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Meat: A Benign Extravagance Paperback – January 28, 2011

4.3 out of 5 stars 36 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Choice Reviews-
The Western penchant for the overconsumption of meat has led to concerns about sustainability, food security, and social and environmental justice. In response, some activists have proposed a worldwide transition to vegetarian or even vegan diets. In this comprehensive, meticulously researched study based primarily on an analysis of professional literature and focused mostly on food production in the UK and, to a lesser extent, the US, Fairlie (community farmer; editor, The Land, UK) views vegetarianism/veganism as only a partial solution. Although he sees advantages to the adoption of vegetarian and vegan diets, he maintains that vegetables do not produce the higher quality protein of meat diets. Further, he argues that meat can be produced efficiently on a smaller scale and then distributed equitably among nations. His solution to the problem of efficiency is to reject the specialized industrial farming model sanctioned by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization, which is based on the expensive and wasteful production of grain, for what he terms a "default livestock" model. This model is an integrated agricultural system of raising vegetables in which both vegetable byproducts and land unsuitable for other agricultural purposes are used to produce meat, dairy, and other animal products.

Permaculture Activist-

“Simon Fairlie, a farmworker and editor of Britain's prestigious Ecologist magazine, has given us a wonderful treatise on the ecological niche and cultural history of the world's primary livestock animals: beef and dairy cattle, pigs, sheep, and poultry. There is more to this than retrospective, however. Fairlie's aim is to shed light on the current debate over the role of meat in the human diet, economy, and perhaps most importantly, the flows of carbon dioxide and methane from human activities that threaten to unhinge the climate. The value of this book is chiefly the well-argued case that it makes against both industrial forms of meat production and the folly of veganism as a universal dietary solution to animal cruelty and threats of climate change. Vegan eaters and farmers might well work and eat in a matrix of integrated livestock farming. ­ Fairlie is kind toward individual vegans but little social or ecological value is to be gained and much lost from expanding vegan dietary practices. A secondary and significant value of Meat is the careful explication it makes of the complementary roles of our familiar livestock animals in mixed farm production, a system far more likely to serve us well through the coming decades of energy descent than industrial agriculture. Erudite, well grounded in the author's farming experience, and delightfully written, this book recommends itself to all permaculture designers, and to every intelligent reader who has concerns for climate stability and a regenerative land use. It is more than a primer, offering an insightful examination of the central problems of agriculture itself, both past and present.”

"This book is a masterpiece: original, challenging and brilliantly argued. Simon Fairlie is a great thinker and a great writer."--George Monbiot, Environmental and political activist, author and journalist

"Simon Fairlie's Meat: A Benign Extravagance is the sanest book I have read on the subject of how the human race is going to feed itself in the years ahead."--Gene Logsdon, Author of Holy Shit and The Contrary Farmer

"Simon Fairlie provides us with an unusual and extremely important gift in his new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance. By helping us understand how our food choices actually shape the landscape in which we live, he provides a perspective that is all too often missing in the more simplistic judgments which are all too prevalent in our public discourse about food. Even scientists who do Life Cycle Analysis often miss the landscape impact analysis. Fairlie corrects that problem. Everyone interested in how their food choices can affect the ecological, social and economic health of the communities in which they live, should read this book."--Frederick Kirschenmann, Distinguished Fellow, Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, and President of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

"No-one has ever analysed the world's food and agriculture more astutely than Simon Fairlie-an original thinker and a true scholar. Here he shows that while meat is generally a luxury it is often the best option, and could always be turned to advantage-if only we did things properly; but this, with present economic policies and legal restrictions, is becoming less and less possible. Everyone should read this book-especially governments, and all campaigners."--Colin Tudge, Biologist and author

"This is a tremendous and very timely book: the world's meat consumption is rapidly rising, leading to devastating environmental impacts as well as having long term health implications for societies everywhere. Simon Fairlie's book lays out the reasons why we must decrease the amount of meat we eat, both for the planet and for ourselves. This brilliant book is essential reading for anyone who cares about food and the environment."--Rosie Boycott, Founder of Spare Rib and Virago Press, ex-editor of the Independent, Independent on Sunday, Daily Express and Esquire magazine, broadcaster, writer and campaigner and currently Food Advisor to the Mayor of London

About the Author

Simon Fairlie worked for 20 years variously as an agricultural labourer, vineworker, shepherd, fisherman, builder and stonemason before being ensnared by the computer in 1990. He was a co-editor of The Ecologist magazine for four years, before joining a community farm in 1994 where he managed the cows, pigs and a working horse for ten years. He now runs Chapter 7, an organization that provides planning advice to smallholders and other low income people in the countryside. He is also editor of The Land magazine, and earns a living by selling scythes. He is the author of Low Impact Development: Planning and People in a Sustainable Countryside (Jon Carpenter, 1996), and Meat: A Benign Extravagance.

A prolific nonfiction writer, novelist, and journalist, Gene Logsdon has published more than two dozen books, both practical and philosophical. Gene’s nonfiction works include Holy Shit, Small-Scale Grain Raising, Living at Nature’s Pace, The Contrary Farmer's Invitation to Gardening, Good Spirits, and The Contrary Farmer. His most recent novel is Pope Mary and the Church of Almighty Good Food. He writes a popular blog, The Contrary Farmer, as well as an award-winning column for the Carey Ohio Progressor Times, and is a regular contributor to Farming Magazine and Draft Horse Journal. He lives and farms in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. You can visit his blog at http://thecontraryfarmer.wordpress.com/.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing; 53955th edition (December 17, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603583246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603583244
  • Product Dimensions: 7 x 0.7 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #888,198 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Z. Cohen on December 30, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Since this can be a contentious subject, I will begin this review by disclaiming my personal positions on the core issues of this book, so that my appraisal may be interpreted in light of my bias. I am very passionate about diet, food, and ecology. My concerns regarding this subject matter are nutrition, ecological issues (in which I include agricultural economy, environmental consequences, and sustainability), social issues, and lastly morality. I have lived several years as a vegan, before negative personal experience and review of previously ignored evidence led me to believe it was not the nutritional and ecological panacea I had been led to believe it was. Similarly to the author, I now consume modest portions of traditionally raised animal products along with a whole foods plant based diet.

With that said, I found this book to be thought provoking in the extreme. More than anything else, my biggest takeaway was a deeper appreciation for the incredible complexity involved in the various sciences charged with evaluating the environmental limitations and effects on food production.

Given how broad this field is, Fairlie naturally must limit the scope of the book. Nutritional factors and the morality of animal eating are completely excluded from consideration in this work. Meat is purely focused on an analysis of how much of what type of food can be produced on how much land under what conditions. Also, as noted in the book, each chapter consists of a stand alone essay, so the overall work feels a little disjointed. I didn't find that to be much of a negative.

Despite the author's status as an enlightened carnivore, I found this book to be highly free of bias and polemics.
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This is a phenomenal book. I'd like to give it more than five stars if I could. Seriously, if you are interested in this subject, or these subjects, and want to understand them, you need to read this. "These subjects" include the ethical and environmental issues around eating meat, but also the larger issue of how can we feed all these people, and how can we develop a sustainable civilization on this planet?

On the other hand, you don't need to read the whole thing all at once. I haven't yet. The author himself says that the book is denser and heavier than he planned, and "dense" is actually the first word that came to my mind. It's under 300 pages, the prose is clear, the typeface is legible, but there's a lot of lines on each page, and if you're not already on expert in this field, every paragraph is full of new information and involved arguments, so you can't just breeze through it. That's not the author's fault, just the nature of the beast. Fortunately, although there is a theme to the book, each chapter can stand alone, and in fact most of them are versions of articles or talks that appeared elsewhere. If you just read the first chapter, you may find you need to digest that for a while: it's a pretty dense and rich meal. To read, and really digest, this whole book at once would be difficult. You can read a few chapters, spread the rest out over time, keep it as a reference in the meantime. Or you could read the whole thing now, and I'm sure if you read it again in some time, you'll get more out of it the second time. Deep understanding of complex issues doesn't come all at once.

Some vegetarians and vegans think humans should not eat meat, or should not use animals or animal products.
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I'm probably the last person I'd ever have expected to buy this book, let alone give it 5 stars. I've read about half of the essay-style chapters (which is great, because you can skip around to the issues at the forefront of your thoughts on any given day), and this guy really did his homework. If you are someone who wants to get a better focus on a very foggy picture of humans and their food, this is the book for you. I'm a microbiologist turned vegan in grad school, and I hadn't even scratched the surface in my own mind of some of the issues Fairlie brings up. I went vegan as an emotional reaction to the killing of animals, and mainly factory farmed ones. It is quite possible my reaction was so strong because I had been completely removed from a relationship with animal foods in particular, I mean I hadn't even really made the connection that a chicken breast in the store came from a chicken who most likely suffered a great deal, if the store is where you are buying said chicken...read Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, another well researched book. I was never exposed to any kind of farm education, or hunting really, although my dad did a bit when I was a kid, and I remember being mortified.

Anyway, I had multiple vitamin deficiencies being vegan for 2 years, despite an almost soy-free, veggie and beans based diet (multivitamin included). I started drinking raw milk, eating raw cheese, and then I got to thinking about veal and what happens when the cow is too old, etc. Since our local organic small-town family diary farmer eats her cows (the males as a result of producing the raw milk I drink, and probably others), I started to consider eating them as well. It didn't make sense to drink the milk and refuse her meat.
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