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  3. Simon Fairlie on Why Eating Meat Is Good for the Planet - TIME
  4. I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly
  5. Meat: A Benign Extravagance

First off, before I start, I heard about this book through a caveman diet blog, so you know where my biases lie. A Benign Extravagance is, as it says, a defense of eating meat. The author explains and then knocks down one vegan myth after another: The exaggerated emphasis on the alleged four or five percent of [greenhouse gases] emitted by cattle, and the mendacious rhetoric about cows causing more global warming than cars, look suspiciously like an attempt to shift some of the blame for global warming from below ground to above ground, from fossil fuels to the natural biosphere, from the town to the country and from the rich to the poor.

The vision of a vegan England well, one vegan's vision of given later on, where in order to live in harmony with nature and prevent having to kill millions of pest animals in the course of agriculture, they literally wall themselves off from the natural world, was also especially ironic. However, the book is in no way an unbridled paean to the joy of meat. There are two major caveats I'll add after my above list: A Benign Extravagance is, by design, concerned only with the ecological and economic impacts of meat eating.

In the face of soil depletion, climate change, peak oil, and a myriad of other pressures, something will have to change, and probably quite drastically. Meat is benign, yes, but is also extravagant.

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The book is quite dense and full of references, but is written in a conversational tone with several anecdotes about the process of research. There are a number of instances where the author writes about the difficulty he had trying to find the source for claims made by either side, and in once case after being repeatedly given the run-around he resorts to just typing stuff into a search engine and seeing if he can find out where the source got the information for her claims. For the record, it's a source claiming that climate change can essentially be solved through carbon sequestration of pastured land grazed by cattle.

For me, I actually think the most interesting points were the times when he departed from his usual recounting of statistics and facts and talked about the emotional impact of eating meat; that doing so keeps us close to nature, which is, after all, red in tooth and claw though this obviously doesn't apply to city-dwellers who get all their food prepackaged like myself! A society in which no animals are eaten, even if it doesn't follow the lines of some of the more extreme vegan ideologues in gengineering most of the animal kingdom to eliminate predation entirely, is farther from nature than the omnivores are.

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I don't tend to think of my own meat-eating in moral terms--I tend to default to the nutritional benefits, especially over the available substitutes--and it was kind of eye-opening, even if of limited benefit to an urbanite. The vision of a pastoral society given at the end is likely to provoke a strong response from quite a lot of people, but as the author points out, it is a lifestyle led by a significant portion of the world's population right now, and while I doubt many people would adopt it out of choice, we may have to do so out of necessity.

Sep 02, Anna rated it really liked it Shelves: I would give the first half of Meat five stars and the last half three, but Goodreads doesn't work that way. Here's why the first half was awesome: It's a well-researched and unbiased account of the impact meat animals actually have on our environment. Yes, the text looks dense due to the font and footnotes, but it's actually quite easy to read.

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Maybe because I'm much less interested in philosophizing about societal changes, I found the second half to be a slog. But it also felt much more opiniona I would give the first half of Meat five stars and the last half three, but Goodreads doesn't work that way. But it also felt much more opinionated and less rounded, citing theorists instead of studies with numbers.

Since the book was written with each chapter a separate essay, the author gives you complete leeway to skip around and read only what you want. If you've got a limited attention span, you'll get most of the highlights by reading chapters 1, 3, 4, 9, 10, and Sep 25, Stewart rated it really liked it Shelves: The most comprehensive consideration of the inadequate arguments of omnivores, vegans, vegetarians, and worst of all born-again carnivores. There is no easy solution.

Fairlie has no tolerance for bullshit from grass eaters or meat eaters. He is concerned with fact. He concedes that the best argument for veganism is land use -- that land could be used for other purposes. Unfortunately, few lifestyle vegans have any idea what veganic agriculture would look like other than "More trees, wildlife. If meat is extravagant for diverting possible human food to feed other animals, biofuel is even more extravagant.

Fairlie has certainly made many enemies out of dogmatists and has drawn others out of their dogmatism. Fairlie faces facts, not ideology. He is pathologically concerned with the truth. I'm an enthusiastic carnivore, but this book almost made me vegan. Fairlie presents a well written and thoroughly documented argument for the environmental sustainability of livestock, but he ties it to a worldview that requires the general population to abandon cities, motor vehicles, plastic, and pretty much anything invented in the last hundred or so years in exchange for rural lives as loosely organized mostly self-sufficient peasants.

As someone who enjoyed reading his book electronically on I'm an enthusiastic carnivore, but this book almost made me vegan. As someone who enjoyed reading his book electronically on my iPhone, after having returned by car from a business meeting that helped pay for said book, part of which included a meal made from vegetables and meats produced by people who are far more talented and interested in farming than I am, I cannot reject strongly enough his proposal for how we should live.

As I was reading I marked arguments that I found to be specious, with the intention of writing a rebuttal to them, but with well over passages marked I don't know where to begin and won't bother. That said, I still recommend the book. Fairlie's research is excellent, and he brings amazingly diverse fields of study into scope as he crafts his vision for a permaculture society. I remain unconvinced by his argument, but it's entertaining and satisfying to witness his crafting of it.

But thank goodness I also used other sources in my own research, or else tomorrow morning I'd be trading in my eggs and bacon for tofutti and veggie "bacon". Jun 01, Jules rated it did not like it Shelves: There's no attempt at narrative to carry what is essentially a string of back-of-the-envelope calculations interspersed with short polemics, and given that the author misunderstands certain key concepts embodied water for example I don't even trust the calculations. There are a few interesting snippets that I would have liked to see discussed in more detail, for example the fact that much of the UK's food waste problem was caused by the fact that following the BSE crisis it was made illegal to feed food waste to pigs, but rather than essentially dismissing this as "health and safety gone mad" I'd have liked to see some discussion of how it might be possible to recycle food waste without propagating pathogens through the system.

Maybe it will get there later in the book but thus far I've seen nothing that contradicts my basic belief that while it may be theoretically possible to design an agricultural system featuring animals that minimises environmental impacts without compromising welfare, we're a very long way off having that at the moment so in the meantime it's probably a good idea to eat as little animal produce as possible. Mar 03, Jean-Michel Ghoussoub rated it it was amazing. This book is a must read for anyone interested in what we eat, how it is produced and the impact it has on the environment and the worldwide economy and balance of power.

Simon Fairly is not only a small farmer, he did tons of research and got even the tiniest detail. What I liked about this book, is its transparency and honesty. This is one of the rare books on the subject of food that does not takes sides for meat or against meat. This book is a treasure cove of interesting info. Whether y This book is a must read for anyone interested in what we eat, how it is produced and the impact it has on the environment and the worldwide economy and balance of power. Whether you're a big time meat eater or a hard core vegan, this book will very certainly impact the way you see food and ultimately what you eat.

May 05, Kurtzprzezce rated it really liked it Shelves: Fairly researched topic, challenging read. Well written, but the language is not always straightforward which might be a minor problem for a non-native english language users like myself. I have only one major objection: He advocates "organic" above "chemical", but never mention the fact that what "organic" means is actually defined by local legislation.

It not necessarily means that farmers are using duck to fight the slugs Fairly researched topic, challenging read. It not necessarily means that farmers are using duck to fight the slugs. Using pesticides which are not synthesized in laboratories labelled as "organic" , but nevertheless dangerous even more than "chemical" ones is more accurate description of so called "organic" farming.

I didn't like so much the last part of the book. It's rather opinionated defense of a rural lifestyle than factual analysis. Furtunatelly there's plenty of that in the previous parts of the book. Jun 01, Bill Guerrant rated it it was amazing. Balanced, intelligent and well-researched, this book carefully examines the place of livestock in an ecologically sustainable world.

Simon Fairlie on Why Eating Meat Is Good for the Planet - TIME

While the author addresses in detail many of the ethical issues associated with livestock and meat-eating in the context of population growth and climate change, he sidesteps entirely what many regard as the principal moral issue--whether it is ethical for humans to kill and eat animals. Some readers may be frustrated by this. Likewise the author's emphasis on the Balanced, intelligent and well-researched, this book carefully examines the place of livestock in an ecologically sustainable world.

Likewise the author's emphasis on the social and ecological condition of Great Britain may cause some to question the relevance of the book to the rest of the world.

I was wrong about veganism. Let them eat meat – but farm it properly

But I found his analysis helpful and compelling, and had no trouble projecting his conclusions onto societies outside Britain. Jul 04, Nick Harris rated it really liked it Shelves: Extensive and intensive investigation of livestock, their uses and misuses. Some valid points about the critical role livestock play in agriculture and livelihoods. Towards the end a low-energy rural permaculture idyll is sketched out, which mixes reasonable criticism with luddite fantasy. We are not getting to the stars by shepherding cows. The book has gone back to the library, however, I've read enough to give it at least three stars.

I intend to finish it. One of the nice things about Fairlie's bo The book has gone back to the library, however, I've read enough to give it at least three stars. Sometimes he will start to describe an idea favoring animal agriculture, and you'll say to yourself, "wait a minute, that's not right" -- but then sure enough, in a paragraph or two, he'll refute the idea he has just brought up himself.


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So he's not just a parrot for the meat industry, or even for organic agriculture, by a long shot. In general, Fairlie's defense of meat seems to be based on the idea of meat as economically efficient those cows can mostly take care of themselves , and the idea of meat as a storage device what are you going to eat this winter or if your crops fail?

This is coupled with a fall back defensive strategy: In fact the somewhat minor problems small-scale meat production causes, in Fairlie's view, are outweighed by the economic advantages and flexibility of an omnivorous diet. If we defined our terms, "small scale meat production" could wind up being pretty massive and could still wind up doing a lot of damage. When you talk about small scale meat production, you convey to western readers the idea of meat 2 or 3 times a week, but in practice "sustainable meat" would be much less frequent even than that, or would be the practice only of a small elite, with resultant social problems of inequality -- or both.

And even at small levels animal agriculture can be bad; in several ways grazing cattle is actually worse than feedlot cattle. It is very destructive both of the soil and of biodiversity. I understand Fairlie's argument, but I am not convinced. The health disadvantages of meat consumption are also very problematic and are not adequately addressed. We adopted meat consumption as hunter-gatherers when people frequently didn't live to be 30, so heart disease and cancer were of marginal importance.

If we want to go back to that life expectancy, then meat might be excused as a "benign extravagance," but otherwise, we are going to pay for it one way or the other. My basic response to this is that this concept of "waste" is an economic concept. Food thrown away can be composted. Grasslands can be left alone or allowed to revert to forest. Inedible parts of crops should likewise be left on the ground or composted. Soil underpins our civilization, and to undermine the soil on the basis that it shortchanges our economy is a misguided economy.

Meat: A Benign Extravagance

Mar 10, Scott Davies rated it liked it. The central argument of this book-- that a modest amount of meat and dairy production is not only environmentally benign, but is in fact a necessary part of ecologically sustainable food production-- is pretty thoroughly laid out here. This is an equation that is explicitly calculated in terms of the number of calories that can be sustainably produced, ie.


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  6. In The central argument of this book-- that a modest amount of meat and dairy production is not only environmentally benign, but is in fact a necessary part of ecologically sustainable food production-- is pretty thoroughly laid out here. In his pursuit of the various threads of his argument, he is rigorous to a fault; the fault being that the book is overly long and really drags in parts.

    Oddly, the author seems nonchalantly aware of this, even recommending to his readers that they skip one of the chapters. I certainly took his advice. Curiously, near the end of this book, he kind of goes off the rails and, like a kid kicking his own sandcastle, brings so much of this turgidly accumulated credibility crashing down. This is where his Vegan Conspiracy is finally revealed: Apparently, veganism goes hand in hand with the cult of transhumanism; that is, the desire to replace humans with a superior beings via a combination of genetic engineering and cybernetics. Several months after I finished reading this book, what bothers me more is that the emphasis is given to the positive case for some meat and dairy consumption, rather than the equally compelling but perhaps less marketable case for eating a lot less meat and dairy than we currently do.

    The facts presented support both arguments, and to be fair, the author does make the latter point, but it is rather in the manner of a casual aside. But there is surely a greater need to make the case for reducing meat and dairy consumption given that the status quo according to this book is a destructive and unsustainably high level of consumption. Fairlie argues that "a vegan diet, laudable though it may be for the individual, is neither sensible nor attainable for society as a whole".

    Maybe so, but to reduce overall consumption, perhaps the best course of action we can take as individuals is to eliminate these things from our diet. Despite its faults, this book does a worthy job of providing a big picture of how we produce food. There are lots interesting and worrying issues touched upon, not least the one-way flow of nutrients from farmland to urban parks and oceans that has resulted from mechanised, large-scale food production. Kudos is also due for pretty thoroughly destroying some of the more absurd disinformation bandied around the internet, like the '20, litres of water required to produce 1kg of beef' claim, which I always suspected was bunk and now know to be so.

    It also provides food for thought for those who like me follow Jane Jacobs, Richard Florida et al, in celebrating cities as a solution to problems rather than their cause. I can't say I'm anywhere near convinced we should all go back to living in villages-- his arguments along those lines are approached from a pretty narrow perspective-- but I must admit I'm a bit less confident than I was before.

    Within the first few chapters I thought that this book might become one of those that I proselytise for; at the end of it, I find myself fighting the urge to order ten more copies so I can pass them out come the holidays. And all this despite the fact that I was really turned off by the hyperbolic jacket description. Part of the reason I don't immediately buy ten more copies is that it's not an easy read -- Fairlie's argument is scientifically rigorous, and even though he explains the math in a wa Within the first few chapters I thought that this book might become one of those that I proselytise for; at the end of it, I find myself fighting the urge to order ten more copies so I can pass them out come the holidays.

    Part of the reason I don't immediately buy ten more copies is that it's not an easy read -- Fairlie's argument is scientifically rigorous, and even though he explains the math in a way that a lay audience can understand, it's still more of a text than a text. And, unfortunately, the subjects of food security and permaculture don't appear yet to be of interest to a general audience.

    But they should be. The underlying message of this book, the Big Idea that we have so much trouble accepting, is that the Earth is a closed system -- a fabulously complex one, and one that we understand very imperfectly, but one which we cannot escape taking part in and affecting. From this premise, Fairlie examines the two ends of the ideological spectrum: Being, as I said earlier, a text, Fairlie spends most of his time taking down the vegan argument, assuming that anyone reading the book is already fairly convinced that industrialized agriculture is an unsustainable system.

    The way he does this is by showing, again and again, the sorts of cycles various nutrients pass through, and the many ways that domestic animals have been bred to faciliate those cycles. Industrialization has usurped those roles by making it possible to mine for or synthesize much of that; but this creates vast inefficiencies, and it is those inefficiencies that vegans hold up as reasons to eliminate livestock altogether. Fairlie is quite convincing in showing the way numbers have been manipulated by both sides of the argument, and in making the reader question whether the low-tech sort of agriculture practiced by humanity for thousands of years was perhaps the most efficient system yet designed.

    I do not agree with him on every point; being from the urban elite, his picture of a re-ruralized future was, quite frankly, frightening to me, and I am not so dead-set against developing technologies that mimic the roles livestock traditionally held rather than going entirely back to animal-power. But the greatest strength in this book is that Fairlie invites the reader to argue with him, making his own prejudices transparent and giving the reader as much unbiased information as is possible.

    He is also, being English, understandably most knowledgeable about and interested in the British Isles and their ecology; there are several sections that are useful to an American reader only for the template they provide, rather than any of Fairlie's specifics. 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. But animals also eat food we can't eat, such as grass. So the real conversion figure is 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.

    Some vegans may continue their vegan ways. I'm arguing for meat in moderation, not to eradicate meat entirely, nor to overconsume it. He was a co-editor of The Ecologist magazine for four years, before joining a community farm in where he managed the cows, pigs and a working horse for ten years. He now runs Chapter 7, an organization that provides planning advice to smallholders and other low income people in the countryside. He is also editor of The Land magazine, and earns a living by selling scythes.


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      Not a simple answer, but