Today is World Vegetarian Day—and there are many reasons for non-meat eaters across the globe to celebrate. Earlier this year, it was revealed that Bill Clinton has gone vegan (almost*). Yet there has also been a worrying backlash against this diet choice.
First—bravo Bill. Along with womanising and a taste for interns, Bill has given up “pleasures” of animal flesh too. Clinton prefers not to say the “v” word outright, opting to call it a “purely plant based diet,” but then again he never was one to call a spade a spade when questioned. Clinton’s motivation to stop eating meat and dairy was probably more about his health (and looking trim for Chelsea’s big day) than trying to limit his carbon impact or a concern for animal rights. But the news is a welcome endorsement of the very real health benefits of going vegan, particularly at a time when many prominent environmentalist are now rethinking veganism.
Take George Monbiot. He recently wrote an oddly partisan article retracting his earlier thinking—namely that following a vegan diet was the only socially and environmentally responsible stance to take, due to its energy efficiency. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation’s report, “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” released earlier this year, agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, account for 70 per cent of global freshwater consumption, 38 per cent of the total land use and 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
But Monbiot has changed track following the publication of Simon Fairlie’s book, “Meat: A Benign Extravagance,” and now accepts that eating meat is perfectly in line with a sustainable and environmentally ethical life. It all depends, he maintains, on how we produce it.
Citing Fairlie’s argument he suggests that “we could afford to use a small amount of grain for feeding livestock, allowing animals to mop up grain surpluses in good years and slaughtering them in lean ones.” He then speculates that if we were to adopt a system that was low energy, low waste, just, diverse and small scale, explicitly one that “differs sharply from the one now practised in the rich world,” then “we could eat meat, milk and eggs (albeit much less) with a clean conscience”.