It’s always encouraging to read about people whose conversion story draws them away from the lunatic fringe. Such is the case with George Monbiot, a columnist with London’s Guardian newspaper who wrote this week that he’s seen the light. Monbiot has officially renounced his past incitement to mass veganism in the service of environmental responsibility.
After reading Simon Fairlie’s book Meat: A Benign Extravagance, Monbiot came to believe that we can still effectively reform our livestock and meat-processing systems without a meatless revolution:
In the Guardian in 2002 I discussed the sharp rise in the number of the world's livestock, and the connection between their consumption of grain and human malnutrition. After reviewing the figures, I concluded that veganism "is the only ethical response to what is arguably the world's most urgent social justice issue" … I no longer believe that the only ethical response is to stop eating meat …
Like many greens I have thoughtlessly repeated the claim that it requires 100,000 litres of water to produce every kilogram of beef. Fairlie shows that this figure is wrong by around three orders of magnitude. It arose from the absurd assumption that every drop of water that falls on a pasture disappears into the animals that graze it, never to re-emerge …
Similarly daft assumptions underlie the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation's famous claim that livestock are responsible for 18% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, a higher proportion than transport. Fairlie shows that it made a number of basic mistakes. It attributes all deforestation that culminates in cattle ranching in the Amazon to cattle: in reality it is mostly driven by land speculation and logging.
We may differ with Monbiot on many things, but his food for thought is a step in the right direction—away from vegan Puritanism and towards an open-minded view of the modern animal farm.
In essence, Monbiot is making a productive move from “we can’t” towards a discussion of “how can we?” We continue to hope that the radical meatless Utopians at PETA and the Humane Society of the United States adopt a similarly enlightened attitude one day.