Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Meat, A Benign Extravagence

I have been meaning to post about Simon Fairlie's "Meat: A Benign Extravagance" for some time now.  It opens up so many lines of question and not only tries to qualify and quantify the cost of meat (in economical, sustainable and ecological terms), but goes on with incredible ambition to develop a model of how sustainable agriculture (and indeed the very bed rock of capitalism), may look in the future and how Earth's ecology may prosper with grass roots reworking of our current agricultural model.

With no evident axe to grind, no political persuasion evident (although rarely could anyone claim to be completely free of any bias in most matters), and armed with a simple intention to get to the truth of the matter, Fairlie picks apart the environmental and ethical issues of eating meat.
  • "Meat - a benign extravagance - is an exploration of the difficult environmental and ethical issues that surround the human consumption of animal flesh. 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. At its heart, the book argues, however, that the farming of animals for consumption has become problematic because we have removed ourselves physically and spiritually from the land. Our society needs to reorientate itself back to the land and Simon explains why an agriculture that is most readily able to achieve this is one that includes a measure of livestock farming."
I had wanted to blog about some of the stuff I have read in Fairlie's masterpiece, but he tackles so many half truths, sophistry, myths and bullshit that are so deeply engrained in the political world of agriculture that it would take a book to tease these arguments apart! 

And that is what Fairlie does time and again; he picks a theme and then elucidates on each of the elements pertinent to that theme.  Towards the end of the chapter, he draws these themes together in logically consistent and coherent arguments, highlighting fact here and ambiguity there.  The arguments are so thorough and so exquisitely built upon detail after detail that to pick out any part in isolation would do Fairlie's work an injustice and make me guilty of  the very simplistic reductionism that he strives to debunk.

After reading it you really are left with a good handle on the mess that is modern food policy.  You can really appreciate how meddling beaurocratic organisations can/do/will do damage to sustainable agriculture with their top down homogenetic policy making.  But this is nicely balanced by an understanding of the cultural side of food, and also by Fairlie's drawing on the rich history of various agricultural practices.

I fall on the paleo side of the fence and I see the folly of agriculture..but as the paleo concept has evolved, it is clear that it is what we have chosen to farm and how we have implemented settled agriculture that has wrought havoc with our health and the health of the land.
  • You shouldn't read this book to justify your love of eating meat. 
  • You shouldn't avoid this under the notion that it will rub against your ve*gan principles. 
  • You should read this if you want to see a new direction for agriculture that is brimming with hope - not only for our health, and not only for agriculture, but for managing our stewardship of this planet in way that means that we just might have something worthy of handing over to the next generation.
  • You must read this book if you want to have a hop of immersing yourself physically and spiritually with the land
I think I might have just found the blueprint for how to run my retirement smallholding!  Inspirational.

No comments: