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Can Eating Meat Possibly Be Good for the Planet?

Can Eating Meat Possibly Be Good for the Planet?

Take it a few years back, and the notion of eating meat meant (for most) consuming a plate of factory-farmed, cruelly harvested, and environmentally adverse meat product that made you feel nothing but bad about yourself. Vegetarian and vegan ethos and principles were almost inarguable (regardless of how sanctimonious they may seem), as the consumption of meat was at the root of so many evils (animal cruelty, labor abuses, bad nutrition, etc) as well as the root of nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

In some respects, nothing has changed. However, when considering the popularization and the growth of ethical, pasture-raised meat (otherwise known as “happy meat” in some circles) it seems that the previous conviction that eating any kind of meat was unethical (or at least environmentally harmful) might not be so absolute. Is it possible that veganism might not be the only ethical response to what is arguably the world’s most urgent social justice issue?

In the forthcoming book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, British writer and farmer, Simon Fairlie affords the proper respect to vegans for opening up the debate, but then rips into the vegan logic (with respect, not retribution) and makes a case for eating pasture, and ethically-raised meat in moderation. Fairlie says that small-scale, holistic-minded farms that raise animals on pastures can actually be very efficient and earth-friendly — especially when said animals are consuming foods (or waste) humans don’t generally eat.

Some of Fairlie’s more compelling points on the matter (as compiled by Adriana Velez of The Stir) are as follows:

1. Pasture-raised pigs can eat whey (a dairy byproduct), leftovers, and agriculture waste. They turn waste into food!

2. Cows eat grass and other “weeds” and they aerate the ground, which helps produce more grass, which puts more clean oxygen into the atmosphere.

3. Many vegetable oils have a larger carbon footprint than animal fats.

4. Farm animals on a well-managed farm can help fertilize crops.

5. Raising livestock the “slow” way helps us all value our food and farmers more, and encourages us to eat more carefully

There’s no doubt that the livestock system has gone horribly wrong, but what Fairlie is advocating is an entirely different model where we all eat a hell of a lot less meat (maybe twice a week) and where the meat is expensive (yes) but meets strict environmental (low energy, low waste, diverse, and small-scale) and ethical standards.

As compelling as Fairlie’s upcoming book may be (set to be released in the U.S. early next year) some steadfast vegans and vegetarians will surely be unmoved by his argument for moderate, and responsible, consumption. As we all know, meat is murder, and that is a thorny ethical absolutism to get around and then pleasantly swallow. Still, if we were all to adopt these standards and guidelines (I realize that some of us already have, whereas some of us would perish the thought) would it be possible to eat moderately with a clean conscience? Have we, in our rush to discredit and vilify the meat industry, overlooked the option of sensible and sustainable alternatives? Or will eating meat (no matter what kind or quantity) always be a moral and environmental injustice that we can’t afford?

Related:
Can You Be a “Good Environmentalist” and Still Eat Meat?
8 Reasons to Rock-On With Meat-Free Mondays
Top 10 Reasons to Buy Organic Meat & Dairy
Veg Out: Great Tips & Yummy Recipes

Read more: Animal Rights, Diet & Nutrition, Earth Day, Eating for Health, Following Food, Food, News & Issues, Vegan, , , , , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

718 comments

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3:24AM PST on Feb 8, 2014

Interesting, Past Member is caught up in the old propaganda cycle and recycling tired old myths. Where does one come up with this stuff? Faux news?

"And meat addicts will continue to make up goofy reasons why this cycle must continue until the earth and we all - die."

Meat is not an addiction. Where are the Meat 'Addiction' Centres across the globe? I don't see AA opening up any new affiliate chapters dealing with 'MA'.

More inaccurate fantasizing. The only thing 'goofy' is your logic, or to be more precise, lack of.

3:16AM PST on Feb 8, 2014

orv I, apples are a fruit, not a friend. Unless, of course, the child has a very vivid imagination at a very young age and the apple starts talking to him...this could produce a friend called Johnny Appleseed. If he or she finds something fun in a peach, the friendship could go on endlessly until the child gets older and the friendship becomes the pits and is tossed aside like...a peach pit. Or perhaps a two year old likes the colour of a potato's eyes. Childhood imaginary friendships might even involve a colourful bottle cap, but these are harmless and imaginary.

orv l has a rather bizarre question, one has to wonder if he has any nation-wide statistics to back up his rather odd observation: "Why don't any white people work in slaughterhouses?"

Why would you even ask that question? Can eating anything be good for the planet? Try becoming Breatharian.


2:23PM PDT on Jun 19, 2013

Thank you for the idea, but I will not eat meat.

11:00AM PST on Nov 7, 2012

Go vegan for the planet!

3:45PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

care2 articles getting worse and worse...

11:12PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Orr, I seriously doubt that anyone could possibly take your hypothetical question seriously. If your kid "befriends" apples, he/she has some serious issues, maybe worse than yours. It's also ridiculous to suggest that NO "white people" work in slaughterhouses. How many have you been in, and where? Please provide some substantiation before posting such nonsense.

5:56PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

put a child in a room with an apple and a rabbit and see which one the child eats and which one the child befriends

5:55PM PDT on Jun 26, 2012

Why don't any white people work in slaughterhouses?

9:16AM PDT on Mar 30, 2012

Now about happy meat, you may want to read and watch this. The video is disturbing though.

http://blog.peta2.com/2012/02/happy-meat-comes-from-sunny-acres-farms.html

Sorry it's not clickable.

6:24AM PDT on Mar 28, 2012

Paula L, I don't understand your remarks that animals don't eat humans. A Parsee funeral consists of leaving the body on a specially constructed tower where birds of prey (including vultures) consume them. I don't think there are many large carnivores out there that wouldn't eat a human being given the choice between that and going hungry. We are all here for a purpose and sometimes that is food.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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