On plant-based diets!


Last Friday I published a post under the title of On Veganism. Earlier that same day I opened up an email promoting the latest essay from George Monbiot. It had been published in The Guardian newspaper two days previously.

I am delighted to republish it here with George Monbiot’s kind permission.


Butchery of the Planet

Defending the living world and its people requires a shift from meat to a plant-based diet

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 8th June 2018

Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: above all this depends on the way we eat. We can cut our consumption of everything else close to zero and still drive living systems to collapse, unless we change our diets.

All the evidence now points in one direction: the crucial shift is from an animal to a plant-based diet. A paper published last week in Science reveals that while some kinds of meat and dairy production are more damaging than others, all are more harmful to the living world than growing plant protein. It shows that animal farming takes up 83% of the world’s agricultural land, but delivers only 18% of our calories. A plant-based diet cuts the use of land by 76% and halves the greenhouse gases and other pollution caused by food production.

Part of the reason is the extreme inefficiency of feeding livestock on grain: most of its nutritional value is lost in conversion from plant protein to animal protein. This reinforces my contention that if you want to eat less soya, you should eat soya: most of the world’s production of this crop, and the accompanying destruction of forest, savannah and marshland, is driven by the wasteful practice of feeding animals on food that humans can eat.

More damaging still is free range meat: the environmental impacts of converting grass into flesh, the paper remarks, “are immense under any production method practiced today”. This is because so much land is required to produce every grass-fed steak or lamb chop. Though roughly twice as much land is used for grazing worldwide than for crop production, it provides just 1.2% of the protein we eat. While much of this pastureland cannot be used to grow crops, it can be used for rewilding: allowing the many rich ecosystems destroyed by livestock farming to recover, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere, protecting watersheds and halting the sixth great extinction in its tracks. The land that should be devoted to the preservation of human life and the rest of the living world is used instead to produce a tiny amount of meat.

Whenever I raise the crucial issue of yield per hectare, I receive a barrage of vituperation and abuse. But I’m not having a go at farmers, just pointing out that the figures don’t add up. We can neither feed the world’s growing population nor protect its living systems through animal farming. Meat and dairy are an extravagance we can no longer afford.

There is no way out of this. Those who claim that “regenerative” or “holistic” ranching mimics nature deceive themselves. It relies on fencing, while in nature wild herbivores roam freely, often across vast distances. It excludes or eradicates predators, crucial to the healthy functioning of all living systems. It tends to eliminate tree seedlings, ensuring that the complex mosaics of woody vegetation found in many natural systems – essential to support a wide range of wildlife – are absent.

The animal industry demands ever greater assaults on the living world. Witness the badger slaughter in the UK, now spreading across the country in response to the misguided requests of dairy farmers. People ask how I would justify the return of wolves, knowing that they will kill some sheep. I ask how they justify the eradication of wolves and a vast range of other wildlife to make way for sheep. The most important environmental action we can take is to reduce the amount of land used by farming.

Unless you can cook well – and many people have neither the skills nor the space – a plant-based diet can be either boring or expensive. We need better and cheaper vegan ready meals and quick and easy meat substitutes. The big shift will come with the mass production of cultured meat. There are three main objections. The first is that the idea of artificial meat is disgusting. If you feel this way, I invite you to look at how your sausages, burgers and chicken nuggets are currently raised, slaughtered and processed. Having worked on an intensive pig farm, I’m more aware than most of what disgusting looks like.

The second objection is that cultured meat undermines local food production. Perhaps those who make this claim are unaware of where animal feed comes from. Passing Argentinian soya through a nearby pig before it reaches you does not make it any more local than turning it directly into food for humans. The third objection has greater merit: cultured meat lends itself to corporate concentration. Again, the animal feed industry (and, increasingly, livestock production) has been captured by giant conglomerates. But we should fight to ensure that cultured meat does not go the same way: in this sector as in all others, we need strong anti-trust laws.

This could also be a chance to break our complete dependence on artificial nitrogen. Traditionally, animal and plant farming were integrated through the use of manure. Losses from this system led to a gradual decline in soil fertility. The development of industrial fertilisers saved us from starvation, but at a high environmental cost. Today, the link between livestock and crops has mostly been broken: crops are grown with industrial chemicals while animal slurry stacks up, unused, in stinking lagoons, wipes out rivers and creates dead zones at sea. When it is applied to the land, it threatens to accelerate antibiotic resistance.

In switching to a plant-based diet, we could make use of a neat synergy. Most protein crops – peas and beans – capture nitrogen from the air, fertilising themselves and raising nitrate levels in the soil that subsequent crops, such as cereals and oilseeds, can use. While the transition to plant protein is unlikely to eliminate the global system’s need for artificial fertiliser, the pioneering work of vegan organic growers, using only plant-based composts and importing as little fertility as possible from elsewhere, should be supported by research, that governments have so far conspicuously failed to fund.

Understandably, the livestock industry will resist all this, using the bucolic images and pastoral fantasies that have beguiled us for so long. But they can’t force us to eat meat. The shift is ours to make. It becomes easier every year.



Thus, along with the argument presented last Friday that a vegan diet is critically important for one’s health and long-term fitness, Mr. Monbiot presents another argument: “Whether human beings survive this century and the next, whether other lifeforms can live alongside us: above all this depends on the way we eat.

17 thoughts on “On plant-based diets!

  1. Some important facts but how do we accomplish the goal of a plant based diet? Specific steps are lacking, economic concerns of switching are vague. What are some disadvantages of plant based diets?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your questions. The first one is easy to answer. Namely, creating the political umbrella that makes it national policy in many countries, especially the major ones. From those national policies would flow the details of making the changeover. I believe there are no disadvantages. Quite the opposite! Did you watch the What The Health film?

      Liked by 1 person

    2. A balanced, plant based diet can cover all dietary needs. I have eaten plant-based for three years now. Not a long time, but enough to know that on my last health check, some rising numbers on organ health , blood health, and nutritional deficiencies are noe resolved for me. I am age 60 and on no medications for anything. My weight, BMI and general energy levels are optimal. I don’t get tired on walks and I generally feel a lot better than when I was 40 years old…look better too according to my husband. I can’t see a single disadvantage!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think this is a great post Paul.
    I think if humanity can live plant-based, we could start growing in high rise situations tended by farmers for a lot of things, keeping soil nutritionally rich by incorporating the addition of earth microbes into that solution. The farm animal would be allowed to live out useful lives but phased out upon death (natural or otherwise). The land could be rewilded for our wildlife to roam again.

    I can’t find the source for the moment, but the US government has a 21st Century report (amongst many nations) that plans to move people into 5 major population areas, making the rest wild and restricted. Not sure that I like the sound of that or understand the motive, but we certainly need to give some wild areas back to the creatures that roam in order to keep our world balanced, diverse and self perpetuating.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Lots of problems Paul. Many are also finding comments vanishing. I’ve had two ask me to retrieve them out of my spam but they were nowhere to be found.
        Also I got hit with multiple bogus likes from sites ending in xyz. I thought I was being targeted as my comments on over 30 other blogs were liked by a string of fake sites.
        I reported them to WP. To find others too including WP staff were targeted. Hackers are trying to get in .
        I’m having a short blogging break . Hubbies birthday this week. 😁 Will catch up near weekend 😎


      2. That spam attack hit me too Sue. Both from Paul’s site and one other, where I left comments. I contacted WordPress support right away to inform them. They got back to me saying that one of the ‘Happy’ Engineers had written some code to prevent it. I haven’t seen any since.

        Best thing is to report the attacks, and how they have arrived, and from where (if you know). The engineers do work on them. Don’t open any of them if you can help it, and certainly do not go to the site perpetrating the attack. It is a trick, and one that could shut your own site down, or infiltrate your data.


      3. Hi Colette. Thank you. Yes I reported it straight away. And also saw on the forum others too had the same
        The staff engineer said they had also been hit. I had 39 hits on different sites. They said they were Russian . And yes I never click on them .
        Many thanks again. Hope to be more in WP soon. Kust answering comments at the moment from mobile. Enjoy your weekend 💜


      4. I suffered as well. Just a string of blog ‘Like’ emails coming in with strange email addresses. All were deleted.
        It was very useful for you both to exchange your experiences in this place!!

        Liked by 1 person

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