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Meat: A Benign Extravagance

4.07  ·  Rating details ·  214 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Meat - A Benign Extravagance is an exploration of the difficult environmental and ethical issues that surround the human consumption of animal flesh. The world's meat consumption is rapidly rising, leading to devastating environmental impacts as well as having long term health implications for societies everywhere. Simon Fairlie's book lays out the reasons why we must decr ...more
Paperback, 322 pages
Published August 31st 2011 by Permanent Publications (first published September 15th 2010)
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Zach Cohen
Dec 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Since this can be a contentious subject, I will begin this review by disclaiming my personal positions on the core issues of this book, so that my appraisal may be interpreted in light of my bias. I am very passionate about diet, food, and ecology. My concerns regarding this subject matter are nutrition, ecological issues (in which I include agricultural economy, environmental consequences, and sustainability), social issues, and lastly morality. I have lived several years as a vegan, before neg ...more
Sarah Clement
Jan 13, 2012 rated it liked it
I think this book had a lot of potential, and I was intrigued to see what a fellow environmentalist would have to say on the topic of the sustainability of meat. While I think Fairlie did a phenomenal job overall, there are many glaring and not-so-glaring errors in his book, both in terms of data and in terms of conclusions. The best part of the book is, by far, the scenarios he develops involving different agricultural systems and how they would relate to the dietary patterns of the public. He ...more
Richard Reese
Mar 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Is meat evil? A vocal minority shouts “Yes!” The British eco-journalist, George Monbiot, was an enthusiastic advocate for the vegan diet. He did an abrupt U-turn after reading Simon Fairlie’s book, Meat — A Benign Extravagance. Fairlie is a powerhouse thinker, a fire hose of ideas, and a tireless detective who hunts down those who ejaculate statistics that are ridiculously biased or fictitious. This book will reduce your trust in all statistics by 71.8 percent. He doesn’t take sides; he forces e ...more
Aug 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
First off, before I start, I heard about this book through a caveman diet blog, so you know where my biases lie.

Meat: A Benign Extravagance is, as it says, a defense of eating meat. The author explains and then knocks down one vegan myth after another: that it takes 10 pounds of edible plants to get one pound of meat (this is only true if you ignore one of the main reasons our ancestors kept animals; namely, that they eat things humans don't), that it takes 100,000 liters of water to raise a sin
Jun 01, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: food-agriculture
I must confess I'm struggling with this, and the main thing stopping me from giving up is the fact that I paid £15 for it. There's no attempt at narrative to carry what is essentially a string of back-of-the-envelope calculations interspersed with short polemics, and given that the author misunderstands certain key concepts (embodied water for example) I don't even trust the calculations. There are a few interesting snippets that I would have liked to see discussed in more detail, for example th ...more
Sep 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
I would give the first half of Meat five stars and the last half three, but Goodreads doesn't work that way.

Here's why the first half was awesome: It's a well-researched and unbiased account of the impact meat animals actually have on our environment. Yes, the text looks dense due to the font and footnotes, but it's actually quite easy to read.

Maybe because I'm much less interested in philosophizing about societal changes, I found the second half to be a slog. But it also felt much more opiniona
Sep 25, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: agrarian
The most comprehensive consideration of the inadequate arguments of omnivores, vegans, vegetarians, and (worst of all) born-again carnivores. There is no easy solution. Fairlie has no tolerance for bullshit from grass eaters or meat eaters. He is concerned with fact. He concedes that the best argument for veganism is land use -- that land could be used for other purposes.

Unfortunately, few lifestyle vegans have any idea what veganic agriculture would look like other than "More trees, wildlife."
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Meh, I respect that he did good research and blah de blah and I myself really dislike CAFO practices, however this book COMPLETELY IGNORES the staggering health statistics that suggest our overly processed cheap grain based foods are killing us. Fatal heart disease numbers are still staggeringly high despite all the medications available, kids and adults are becoming "allergic" to everything under the sun, childhood obesity has exploded, and I could go on and on. Yes its a bummer that not everyo ...more
Brandt Kurowski
I'm an enthusiastic carnivore, but this book almost made me vegan.

Fairlie presents a well written and thoroughly documented argument for the environmental sustainability of livestock, but he ties it to a worldview that requires the general population to abandon cities, motor vehicles, plastic, and pretty much anything invented in the last hundred or so years in exchange for rural lives as loosely organized mostly self-sufficient peasants. As someone who enjoyed reading his book electronically on
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it
It's a good book, but to use a bad pun, it's a meaty read.
For first-time or casual readers of the subject I wouldn't put this one at the top of the to-read list.
However, for those more dedicated it is a worthy read. He references several authors, both positively and negatively, that I have already read. And, many of the chapters stand alone and there is some truly fascinating analysis and information.
Having said that, there are also a lot of numbers to sort through. In some of those passages I s
Jean-Michel Ghoussoub
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is a must read for anyone interested in what we eat, how it is produced and the impact it has on the environment and the worldwide economy (and balance of power).

Simon Fairly is not only a small farmer, he did tons of research and got even the tiniest detail.

What I liked about this book, is its transparency and honesty. This is one of the rare books on the subject of food that does not takes sides (for meat or against meat).

This book is a treasure cove of interesting info.

Whether y
Naomi Toftness
Jan 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
if you have a moral qualm about eating animals because animals have souls, etc, this book will not convince you to eat meat. however, if you think that all animal based agriculture is wrong because of factory farms, you should read this book.
Fairly researched topic, challenging read. Well written, but the language is not always straightforward which might be a minor problem for a non-native english language users like myself. I have only one major objection: the author seems to be uncritical towards concept of "organic" farming. He advocates "organic" above "chemical", but never mention the fact that what "organic" means is actually defined by local legislation. It not necessarily means that farmers are using duck to fight the slugs ...more
William Guerrant
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Balanced, intelligent and well-researched, this book carefully examines the place of livestock in an ecologically sustainable world. While the author addresses in detail many of the ethical issues associated with livestock and meat-eating in the context of population growth and climate change, he sidesteps entirely what many regard as the principal moral issue--whether it is ethical for humans to kill and eat animals. Some readers may be frustrated by this. Likewise the author's emphasis on the ...more
Nick Harris
Jul 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: food
Extensive and intensive investigation of livestock, their uses and misuses. Some valid points about the critical role livestock play in agriculture and livelihoods. Towards the end a low-energy rural permaculture idyll is sketched out, which mixes reasonable criticism with luddite fantasy. We are not getting to the stars by shepherding cows.
Ally Fraser
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not always exactly an enjoyable read, as it is essentially a research document. However, for those interested in the environment, ecology or farming this is essential reading material.
Keith Akers
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Vegetarians / vegans looking for "the other side" of the debate
The book has gone back to the library, however, I've read enough to give it at least three stars. I intend to finish it. If you are a vegetarian / vegan looking for a book by an opponent of vegetarianism, this is a much better read than "The Vegetarian Myth." It has some problems, though, and I think he's really misunderstood Goodland and Anhang's thesis on "Livestock and Climate Change," and made some basically illiterate attacks on their point of view.

One of the nice things about Fairlie's bo
Scott Davies
Mar 10, 2016 rated it liked it
The central argument of this book-- that a modest amount of meat and dairy production is not only environmentally benign, but is in fact a necessary part of ecologically sustainable food production-- is pretty thoroughly laid out here. This is an equation that is explicitly calculated in terms of the number of calories that can be sustainably produced, ie. sans considerations of animal welfare-- although the author can't help but keep dipping his toes into those waters as the book progresses. In ...more
Within the first few chapters I thought that this book might become one of those that I proselytise for; at the end of it, I find myself fighting the urge to order ten more copies so I can pass them out come the holidays.

And all this despite the fact that I was really turned off by the hyperbolic jacket description.

Part of the reason I don't immediately buy ten more copies is that it's not an easy read -- Fairlie's argument is scientifically rigorous, and even though he explains the math in a wa
Sep 19, 2010 rated it liked it
This book advocates that meat has a rightful place on the farm. It's falsely cited as a case against veganism. This author isn't against veganism or vegetarianism, and clearly believes it has its place. It's more accurate to say he's very strongly against what you might call a sort of totalitarian approach to veganism, the idea that we must transform the entire world to vegans, eliminating all animal products entirely. There's an interesting chapter that paints a pretty bleak picture of what suc ...more
Kitten Kisser
Sep 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: business-farming
Jam packed with real information. The print is small & the pages are thin, so you really get a lot of brain food. This isn't a fun entertaining read like 'Holy Sh-t Managing Manure To Save Mankind' This is pretty much the exact opposite of 'Holy S' The author breaks down all the different point of views on farming. Everything you can think of he analyzes. From the meat eaters perspective, to the Vegans & everyone & everything in-between.

Exactly how damaging to our planet is eating animals??? Is
North Devon
Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Fortunate timing meant that I happened to finish reading this book on the same day on which the world's first synthetic burger was unveiled.
This is just one of the topics discussed in Simon Farilie's book, and is a good representation of the purpose of the book.
Some reviewers have commented on the author's missing issues around ethics etc, as well as his visions of a vegan-run world, but this really misses the point of Meat: A Benign Extravagance.

I am not in a position to comment on the validit
Sep 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, non-fiction
Meat is a collection of well-sourced, almost scholarly essays written by a small-scale farmer about meat, meat production, and meat eating. It was far more comprehensive than I expected, and one of the main things I took away was the importance of critical thinking about the subject- particularly when it comes to numbers and statistics! As it turns out a good number of them are something someone pulled out of... somewhere at some point, and subsequently acquire an aura of Holy Writ as they are c ...more
A fascinating treatise on the effects of meat consumption on society and environment. An astonishingly well-done argument for the inclusion of meat in our diet and agricultural systems. Fairlie addresses many of the most commonly circulated 'reasons' to exclude livestock from our lives and diets from the idea that we could feed the world to the concept of cows causing more global warming than cars. The depth of his research and analysis is astounding, coming together in a convincing case to keep ...more
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This isn't actually a book about eating or not eating meat. What it is actually about is how we have to revert to rural living, which would necessarily entail the utilisation of animals. The author presents a lot of very well researched arguments as to why eating meat isn't that bad from an environmental perspective (only slightly worse, and for much gain in terms of protein/energy consumption) but through the whole book a rhetoric for going rural is built, and it goes off the deep end towards t ...more
Kat Lynch
Dec 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: eating-the-week
Holy cow (har!), this is dense. Not for the mathematically or philosophically faint of heart, but it's a very intriguing read.

Fairlie walks through exhaustive analysis of efficiency and ecological impacts of all kinds of food production methods over the course of 17 chapters. I learned some fascinating things: the concept of stockfree agriculture, for example, was totally knew to me; and the idea of livestock (particularly pigs) as a hedge against lean crops years makes a lot of sense. It also m
Sep 18, 2012 rated it liked it
This was an interesting look at livestock's place in permaculture, but also a bit of a slog in places due to the heavy focus on calculations of crop yields, carbon sequestration, and similar topics (the introduction recommends skipping around between chapters, but I am sadly too much of a completist for that).

The main conclusion, as I interpreted it, is that animals can play a positive role in food production, but that it needs to be quite different from the current arrangement (involving reduce
Wendy Knerr
Jan 17, 2013 rated it really liked it
The best book I know on the very complex ecological issues involved in raising and eating animals. I continue to grapple with the ethics and other implications of including animal products in my diet, and Fairlie's controversial book takes on the overly simplistic vegetarian and vegan arguments that abound. It skillfully challenges interpretations of the statistics that come up in every article, book, report and online forum about the influence of livestock on the environment and world hunger. I ...more
Feb 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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Simon Fairlie is an editor of The Ecologist, and co-author of Whose Common Future? (Earthscan, 1993). He writes for The Guardian, New Statesman and Perspectives.

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