Simon Fairlie's new(ish) book - 'Meat: A Benign Extravagance'

Tony Gosling tony at
Thu Oct 13 20:08:35 BST 2011

Meat: A Benign Extravagance [Paperback]
Simon Fairlie (2010)

This is an inspirational book full of wonders.

Simon Fairlie has taken the time, patience and intellectual effort to 
research his subject in depth: that much of this was done through his 
local library is even more impressive. His analysis of the role of 
animals in food production strategies is quantitative, and closely 
argued. But he also brings in an engagingly human perspective on our 
relationship with animals, both domesticated and wild, based on his 
long, varied and direct experience, and insists that nurturing this 
relationship is essential for the future. He shows clearly how public 
debate and policy formation are so easily influenced by "facts" which 
are just plain wrong, and sometimes mischievously so.

For this reveiwer the book is also notable for three reasons.

First, it is the most balanced treatise I have read on land use, 
which is the invisible elephant in the room as far as most 
discussions of sustainability are concerned. It's a shame it's 
limited to agriculture, because the sourcing of energy and materials 
will also impact land use in the next few decades. Apart from nuclear 
power, all the alternative energy technologies are land hungry.

Second, its skilful dissection of the vegan position, revealing its 
fear of engaging with the realities of nature,is timely. Even Stewart 
Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog, has come out in favour of 
packing humans into cities (for the creativity, it seems)and 
surrounding them with regions reserved for agriculture and regions of 
"wilderness". I find this anti-human "industrial vegan" vision of the 
future almost too appalling to comtemplate.

Third, the permaculture approaches he writes about so lovingly derive 
from ideas I encountered in the late 60s and early 70s and which 
still resonate. "Self Sufficiency", "Small is Beautiful", "Diet for a 
Small Planet": all must have been seeds for his approach to life. How 
can one not admire a writer on sustainability who describes the poor 
outcome of his experiments in composting his own faeces? (Ok, I admit 
I tried as well, in 1974) These ideas need to be nourished if humans 
are to win the battle against the corporations.

To close: the book is impressive both for its sources and its 
sustained arguments, but also for the spicy titbits of information 
and stories that pepper it. Truly wonderful.
+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

Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered that shall not be 
revealed; and nothing hid that shall not be made known. What I tell 
you in darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye hear in the 
ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27  
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