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?