth and know that someone in a cold Arctic area probably cannot survive being vegetarian and certainly not vegan. Since vegetables, fruits, grains don't grow in sub zero areas. Yes, someone who lives in a temperate area should be at least encouraged to eat less animal products.
    I have rescued hens which lay eggs which we eat. The hens are never killed and live to old age and the die. The goats that are used to keep brush down give milk, which I will use for yogurt. We eat 99% less animal products that the average American family.
    What really concerns me is the number of new vegetarians who will give up milk, butter, milk etc and then buy junk food that is devoid of nutrients,high in sugar and fat. Or processed and frozen 'vegetarian' items.  You have to be a healthy choice food vegetarian!

I completely agree Beth! I have seen a few veggies who only replace meat with bread and cheese and don't understand why they feel so bad after the switch. I cook with only whole food ingredients and urge other to do the same even if they aren't vegans.  


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