Meat A Benign Extravagance by Fairlie, Simon [Chelsea Green,2010] (Paperback)

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Chelsea Green,2010
Pros: Detailed, thoughtful, balanced, exploration of responsible animal agriculture, best book I have read on this polarizing subject
Cons: Too few people will read it
This is a difficult book to review for a cookbook site, because it is not a cookbook. If you are looking for recipes to cook meat, consult any of the many excellent cook books on the subject. This book, on the other hand, is a fascinating and intensely detailed exploration of the role of meat in responsible agriculture. My main concern about this book is that not enough people will read it, and even fewer will read it with an open mind.

In the ecologically aware community, there seems to be no more polarizing question then the question of eating meat. Meat is good or meat is evil, and most people seem to have made up their minds pretty firmly. Certainly everyone is entitled to their opinion, however on this divisive question I am struck by how often the opinions on all sides rely on an inadequate basis in fact. Mr. Fairlie has taken each question about the ecology of raising meat and researched it thoughtfully, seriously, and in great detail. The chapter "The Great Divide" is particularly worth reading. Here he explores what it would really be like if the global vegan culture wistfully hoped for by vegan activists were to come about. He is low- key and nonpolemical, and I don't know of a better exploration of that perennially sore subject. Most people who are not vegan activists are not aware of the philosophy that we should, ultimately, eliminate carnivory from nature as well, but the quotations in this chapter are by no means rare in the vegan camp. There is in fact a common vegan philosophy with several prominent advocates that carnivorous animals should be gradually eliminated except as confined to "wildlife parks" where they would be "reformed," fed on lab-cultured meat like products, and the "psychopath" animals who continue to show urges to kill prey would be "humanely eliminated." The view is sometimes called "paradise engineering." The bad example that wolves and tigers set for us would be eliminated, their splendor reduced to the cuddliness of house pets, their natures reshaped to fit into a specific human-centered fantasy.

There is a large moderate contingent in the food world that espouses in one form or another the more rational "Eat less meat, eat better meat" philosophy, but what exactly is "better" meat? This question is explored in painstaking detail, and I think it would be very hard to read Fairlie's discussions and not emerge as a more educated consumer, with some knowledge that you didn't have before.

Fairlie's ultimate conclusions in favor of animals as part of an agricultural permaculture system will no doubt be dismissed outright by the vegan activists and fervent vegetarians, enthusiastic carnivores may consider it romantic and unlikely, and most others will probably never finish the book, or even start it. But as a former farmer who has seen some of these ideas work in practice, I would urge every thoughtful omnivore to read this book.
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