5 Ways Meat Can Save the Earth


piggyI'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.


Image via Jere-me/Flickr

dinner, eco-friendly


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Kimra Kimra

i'm vegan and i don't eat soy products and fake meats...i think they are horrible for the environment (and our bodies) and i do not want to support that, so i do want everyone here to know that not all vegans eat soy products...

i do agree that an ORGANIC farm with cows and pigs and chicken can be great for the earth and that there are benefits to that, but just the fact that only 2% of all the worlds farms are organic means that farming the way you describe in this article is just not something that is happening right now...it is dream that all farms would go organic, that the animals would be treated fairly and not fed corn (which messes up their insides) so that our world could be a better place...but there is no way that 98% of all the other animal farms will go organic...they can't make enough money that way...that's just how it is...that is why i do not support the eating of meat...if ALL meat was from organic farms and the animals were treated right then i probably would eat meat on occassion, but since they are not, i will not support the meat industry

Trace... Trace-Angel

Yes, these are five ways meat can save the eat (and #5 is tenuous at best), however being vegetarian saves the earth a thousand ways. I wish though that people would get away from the idea that all vegetarians advocate for "fake-meat" and tofu products. I've been a vegetarian for going on eight years now, and I don't use those products and quite frankly, none of the vegetarians that I know do. I think most people assume that that is what most vegetarians eat to get protein, but peas, beans, pulses and grains can provide all the protein a body needs. Without the by-products of meat.

tazdvl tazdvl

Love my meat!!

nonmember avatar Dave

Another vegan who tries to limit in take of soy products (generally only eat organic fermented soy products, and presently working on a garden so that I don't have to worry about where they come from) but in perusing your list, I note that there is 1) No mention of the morality of consuming animal products, which for me is at least equivalent to environmental concerns in determining whether or not to use it and 2) all these points are myopic.

Point 1) Pigs can eat whey (silly to list as benefit because if we don't consume milk, there's no milk byproduct that needs to be disposed of); pigs eat leftovers (yea they do, but then they poop it back out, and from an environmental perspective, it way better to have a living producer of topsoil than a dead pig); pig eat agricultural waste, again, if we are farming in an ecologically sound way, there should be no such thing, any 'waste' should be composted. Personally, I think integrating domesticates into agricultural setting is great, particularly if it rescues them from slaughter, but they're far more ecologically useful alive than dead and if they're not, it's probably your fault.

nonmember avatar Dave

Point 2) Cows eat grass, poop it out, and aerate the soil (they do all those things except aerate the soil, they certainly generate manure, which puts nutrients back into the soil and if you let chickens pick at the insects in it, THAT aerates the soil, but cows actually compress soil because well, they're heavy, all that aside though, these are benefits of a LIVING cow, not a dead one so how does this support meat consumption? Also, cows do in fact give off a ton of methane and clear-cutting of the rainforest to raise export cattle along with the prominence of CAFO's are extremely ecological damaging. There's a whole laundry lists of reasons why raising beef cattle has far more negative effects than positive but I'll save them for another time)

Point 3) This certainly depends on the vegetables and animal fats in question. If you're using tropical nuts to produce oil and then exporting it up to a temperate climate, then yea, it'll have more of a footprint than say, domestically produced chicken or fish fats, but this is very situational and based on transportation-imposed embodied carbon. When you look strictly at a plant's fat versus and animal's fat, the plant will have a smaller foot-print almost every time because, guess what, they're at a lower strophic level. Likewise, it's easier to process plant fats into oil.)

Point 4) Farm animals can help fertilize crops (yes, this is the same argument as 1 and 2 but for them to fertilize crops they need to be alive!)

nonmember avatar Dave

Point 5) Yes we will value them more, but if you're using that as an excuse to shore up some pathetic insecurity you have about killing them, you probably shouldn't consume them in the first place! Animal welfare is all well and good but to a dying animal it's bollocks!

ethan... ethans_momma06

I love my meat AND my veggies.

sstepph sstepph

Good to know.

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