Chelsea Green Publishing

Chelsea Green Blog

Tipping Sacred Cows

The following is a review of Simon Fairlie’s book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, by Jennifer McMullen of The Ethicurean.

Mainstream culture and news abound with broad statements about our food system and the choices we make about what we put on the dinner table. Surely you’ve heard that if you want to save the planet, you should eat a vegan diet, since raising livestock contributes significantly to carbon emissions and thus to climate change. Or perhaps you’ve been told that organic agriculture can’t possibly “feed the world.”Who’s right? What, ultimately, is the best way to produce food in the world today, to both feed our growing population without destroying the earth it depends on?

In Meat: A Benign Extravagance, recently released in the U.S. by Chelsea Green, UK writer, editor, and farmer Simon Fairlie picks apart study after study in wonkish detail and shows why easy answers are hard to find.

Densely packed with enough studies and statistics and technical information to make even my food-nerdy eyes cross at times, the book offers occasional notes of Fairlie’s dry wit, especially in his scathing comments about industry-supported studies or what he calls the Global Opponents of Organic Farming (yes, GOOFs). As he says in sketching his vision, “Farmers have lived and worked like this with plants and animals for centuries, and it is arguable that advocates of permaculture would have had to coin a new name only because industrial farmers have brought the term agriculture into disrepute.”

Because meat in general has taken a lot of heat from critics of the world’s food systems — mostly fueled by the environmental degradation and cruelty to animals embodied by factory farms — Fairlie focuses his research on the question of “not whether killing animals is right or wrong, but whether farming animals for meat is sustainable.” Unlike the narrow lens of many studies that regard large-scale industrial farms as the norm, Fairlie examines the use of land, water, feed, and energy in animal husbandry operations of varying scales and in different agricultural settings. For every statistic Fairlie can pull from a highly regarded study, it seems that he can offer an alternative statistic that encompasses a broader view of agriculture or insight into the neglected pieces of the farming puzzle. For example, Fairlie rips apart a well-known U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization report (“Livestock’s Long Shadow”) that holds livestock raising as responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Not only does the report reveal a bias in favor of intensive farming, he argues, but it also attributes the largest portion of that 18% to deforestation, a figure that is now decreasing and that is not wholly attributable to animal husbandry. He also addresses a study on soil carbon sequestration, arguing that for every action that could sequester carbon, there’s usually an opposite reaction that releases it. Ultimately, he believes that we should spend our efforts not on “sequestration” as an activity but rather on “increasing the biomass productivity of our land, and its biodiversity, by whatever sustainable ways can be found.” So what, then, would be a truly sustainable form of agriculture? Read the full article at The Ethicurean. Simon Fairlie’s Meat: A Benign Extravagance, is available now.

Easy Fall Recipes for the Adventurous Eater

Fall is in full swing!There’s a chill in the air, the leaves are starting to turn, and it’s nearly impossible to resist working pumpkin into every meal.While autumn favorites like pumpkin pancakes and warm apple cider are sure to please, take advantage of the season’s harvest and try out some new dishes as well. Our […] Read More..

A Simple Way to Grow Fresh Greens Indoors This Winter

Just because the temperatures have started to drop doesn’t mean you have to live without fresh greens until next Spring. With author and gardener Peter Burke’s innovative method of growing soil sprouts indoors, you can grow nutrient-dense greens all year long at a fraction of the cost of buying at market. Burke’s new book, Year-Round Indoor Salad […] Read More..

Recipe: How to Make the Perfect Pancake

When most people think pancakes, they think breakfast. But for Amy Halloran, breakfast is only the start.Halloran, author of The New Bread Basket, is a self-described pancake connoisseur. From a young age, she was entranced by the magic of bubbly batter rising to fluffy cakes on the griddle. Over time, her love of pancakes developed […] Read More..

What in the World is a Pawpaw?

Have you heard of the pawpaw? A few generations ago, most would say “yes!” You could ask just about anyone and they could tell you what this fruit looked and tasted like, and more importantly, where to find it. But today, the pawpaw remains a mystery to some and entirely unknown to others. In Pawpaw: […] Read More..

5 Creative Summer Drinks to Help You Cool Off

Now that we’re in the “dog days” of summer, the heat can feel a little unrelenting. There’s no better way to cool off than with a refreshing, cold beverage – especially when that beverage is made with local, organic ingredients and can give you an added health boost! While our experienced foragers and nutrition experts […] Read More..