vegansaurus!

10/12/2010

No but for real: Simon Fairlie thinks eating meat can save the planet  »

There’s nothing the media love more than an “everything we thought was bad is actually good!” news cycle, and the latest comes from Time, discussing Simon Fairlie’s new book Meat: A Benign Extravagance. We have yet to receive the book for review, but the argument, that eating moderate amounts of meat is better for the environment than going vegan, is an eye-roller we just can’t get enough of. Whether it’s from the touchy-feely “slow food” movement or in more dangerous screeds like Lierre Keith’s Mein Kampf for carnivores (no, seriously: The Vegetarian Myth calls for both violent struggle and a swift reduction of the human population down to 600 million), justifying society’s bad habits is the most direct route to love-hearts and unicorns from the mainstream media.

By asking, “To save the environment, should you go vegan, or should you eat small amounts of grass-fed, humanely raised meat?,” Fairlie and others are fundamentally misreading the society we live in. Even in a veg-friendly city like San Francisco, ask people to maybe optionally consider taking Monday off from eating meat, and they show up with pitchforks and torches. Fairlie wants to pull out the calculator and compare the micro-efficiencies of our utopia vs. his utopia (“Animals kept on small farms also produce benefits, such as fending off predators and pests and fertilizing soil”). But when the rest of Western world is still eating pink goop spat out from factories that blend animals fattened up on soybeans as fast as industrial farms can grow them, the whole exercise seems pointless.

If we really want to save the environment, squabbling over a few chickens on the family vegetable farm isn’t going to cut it. We do know a few things: factory-farming animals and growing the feed to raise factory-farmed animals is wrecking the planet. And titles like How Eating Meat Can Save the Planet and Meat: A Benign Extravagance send exactly the wrong message. Keep doing what you’re doing! It’s fine. And if eating some meat is good for the environment, then eating more meat must be even better!

Unfortunately for Simon Fairlie, that is exactly how his message will be received. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt: I’m sure he sincerely believes that a small amount of family-farmed animals would benefit the environment in a mostly plant-based future, and he isn’t only trying to assuage his own guilt over becoming a “born-again carnivore.” 

But nuanced arguments like his have no place in today’s world, especially when they come packaged in “what you like doing but feel guilty about doing is actually GREAT.” The message people need to hear, over and over again, is stop eating animals, not “Let’s all eat meat!” with two paragraphs of fine print. Whenever omnivores finally get it into their heads that eating meat is no good, most will at least cut back. And less meat is better for the planet. Simple, right? If we’re sincerely wanting to Save the Planet, how about we get to the point where everyone is cutting back on the worst of their planet-destroying habits before worrying about the details.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go chain-smoke around some pregnant women. I hear it helps fetal brain development, didn’t you know? I read it in Time.

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