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on 10 June 2011
Like many people concerned with the difficulty of feeding the world and keeping GHG emissions down, I assumed that meat was all bad and, being a carnivore, ate it with a vague feeling of guilt. Fairlie's fantastic book set me to right. It is a work of perfect erudition - and by "perfect", I mean it is a cunning mix of his decades of personal experience as a livestock farmer, his involvement with "the Ecologist" magazine, and a very wide reading list. This is what scientific writing looks like when it is done by enlightened amateurs, not tenured specialists.

The result is a work that changes one's perceptions of how a crucial part of our world actually works. Fairlie discusses the role of animals in many contexts, from the evolved farming systems of temperate climes, their role in poor communities, their function as soil nutrient transporters, to their impact on deforestation, climate change and more. Throughout, he reviews the literature to pinpoint the many dodgy numbers upon which the public debate regarding animals' impact on our world is based. He points out the little-discussed, but deeply disquieting, consequences of a livestock-free world; compares the potential of various agricultural systems on Britain's ability to feed itself; and salutes the cleverness and intelligence of the farming systems developed over centuries around the world to ensure humans live in long-term sustainability with their local environment.

The conclusion he comes to is inescapable: in most situations, at most times, animals are an essential component of the sustainable farming mix. They are indeed a benign indulgence.
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on 29 September 2010
Being a vegan or vegetarian is a perfectly reasonable position for those with a religious objection to meat eating or those who believe that killing animals is morally wrong. In recent years a growing number of people have gone further and declared that eating meat is bad environmentally. Before reading this book I often pondered on what would happen if animals ceased to be farmed for food and skins in Britain. No cattle grazing the lush, lowland pastures and no sheep on our hills. Instead we might see massive fields of grain grown in a monoculture and the uplands left bleak and non productive. What I never questioned were the statistics that appeared to prove that meat was a wasteful use of land.

In masterful fashion the author demolishes the, often accepted, figures on water consumption and methane production of food animals. In a scholarly, but readable, work he provides a counter argument with sources cited for those who wish to study this subject more deeply. He argues that meat production is essential to provide a balanced farming economy and that the real problem is over consumption of meat and the farming methods employed to deliver this abundance.

A thought provoking work written by a man who has deep knowledge of the countryside and farming. This book provides us with a sustainable, alternative future where meat is an important part of out diet but is eaten in smaller quantities and is treated as an indulgence, as our not so distant forebears considered it.
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on 20 September 2010
A superbly researched book about the economics and environmental impact of meat production and consumption. The knee-jerk "crops good, meat bad" mantra so often spouted by green groups that haven't examined all sides of the issue, is exploded by this book.

All the references are cited and can be checked. A must read for everyone concerned with food and our environment.
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on 13 October 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.
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on 14 April 2011
This is the first time I have ever given a book five stars, and I am full of admiration for Simon Fairlie's hard work and powers of logical thought ; he also writes very well and with frequent flashes of wit. It is too meaty a book to be an entertaining read but it would be hard to better this as a comprehensive overview of land use which packs in a great deal of simple arithmetic to back its clear conclusions, and, along the way, manages to show how many of the 'facts' bandied around are mythical.
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on 11 January 2012
absolutely loved reading this book, it was a joy to read something where someone looked at the facts first before just choosing whatever to support and opinion they had already. Immensely readable and very well written, debunks a lot of popular opinions I always thought were a bit suspect.
Wish it was on every school syllabus and required reading for all politicians!!
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on 1 February 2013
As a permaculturalist and cattle grazer I looked forward to reading this book but have to say I was disappointed. Simon Farlie has clearly put a huge amount of research into this book, there is no doubt about that. However by ignoring some very key factors I feel his endeavour may have been a waste of time.

Number one he takes as a given that animal protein and vegetable protein are nutritionally equivalent. They absolutely are not and this basic effects all of the figures he puts forward about production per acre.

Number two, there are a lot of concepts, especially to do with soil carbon that he has not done enough research on. He is dismissive on claims from soil scientist with much greater hands on experience than he has. A few quick searches on youtube would have found some fantastic examples of rapid topsoil construction using keyline plowing and rotational grazing. I was astonished that he didn't mention some of the examples that I am aware of.

Number three, a few critical claims that are glossed over without references. One notable example being the claim that rotational grazing often compacts soils. This is a criticism that only comes from people with no experience in the area. The claim is made with no footnotes and is the kind of rubbish that a vegetarian would use to dismiss the proven soil building capacity of animal impact.

I had high hopes for this book but it failed to live up to them. The worst part is that people without hands on experience in the area will read it and be impressed. I was not.
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on 1 October 2015
interesting, well researched, cuts through loads of guarding headlines
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on 21 October 2016
Should be read by vegan and factory farmed meat eating audiences alike in order for all to get a little perspective and to see a way forward. An excellent breakdown of the issues and debunking of the myths around the impact of meat .
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on 29 July 2014
Simply the best book I've read (and re-read) on the subject. It covers well where the numbers and arguments come from in the meat debate and how little is behind some of them. Simon Fairless then covers the other factors/adjustments you should consider...which many miss. Finally there is an interesting look at what a food system might look like that was sustainable and what that would mean for people. Its not a light read. Its a well researched, thoughtful book.
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