Here at Grist Food virtual headquarters, we were grappling with the obligatory green-holiday-gift-guide pressure, batting around DIY ideas like fruit-infused vodka, home-made granola ... you know, virtuous hippie stuff. Then, perhaps like you, we procrastinated, both on this feature and our own gift-making. So on the theory that nothing beats the gift of knowledge, we asked some of our friends in the sustainable-food movement to tell us the best food-related books they read this year. And because used books are greener than new (albeit not for starving authors) we said it didn't matter what year the book was published, only that our respondents have discovered them in 2010.
That's how we ended up with recommendations for books first published in 1727 and 1973. Which just goes to show that the paradoxes and pleasures of squeezing a living from the land and feeding people in a way that makes sense are nothing new.
Grist senior food and agriculture writer
Four Fish may be the food politics book of the year; but that doesn't mean it's the only book to seek out. I'm eagerly reading UK farmer/writer Simon Fairlie's Meat: A Benign Extravagance. (Chelsea Green has just come out with the U.S. edition.) This is the book that inspired the formidable UK environmentalist George Monbiot to give up veganism and give meat another chance -- so long as the animals are raised and consumed according to permacultural principles. Fairlie writes briskly and has a commanding grasp of the history and ecological footprint of agriculture. But don't expect Pollan-esque narratives; more like learned, stylish legal briefs that encompass the range of contradictions, benefits, and drawbacks of livestock-raising.
I also want to put in a plug for three non-food books that have been shaping my thinking around food-system reform. The first two, both released in 2010, offer defenses of robust social democracy at a time when Democrats and Republicans alike are committed to the Wall Street economic agenda: Tony Judt's Ill Fares the Land and Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett's The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Economies Stronger. (Go here for a taste of The Spirit Level's extraordinary charts.) The third, from way back in 1973, makes the case against economic giantism and for appropriate technologies that empower communities: E.F. Shumacher's Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. If I am correct that we cannot truly reform our food system without rejiggering the broader economy, then these three books help sketch out a framework.
Read the entire article on Grist.
October 21, 2010
5 Ways Meat Can Save the Earth
Posted by Adriana Velez
I've got news for you vegans -- a new meat missionary is out to convert you all. Simon Fairlie, author of Meat, a Benign Extravagance, has already turned George Monbiot, a high-profile English vegan activist. George's vegan retraction "I was wrong about veganism" is a delicious read for carnivores.
I've had plenty of arguments with vegan activists who think soy burgers are more environmentally friendly than grass-fed beef, and frankly, I'm sick of this nonsense. Soy-based foods and other fake meat products are incredibly processed and come from environmentally unfriendly monoculture farms. They're a disaster.
But fine, you vegans have a point about most meat, milk, and egg production being cruel to animals and inefficient. So how did Fairlie turn George the Vegan?
It's all about which meat you eat and how it's raised. Fairlie says that small-scale, holistic-minded farms that raise animals on pastures can actually be very efficient and earth-friendly -- especially when those animals are eating foods humans don't eat. Let me count the ways.
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.
And by the way, that famous UN claim that livestock generates 18% of global carbon emissions is wrong; the report lumped in deforestation from logging and development (not farm-related) and included other errors.
Keep in mind, Fairlie isn't advocating a big, fat, carnivore meatfest every day. He only eats meat twice a week and thinks we could all stand to reduce our consumption. Eating meat less often is actually how I make eating more expensive pasture-raised meat affordable. Buying direct from farmers is another way -- yes, you can even do that in Brooklyn!
And so, I raise my bug-fed chicken leg in a toast to carnivores everywhere. Let us eat meat -- but thoughtfully and in moderation.
Read the original post on The Stir blog.
October 12, 2010
Q&A: Simon Fairlie on How Eating Meat May Benefit the Planet
by Tara Kelly
Countless studies claim that eating meat harms the planet and contributes to global warming. The U.N.'s 2006 Food and Agriculture Organization report states that meat produces 18% of the world's carbon emissions — more than the global transport infrastructure. But in his new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Simon Fairlie, a British farmer and former editor of the Ecologist magazine, tears apart the theory that being carnivorous is bad for the planet — and says that eating moderate amounts of meat could be greener than going vegan.
You argue that, rather than being bad for the planet, livestock is beneficial to the environment. Why?
Every agricultural system produces a surplus of waste and hard-to-use biomass that is best kept in the food chain by feeding it to livestock. Meat or dairy produced this way has little extra environmental impact. Animals kept on small farms also produce benefits, such as fending off predators and pests, and fertilizing soil.
Why do vegans and the green movement argue that meat is so bad for the environment?
Many vegans and vegetarians rely on one source from the U.N. calculation that livestock generates 18% of global carbon emissions, but this figure contains basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation from ranching to cattle, rather than logging or development. It also muddles up one-off emissions from deforestation with ongoing pollution.
How do you respond to critics and scientists who argue meat production is inefficient?
Scientists have calculated that globally the ratio between the amounts of useful plant food used to produce meat is about 5 to 1. If you feed animals only food that humans can eat — which is, indeed, largely the case in the Western world — that may be true. But animals also eat food we can't eat, such as grass. So the real conversion figure is 1.4 to 1.
So can we tuck into a steak guilt-free?
That's a tabloid way of looking at it. If somebody had doubts about [whether or not to eat meat] and they read my book and agreed with it, they might think you can afford to eat a modest amount of dairy and meat without destructing the environment. But, of course, it is not what we eat individually — it is what we eat as a whole society that has the impact on the environment. Some vegans may continue their vegan ways. I'm arguing for meat in moderation, not to eradicate meat entirely, nor to overconsume it.
What are the most sustainable types of meat to eat?
Pigs fed off food waste, whey and other forms of garden and agricultural waste. Dairy cows that are eating grass and clover as part of mixed-arable rotation. They have very little toll on the environment and are, on balance, benign. The way forward is to switch to organic farming. We would have to cut meat consumption by half, but our dairy intake would remain about the same.
You describe yourself as a born-again carnivore. How did that happen?
I was a vegetarian from 18 to 24 years old, and I gave up meat partly because I had misgivings about the cruelty to animals. But I began eating meat again when I moved to the [English] countryside and started keeping goats. I had to do something with the male goats. They wouldn't produce milk or offspring, so I started eating them. At 59, I now eat meat twice a week. I still to this day have some misgivings about killing animals for food. But intellectually, I know it is the right thing to do.