Discussion Group: The Impact of Eating

The New Mills Transition Reading Group meets monthly in someone’s home to discuss a book or, occasionally, to watch a film/video or host a speaker. At the September meeting we discussed George Monbiot’s article in the Guardian on 9th August, ‘Here’s the true cost of eating meat. It’s worse than you think’ together with the piece on Silvopasture in ‘Drawdown’ edited by Paul Hawken and other online articles which deal with related subjects.
The George Monbiot article is here:
Links to other articles that contributed to our discussion were:
Monbiot argues in favour of stopping eating meat because of its carbon footprint and to completely cease meat and dairy production in order to increase the rewilding of the countryside. Some thought that these were not the only possibilities and this generated a discussion about land use.
One of the background pieces for Monbiot’s article talks about a variation between best and worst producers of meat by a factor of 50 in terms of environmental impact so it was argued that if the worst producers could be targeted then this would have a far bigger impact than trying to stop production altogether. In addition, mixed farming can use animal manure for fertiliser, reducing dependency on chemicals and associated repercussions like runoff and water pollution.
The discussion included the issue of protein and where that comes from in a plant based diet. Also, referring back to an earlier book (The way we eat now by Bee Wilson) there is the issue of the economics of the food industry and the issues around providing cheap and nutritious food.
The general opinion was that there needs to be a significant reduction in meat consumption and a cultural shift to see a plant based diet as healthier and cheaper. Some of this is already taking place. In addition, it’s not just about personal choice, changes are needed at a government level including the revision of agricultural subsidies to assist the transition and the need for major changes in the food industry. One article mentions the need for a ‘just transition’ for farmers so they are paid properly for the food that they produce.
We discussed food security and the comment in Monbiot’s article about the 55% of UK cropping land being used for livestock feed. Monbiot heavily criticises extensive as against intensive farming of meat but (as discussed with Isabella Tree’s book Wilding) extensive farming can encourage increased biodiversity. Also, the carbon footprint of meat production may conflict with the issue of animal welfare. There are both ethical and environmental grounds for changing to a plant based diet but some may be more amenable to a process of reduction rather than sudden elimination.
Our next meeting is Monday October 21st at 8pm and the book is The Wall by John Lanchester
You don’t have to read the books to come along – someone will give a synopsis and all input to the discussion is welcome. Email transition.newmills@gmail.org for details of venue.

Many thanks to Sue Cooper for the post.

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