Or… why not just eat less of them & do the same?
One of the small pleasures in which I indulge is buying the FT Weekend. This publishes on a Saturday and is when the UK’s Financial Times, for one brief hebdomadal moment, forsakes the pursuit of Mammon (at least in part) for the more human aspects of their readership, as represented by the arts and society at large. In the main it is a decent read, at least compared to most of what’s out there. This aberrational content is let down rather by the regular inclusion of a horrid glossy insert called “How to Spend it”, introduced by FT’s admen in the mid 1990s to hoover-up a share of all that luxe advertising that comprises the bulk of the Conde Nast and Hearst glossies, for which the admen salivate. The editorial content of this supplement is designed to part the naff and the nouveau from their money in a manner that manages to be both partronising and fawning. In it there’s a regular column called “Wry Society” that epitomises all that is yucky in the concept. Purporting to lampoon the lifestyle of the typical readership family, it does nothing of the sort. It’s there to reinforce readers in the knowledge that keeping up with the Smith-Jones’s is what life’s all about. It’s cleverly done, in a nauseating way. Its targets identify their milieu sure enough, but never themselves.
The most interesting part of the FT Weekend is its Life & Arts section. In the final September issue this 22-page section devoted 80 percent of its editorial content to Veganism.
And that I find interesting.
What it tells me is that the aspirational classes are coming round to the idea that it is both fashionable and healthy not to have billions upon billions of their fellow mammals squalidly raised and slaughtered for them to gorge upon in rarified surroundings, while the planet goes down the plughole. That there is, in short…. hope.
The Survival Canon
There are four books, eloquent and seminal works, we should all read and re-read, that compellingly set out the case for a just and sustainable world. They are, in chronological order: “Sand County Almanac” by Aldo Leopold, 1949 for the environment; “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson, 1962 on the effects of chemicals in our food and on our bodies; “Theory of Justice” by John Rawls, 1971 on a fair society; and “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins, 1987 on nutrition, environment and animal rights.
That the FT Weekend should devote such a large amount of space to veganism among the consuming classes is encouraging, showing veganism is catching on around the world. But will it last or is it just a fad?
If the truth be told, veganism is not necessarily good for you as it, even more so than vegetarianism, lacks certain vital nutrients. It can be good for you since you will almost certainly be eating less of foods that are not good for you. It does mean you will have to spend more time thinking about, supplementing, buying and preparing your meals. Not everyone is on for that. Nor is veganism necessarily better for the environment. As the FT points out, jetting in Peruvian asparagus has a carbon-cost eight times greater than consuming bananas or avocados shipped by sea.
Forget veganism for the moment, which is essentially no more than a stricter form of vegetarianism. All vegans are vegetarians, but not vice versa. It is via vegetarianism not veganism that the planet will be saved.
And better than that. Simply eating less meat can do it.
It is not just eating too much meat that will do us in. It’s because 38 percent of the land, more than the continent of Africa, is given over to growing crops to feed the animals we eat. And China has only just got into the act… Continuing on this course is madness.
But then… nearly 22 percent of the world’s population (7.7 billion) are already vegetarian, some 1.45 billion souls. Surely grounds for hope? On the other hand, the majority of them – don’t eat meat because they can’t afford it. So the jury’s still out on our survival.
The danger is that, just as in China, so in the developing world, as their people get richer, more land and more forests are cut down to create the space to raise and till the land to feed the animals, not just scraps of meat – but bloody great slabs of it.
Of the writers mentioned, John Robbins is the author most often accused of and dismissed for polemics, a hippy-cum-digger spouting dangerous radical nonsense, warranting death threats from the beef barons.
In truth, all Robbins advocated was humane slaughter and that we eat 10 percent less beef.
…”in an ideal society” he wrote, “there is always going to be some animal slaughter, but organically raised and humanely slaughtered.”
I don’t eat meat, but that’s just me. I don’t say you shouldn’t. In fact I often wish I could bring myself to eat it, as a small amount of animal protein is probably the most practical and healthy diet there can be. I just lost the taste for it 30 years ago but continue consuming fish and cheese.
If we simply curb our carnivorous tastes a bit we will have gone a long way toward securing our survival and the health of our planet. Put like that, why on Earth wouldn’t we?
Of course there is more to it than just curbing our appetite for meat, but it is a big part of it. We have to create a world that can feed, educate, house and look after all it’s people enabling them to live and work according to their potential with as much freedom as possible, consistent with these aims.
We now have the wealth and knowledge to achieve it. But, to happen we need to go back to John Rawls’ “Theory of Justice” and take to heart his views and of others like him. That means promoting contraception/propagation where necessary, and reining in the obscene acquisition of wealth and power by the few, sufficient to allow the wellbeing of all.
The anxieties expressed in our media show we are now entering the uncharted territory of a post-human future. Artificial intelligence can never possess human consciousness but it can deliver a reduced facsimile of it (take take look at Sophie the robot to get a preview) and can certainly develop the wherewithal to destroy us, if not carefully controlled.
Such a future can go either way. If we can get our act together, creating a society embodying our common humanity, we have a shot at the sunny uplands until such time as we are subsumed by the Sun. If not, I fear the ride is going to be dark, hairy and, in evolutionary terms, short.
Maybe that’s best for our fellow mammals since the AI Lords of the Earth don’t eat meat. Shame we won’t be around to see how they do.
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