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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