Simon Fairlie's new book reviewed

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Sep 30 23:55:11 BST 2010

nice pic of Simon too
Shame on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme who 
tried to mess Simon about so much I hear that he could'nt agree go on.

Carnivores rejoice! Eating meat is good for the 
planet (and that's according to a militant vegan)

By Alex Renton
Last updated at 11:25 AM on 30th September 2010
Lunch with Simon Fairlie is a carnivore’s 
nightmare. Around the communal table at Monkton 
Wyld Court — the ‘sustainable lifestyle 
community’ in the Dorset hills where Fairlie 
lives — our plates are filled with corn fritters 
and sprouting quinoa seed salad.

There’s tea to drink and a depressingly heavy 
cake of flour, apple and marigolds for pudding.

But although the diet is strictly vegetarian, the 
talk is all about beef. That’s because Fairlie — 
just in from milking his two cows, and every inch 
the hippie farmer with his beard and tatty 
embroidered waistcoat — is no evangelical vegetarian.

Rather, this former co-editor of The Ecologist is 
a rebel from within the environmental movement 
who says that the eco-establishment has got it 
badly wrong over animals: that farming them and 
eating meat is OK. In fact, he claims, moderate 
carnivores may be better for the planet than vegans.

My beef's with vegetarians: Simon Fairlie, with 
his dairy cow, is a moderate meat-eater

Fairlie’s new book, Meat: A Benign Extravagance, 
is causing tremors throughout the world of the ecologically-minded.

It has been praised as ‘brilliant’ and 
‘challenging’ by the big names of food policy, 
while the environmental campaigner George Monbiot 
has done a U-turn and announced that he was wrong 
to promote veganism as an answer to the planet’s woes.

For more than 30 years, Fairlie explains, the 
‘urban green’ orthodoxy has been that eating meat 
is an act of selfishness: bad for the planet and 
bad for the human race. So widely accepted is the 
view that the head of the UN authority on climate 
change, Dr Rachenda Pachauri, and the last 
government’s adviser on the issue, Lord Stern, 
have both stated that vegetarianism is better for 
the planet. But farmers, Fairlie says, know better.

Fairlie was educated at Westminster public 
school, but he dropped out of university to 
become a hippie activist and a vegetarian.

In the early 1970s, aged 24, Fairlie went to live 
and work on a communal farm in southern France, 
keeping goats. It was then that the 
inconsistencies of the non-carnivorous life 
struck him. ‘I had to ask — what do you do with 
the male kids?’ he says now. ‘You can’t keep 
them, because they’ll fight, you couldn’t sell 
them, and killing and burying them was just a 
waste. So, being poor, we ate them — goat kid stew!’

He later moved to another ‘sustainable community’ 
in the West Country, and that made him further 
question the supposed self-sufficiency of the vegetarian lifestyle.

  He despises the urban Greens and their ignorance about the countryside

‘There was something dysfunctional,’ he says. 
‘The way we lived and the way we managed the land 
didn’t mesh. We were importing hundreds of pounds 
worth of protein and fats — soya, peanut butter, 
nuts and pulses and vegetable oils — from 
countries where people were hungry. Yet we were 
keeping pigs and cattle that produced proteins and fats on our doorstep.’

And so began the second phase of Fairlie’s 
activism — questioning the received wisdoms of the alternative lifestyle.

As a keeper of livestock, Fairlie was also struck 
by the endlessly repeated ‘facts’ used by 
vegetarians and environmental campaigners to 
prove the inefficiency of raising ­animals as 
human food. Chief among those is the notorious 
10:1 ‘conversion rate’, which appears everywhere 
from scientific papers to school textbooks. This 
states that to produce 1kg of beef, you need to 
feed a cow 10kg of grain. If humans ate grain, 
then, instead of beef, there would be far more food to go around.

‘This figure has its origins in the 18th 
century,’ contends Fairlie, adding that it was 
publicised most dramatically in an essay by the 
poet Shelley, who in 1813 became one of the 
world’s first militant vegetarians. George 
Bernard Shaw and Paul McCartney were his heirs, 
and with them rose an ‘urban green agenda’ that 
Fairlie despises, because of its ignorance about 
the countryside. ‘Most rural Greens eat meat,’ he says.

Concern: Fairlie highlighted a worrying 
ideological agenda behind the dodgy statistics of the anti-meat lobby

And that 10:1 ‘conversion rate’ is an absurd 
exaggeration, Fairlie’s research shows. It would 
be true if you fed nothing but grain to cows — but no one does that.

Even in the mega-farms where cheap beef is 
produced in the U.S. — which do use huge amounts 
of grain to fatten animals — the ratio is perhaps 7:1.

On a traditional small farm, very little 
vegetable matter fit for human consumption is 
used for beef production and the real conversion 
ratio is perhaps 1.4 to 1 — for every 1.4kg of 
vegetable humans could have eaten, you can produce 1kg of beef.

‘And that’s a pretty good exchange, if you’re 
getting something different and nice to eat,’ 
says Fairlie. There are other benefits, too. A 
dairy herd is a highly efficient way of turning 
something humans can’t eat — grass — into things 
they can, such as milk, butter and cheese. What’s 
more, cows recycle nutrients back into the land 
as manure, and their grazing encourages grass to grow.

One of the great disasters of recent years, in 
Fairlie’s eyes, is the ban on feeding swill — 
waste food from restaurants and factories — to 
farm animals following the foot and mouth 
epidemic of 2001. Before that, many pigs on small 
farms happily ate kitchen waste, costing the 
planet and the farmer very little.

Now two-thirds of Britain’s pig feed comes from 
meal, which is expensive, or grain that humans 
might have eaten — much of it imported soya. 
Meanwhile, the 20 million tonnes of food we throw 
away each year is burnt or buried.

Fairlie thinks there is a worrying ideological 
agenda behind the dodgy statistics of the anti-meat lobby.

In his book, he quotes prominent vegetarian 
philosophers and campaigners in organisations 
like PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of 
Animals) who would like to do away with all 
animal-based food, instead producing 
genetically-engineered ‘cultured muscle tissue’ 
for humans in factories. He quotes one of these 
luminaries boasting that he insists on feeding 
his dogs and cats on soya protein, rather than meat.

  'Eat more of the animal, and use smaller amounts' is the advice given

While speaking up for traditional farming 
methods, Fairlie does not give his approval to 
battery chicken plants and industrial-scale 
cattle farms. Meat, he says, is too cheap and we 
eat too much of it, which is bad for our health. 
Industrial farming is a moral and environmental disaster.

We do eat much more meat than we used to — the 
average Britain consumed 25kg a year a century 
ago, but that figure has now more than tripled. 
In real terms, meat costs perhaps half what it did just 20 years ago.

His recipe for a balanced meat-eating economy is 
radical — for a start he believes all farming 
should be organic. Fairlie also says that the 
Government must act to curb the supermarkets, who 
take more and more of a cut of the price of farm 
products. ‘Organic milk costs nearly £1 a litre — 
but the dairy farmer gets perhaps 22 pence. Even 
in the days of milk in churns being shipped by 
train to London, farmers got 50 per cent of the price of a pint.’

So how does the ‘Fairlie diet’ work? He tells me 
he eats meat perhaps twice a week — the last was 
a steak and kidney pie at a friend’s birthday. 
‘We should eat more of the animal — like the 
offal — and learn to cook with smaller amounts of it.’

That would make our diet more like that of our 
ancestors. They enjoyed animals like pigs and 
chickens which are cheap to keep, because they 
consume waste and surplus grain.

They ate more dairy — ‘white meats’, like butter 
and cheese, were for centuries the food of the poor.

‘Eat local, eat less, is my recipe,’ says 
Fairlie, as we go out to see Bella and Milou, his 
two Jersey milk-cows, which seem genuinely fond 
of him. ‘Look at those pastoral pictures on 
supermarket food labels, and try to find out what 
they really mean. Support your small farmer. You’ll enjoy the meat more, too.’

Simon Fairlie’s Meat — A Benign Extravagance is 
published by Permanent at £19.95.

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
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