Cowspiracy theory – of course you can be an environmentalist and eat meat

Apologies, Farm Shoppers, if you don’t know what I’m talking about but, brother Guy, via the Riverford Veg Box newsletter and various other digital channels has joined the ‘eat less meat’ bandwagon. January seems to have seen the whole world joining the campaign but, judging from his Ottolenghi breakfast of scrambled tofu, when we met up in London the other day, Guy’s in it for the long haul. He’s been watching that film documentary ‘Cowspiracy’. He’s right of course – I’ve said the same, almost bi-weekly in the Riverford Meat Box newsletter for years but I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t offer some response to the formidable Guy Watson/Cowspiracy duo. I’d like to think that I haven’t reached my questionably exalted position of Watson Minor by burying my head in the sand but in the same way that both Guy and myself questioned last year’s Panorama on GMO’s as being a one sided piece of propaganda from the biotech industry, Cowspiracy has to be seen for what it is; the Californian, vegan, lifestyle community preaching the doctrine according to Gwyneth. I might be doing her an injustice – she didn’t appear in the film or in the credits but I was almost expecting a personal endorsement at the end. Those that we did see didn’t even look that healthy.


I thought it was confusing, with the whole methane/greenhouse gas argument being mixed up with water use which, although not unique to California, isn’t particularly compelling in the UK, or in many other parts of the world. I certainly wouldn’t go vegan, or suggest you do, just so Californian’s can continue to refill their swimming pools every time Chuck junior has an accident. The GHG problem might be global but solutions can be local and the water argument doesn’t work in Britain. Take it out of the film and the message wouldn’t be anywhere near as compelling.


There was also the constant inference that a non vegan diet is unhealthy. I’m a firm believer that history has proved otherwise and we need to look at excessive sugar, salt, fats, additives, gluten etc as well as meat. Too much meat, as the life expectancy of the squirearchy in the eighteenth and nineteenth century’s shows is worse than too little but no one is suggesting a full English with kidneys on the side every morning any more than a daily Big Mac on the way to work. The Centre for Alternative Technology, through its research project, Zero Carbon Britain, has suggested that weekly consumption of meat of around 350-400 gm per person per week, plus a bit of fish, would be sustainable. I think it included milk but no eggs and little cheese. I’m not sure how the research stacks up if rolled out worldwide but I would politely suggest that if our American cousins quartered their consumption from present levels of nearly 2 kgs a week, they wouldn’t have to worry about their swimming pools. Sadly, Britain with its per capita consumption of 1.5 kg per week isn’t far behind. Excepting the premise that we need to eat less, ZCB’s recommendation is hardly insignificant. It’s a reasonable amount four times a week and seems achievable but probably if we’re honest and take everything into account from celebratory meals to eating out to snacks, we still have a way to go. But that lets not reach for the hair shirts and stinging nettle whips – at least that way does include a bit of meat consumption. After all, every cloud has a silver lining and agriculture (including growing vegetables) only accounts for about 10% of GHG emissions. The glass is still a bit full and it tastes good.


Lastly, a slight non-sequitur – the most horrendous statistic from Cowspiracy was that one environmental activist had been killed in Brazil every week for the last twenty years. That, coupled with the power of the agri-lobby in Washington, and let’s not kid ourselves, London, Westminster and Eton, really is scary. It feels as though the conservative (small and big ‘c’) landowning class is still so dominant in agriculture that they don’t have to lobby – no one dares change a thing.


The Vegetarian Butcher – nearly