The Meat Crisis: Developing More Sustainable Production and Consumption.The Meat Crisis: Developing More Sustainable Production and Consumption. Edited by Joyce D'Silva & John Webster. London: Earthscan, 2010, 305 pp. ISBN: 978-1-84407902-5
"The first step in developing ethical, sustainable and compassionate food policies is to acknowledge that we need them", writes Kate Rawles in The Meat Crisis (p. 211). With this statement she offers a guiding heuristic for a compelling and revealing book that presents (a) overwhelming evidence that we do need ethical, sustainable, and compassionate food policies for meat consumption, and (b) proposals for how we might achieve them.
The Meat Crisis begins with the reality check that current and forecasted meat and dairy production systems are indeed in crisis, and the result is a series of interlocking problems. "Too much meat for our own good health, too much for dwindling resources of land and water, too much for the health of our planet's climate and environment and too much to enable the animals we eat to have decent lives before we devour them", explain editors Joyce D'Silva and John Webster (p. 1), outlining the multi-faceted forms the meat crisis has taken. With this starting point, the book launches an examination of a deeply unsustainable system that needs to change in the name of human, animal, and planetary health.
The book is divided into five sections and features the writing of 25 authors including researchers, veterinarians, biologists, epidemiologists, farmers, and professors of agricultural sciences and sustainability. What ties their perspectives together is a call for a global reduction in meat and dairy consumption and a transformation of current systems of production. While their approaches to exploring the issues vary considerably, along with their writing styles, the book is replete with well-researched papers that document, explain, and offer suggestions for mitigating the meat crisis.
The first section addresses the impacts of animal farming on the environment. The statistics here are chilling: an estimated 60 billion farmed animals are used for food production each year and this number is expected to double by 2050, given rising demand and projected population growth. The deep inefficiency of a food production system in which enormous amounts of wheat, maize, barley and soya are used to feed livestock may be a familiar concern to environmentalists, but the connected issue of water consumption-an estimated 85% of humanity's water footprint is related to the consumption of agricultural products-should give readers serious pause. That agriculture is the number one contributor to anthropogenic climate change makes the book's overall message undeniable: meat and dairy consumption need to be curbed, with one author suggesting a sustainable guideline for meat consumption would be 90 grams per day per person (against a 2005 baseline of 300 grams consumed per person per day in high-income parts of the world). For countries such as Australia, in which the dominant food culture focuses on meat and the ubiquitous barbecue, this represents a cultural shift as much as a call for dietary change.
What does this mean for the animals in question? One of the strengths of this book lies in its holistic focus on not only the environment and human health, but also animal welfare. The second section highlights that animal welfare cannot be a trade-off in a sustainable system, but rather must be a given. While the traditional sustainable development "triangle" includes a tripartite focus on the environment, the economy, and society, The Meat Crisis urges that that triangle be replaced with a diamond schema that includes animal well-being as a core principle. Put into practice, this would see the end of oppressive incarceration systems and overcrowded feedlots- trends that are intensifying in countries such as Australia and the United States-and the replacement of factory and "fortress" farms (industrialised complexes controlled entirely by humans) with humane forms of animal housing.
The third and fourth sections of The Meat Crisis address the human health implications of meat-eating and industrialised production, along with ethical and religious approaches to animal foods. Vegetarianism is not a focus of the book, although some authors call into question the conventional wisdom that animal products are important for health and point to linkages between increasing rates of chronic diseases in developing countries and diets high in animal products. Other compelling ideas addressed in these sections include the role of animal-based agriculture in the spread of disease and virus outbreaks, and the possibility of returning to ancient models of healthy sustainable living through religious and cultural precepts.
The final section of the book focuses upon much-needed solutions for farming and food policies for a sustainable future. How can we eat meat, preserve the climate, and ensure animal well-being? Taxing animal foods to shift consumption patterns toward less greenhouse gas-intensive and land-demanding foods is one suggestion; another is to translate animal welfare status into a labelling scheme on meat and dairy products to allow for informed consumer decisions.
The Meat Crisis makes it evident that current modes of meat production and consumption are environmentally unsustainable, ethically egregious, and need to change. This book is not aimed at environmental educators but should be a clarion call to them to integrate issues of meat and dairy production and consumption into their teaching practices. For the sake of our own health, animal well-being, and sustainability of the land, water systems and the climate, the meat crisis cannot be ignored.
Lakehead University, Ontario, Canada
Jan Oakley is a PhD candidate in Educational Studies at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Canada. She is interested in humane education, environmental and social justice pedagogies that include nonhuman animals as agents and stakeholders. In 2011 she guest edited a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Environmental Education on "animality in environmental education".