I was casting around my collection of photos for the image of an apple suitable for a short piece on sin and the avoidance thereof, and then this cracker came along and I thought “That’s it!”. If you wanted an illustration for a little excursus on Girolamo Savonarola the last thing you need is an illustration that inflames the passions of the ordinary sinner like me. You’d need a manifestly ugly and dangerous looking specimen as seen through the eyes of – lets say – Savonarola; you’d need something like this. Seen through the lenses of his rheumy eye, this is what a cow looks like to George Monbiot whose latest pronouncement from the pulpit condemns regenerative farming as “Climate change denial” and urges that we bend every sinew (a questionable image, I know) to replace meat with some kind of fermented gloop, provided by the fast food industry by way of the very suspicious ultra processed food path, known to most of us as the royal road to diabetes and early death.
Savonarola, who was a gift to the Gucci handbag manufacturers of the day, persuaded the rich of Florence to burn all their luxury goods in what became known as the “bonfire of the vanities” four years later he was the one on the bonfire, and the members of the guild of luxury goods became even richer as they replaced the vanities so eagerly despatched to the flames. My fear is that George Monbiot’s fervour for heading off climate disaster has tripped into a kind of fundamentalist mindset where all means are justifiable if the end is (in his view) correct.
It seems to me to be obvious that the only people to genuinely benefit from these industrial foods are the producers of the feedstocks, the supermarkets and the PR industry who will need to spend billions persuading us that processed fungus with added bacteria is absolutely the thing. “Look” they say, “It even bleeds.”
You don’t need to be a vegetarian or a vegan to be utterly opposed to the deliberately caused suffering of farm animals. You don’t need, either, to be a halfwit to know that there is a strong connection between soil fertility, ecological diversity, food security and human health. These either/or arguments are cheap and easy but they’re still an extension of the old colonial attitude that would consign millions of the poorest pastoralists to unending poverty. Yes, industrial gloop might save the earth for the left behind in the west, but for poor farmers in India and Africa it would be a slow descent into starvation. The rich would, of course carry on eating foie gras and wagyu beef and driving their SUV’s. Michael Pollan’s advice – “eat food, not too much, mostly vegetables” is both sensible and achievable.
Yes we need to take immediate action to curb methane and CO2 emissions and to bring carbon back into the soil where it can be stored safely; and yes there are ways of doing this well short of the bonfire of the vanities; evidence based ways of reducing the impact of intensive cattle farming on the earth’s atmosphere, and yes it will require cultural change. But waiting for the Seventh Cavalry to come over the hill and save us all with some kind of ram stamped iron pump is an essentially religious assertion. And I’m just not that religious!
I’m not suggesting that regenerative farming will save the earth, but what it could do is form one component of a strategy for carbon storage and – ultimately – reduction, using less oil, less chemicals, less intensive production of effluent with nowhere except rivers to go. Using prodigious amounts of energy to store carbon is no better than an industrial wet dream afflicting those industries who hope to supply that energy. There’s only one way to reduce carbon and methane release into the atmosphere and that’s by releasing less of both – is that so complicated? The a priori rejection of regenerative farming that Father George is suggesting seems to indicate that there’s no point in arguing with him because he’s always right. That’s bad science, bad journalism and downright daft tactically. Short of a Robespierre style reign of terror casting farmers as terrorists, dispossessing them of their land and handing the land over to the oil companies to balance their carbon budgets by planting tree deserts so they can supply the energy to ferment human waste and turn it into cordon bleu toothpaste tubes of delight.
This is simply not a credible strategy but a Tory style culture war. I’m sad to see a previously solid green activist fall into this trap.