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Meat: A Benign Extravagance Paperback – January 28, 2011
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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.
“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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Top customer reviews
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. So yes, vegan turned local omnivore, and trying to adhere to the default livestock diet that Fairlie lays out in this book.
This book has hundreds of references, you can just go right to those papers and look for yourself. Fairlie has just put all the info in convenient form. I really enjoyed the chapter on what a vegan society's landscape might look like. This is something that the big vegan organizations never really go in to, and they should, because the picture isn't pretty. If you need a book to help you explore what kind of diet really does less harm to the planet, this is a great read. I was shocked at the chapter with the graph showing how vegetable oil production takes up as much land as beef (the least efficient meat to produce), and even more to learn how the pork industry and soy bean industry (veg oil) are so intertwined.
While I did not agree with every single one of Fairlie's arguments or conclusions, I was extremely happy with his diligent reporting of where he got his facts and how he used them. Not every reader will enjoy such a detailed level of reporting and numerical analysis, but I did. It is definitely what sets this book head and shoulders about any other in its field. Giving the proper information ensures that the reader can draw her own conclusions, rather than blindly following the author's prose to only one possible ending.
This is a groundbreaking book, and I commend Fairlie for the effort. There are a few drawbacks, however. First, Fairlie is British, and the book was originally published in the UK. Understandably, the author uses Great Britain as a case study over and over again, which means Americans will have to decide for themselves which ideas will or will not hold true in the US, which has a markedly different geography, culture, and agricultural system. Furthermore, Americans should be prepared with their British English dictionaries, as there are numerous terms, especially agricultural ones, that are not in use or have completely different meanings in the US (corn, for example). The second drawback is that there is almost no discussion about the ethical and health issues pertaining to meat-eating. Fairlie makes vegans out to be misguided hippies intent on saving the world, but in my experience, most people become vegetarians or vegans for health reasons, not environmental ones. Similarly, his comparison of meat versus plants is limited to caloric value, protein levels, and fat content. He completely ignores any other nutritional differences between the two types of food. Finally, the book is very poorly edited. There are typos throughout the entire thing, at a much higher rate than I would ever consider acceptable for a published book. Perhaps the proofreader was too caught up in the author's detailed analysis to do his own job.
I'd love to give this book a 5 star rating because it is, for the most part, extraordinarily well done. However, there are just a few too many negative issues for me. So, it gets a 4 star rating, but I encourage everyone to read this book and think long and hard about their food choices.
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1. Meat production is destroying the Earth.
2. Meat production is benefiting the Earth.