George Monbiot is an author and environmental writer for the Guardian, and TreeHugger has been following his dining habits for years, from when he said that we should eat less meat, and only on special occasions, to when he thought happy meat was sort of OK, to his latest in the Guardian, where he writes I’ve converted to veganism to reduce my impact on the living world.
Well, not completely vegan; no doubt our committed vegan readers will complain about his eating road kill and the occasional egg or a bit of fish now and again. But he claims 97 percent and that’s pretty good.
And unlike other writers about environmental issues, George Monbiot practices what he preaches. After writing about the carbon footprint of flying, he stopped doing it. After writing about meat and going back and forth for a decade, he is practicing his version of veganism. No more happy meat for George; he makes a strong case that the kind of farming that we always said nice things about, the pasture raised grass fed beef, the free range chickens and cage free eggs, it all just takes up too much room.
Because we have failed to understand this in terms of space, we believe we can solve the ethical problems caused by eating animals by switching from indoor production to free-range meat and eggs. Nothing could be further from the truth. Free-range farming is kinder to livestock but crueller to the rest of the living world.
When people criticise farming, they usually preface it with the word intensive. But extensive farming, almost by definition, does greater harm to the planet: more land is needed to rear the same amount of food. Keeping cattle or sheep on ranches, whether in the Amazon, the US, Australia or the hills of Britain, is even more of a planet-busting indulgence than beef feed-lots and hog cities, cruel and hideous as these are.
No more eggs or cheese which he loved:
Then something happened that broke down the wall of denial. Last September I arranged to spend a day beside the River Culm in Devon, renowned for its wildlife and beauty. However, the stretch I intended to explore had been reduced to a stinking ditch, almost lifeless except for some sewage fungus. I traced the pollution back to a dairy farm.
He followed up with an article about this pollution, Think dairy farming is benign? Our rivers tell a different story, and found eventually that nothing was going to be done, and that a Toothless Environment Agency is allowing the living world to be wrecked with impunity. That did it.
George is vegan to reduce his carbon and environmental footprint, so he has no objection to eating road kill or “animals killed as agricultural pests whose bodies might otherwise be dumped. At the moment, while pigeons, deer, rabbits and squirrels are so abundant in this country and are being killed for purposes other than meat production, eating the carcasses seems to be without ecological consequence.” No doubt many would argue with him about that.
But after more than a decade of reading George Monbiot and admiring his passion, his willingness to learn and change, I don’t think we should argue about a few squirrels. He is right about meat, eggs and dairy and their impact on our planet, and I just wish I had the courage of my convictions and the strength of will that he has and could follow his diet. Although I would pass on the squirrels.