Maybe we do not need an alternative to meat…maybe we need an alternative to the way meat consumers consume meat.
This discussion will review the debate between Simon Fairlie and James McWilliams on the question, “Can eating meat and dairy products be sustainable?” You can find the debate here.
FOR THE MOTION that meat and dairy products can be sustainable:
Simon Fairlie is a founding editor of The Land magazine and author of Meat: A Benign Extravagance (Permanent Publications and Chelsea Green 2010). He keeps dairy cows and pigs at a community in Dorset, England.
AGAINST THE MOTION that meat and dairy products can be sustainable:
James McWilliams is the author of several books about food and agriculture, including Just Food and The Modern Savage. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Harper’s, The New Yorker online, and The Paris Review. He writes ‘The Things We Eat’ column for Pacific Standard and teaches history at Texas State University.
The basis of Simon’s argument lies heavily on the fact that a lot of the meat we consume is what he calls ‘default meat’. Eating too much meat is, of course, unsustainable, but close to half of meat produced is this ‘default meat’. Default meat is a “by-product of agricultural systems designed to produce grains and other vegetable staples.” This meat includes livestock fed on crop residues and food waste, foraging land unsuitable for cultivation, etc. Simon proposes that for meat consumption to be sustainable we should consume only default meat.
James counters Simon’s argument by stating that although Simon is able to feed 25 people in his community with default meat, we cannot scale this to feed the billions of people living in the world today. James states, “Sustainably meeting that challenge… will require ending all forms of animal domestication to clear space and recover the resources to sustain edible plants.” Grass-fed cattle emit more greenhouse gases than industrially fed cattle. “It makes more sense to replace livestock with a carefully managed agricultural model that produces plants for people to eat.”
At the end of the debate, James makes a very intriguing concluding point: in the world that currently exists, both Simon and James agree that “animals should only be consumed on the margins,” meaning that neither of them agree with industrial animal agriculture and possibly even pasture based animal agriculture. They both conclude that there definitely needs to be a change in the way we are currently producing and consuming meat.