Posts Tagged ‘Allan Savory’
The Pitchfork has long maintained that pastured cows are no answer at all to the environmental catastrophe of beef production. In fact, it may even be worse. Integral to this mission has been the effort to push back against the grass-fed guru Allan Savory, whose rotational grazing fantasies have been nicely packaged as reality and shot into the bullseye of public opinion through that glitzy marketing move known a as a TED talk.
I took on Savory over a year ago here at Slate. The piece made an impression in some quarters, but overall it seems to have done little to dampen the glee of Savory’s absurd thesis that we can save the planet by eating beef. But a piece in yesterday’s Guardian by the popular environmental writer George Monbiot may have the heft to push Savory’s crackpot thesis into the dustbin of bad ideas. The article covers the same ground I covered in Slate but incorporates new research and a phone interview with the Savory to hammer home the fact that the man is loony.
As advocates for animals it is essential that we work to highlight the inherent environmental flaws of beef production, flaws that persist irrespective of the method of domestication or farm size. Of course the Pitchfork is concerned with the end of all animal agriculture, but at the moment the grass-fed hypothesis is stunned and staggered. Apologies for the pugilistic metaphor, but as a fan of boxing I decalre it’s time to deliver this dangerous thesis a knockout punch.
Next week Slow Food USA will host an event called Slow Meat 2014. Allan Savory, the current guru of rotational grazing, will deliver the keynote address. Obscuring the ethics of slaughter behind culinary rhetoric, the event—among other stunts—will “honor” the American bison (the meeting is in Colorado) with an “artistic, narrated breakdown.” Which basically means Slow Foodies will slaughter the bison, butcher him, and discuss their actions with high-minded intentionality. They will not rush.
Ellen Kennelly (a frequent participant at the Pitchfork) and I recently discussed the importance of getting ahead of the media on these issues by attempting to preempt predictably uncritical coverage. Any reporter covering this event, for example, should understand that Allan Savory’s colleagues have seriously questioned his research. They should also know that there are ethical implications to killing a sentient animal for the purposes of entertainment and culinary indulgence. Fast food or slow, these issues should be addressed, or at least fall on the media radar. In an important respect, there’s a reason that thousands of people will gather to witness the slaughter of a bison and not question the act: a lack of knowledge.
To that end, Ellen—who is one of those people who is constantly engaging the public on animal issues in the most tactful and effective manner—wrote the following letter to her acquaintances in the Slow Food club. It’s an invitation to discuss the issues that concern animal advocates. Not fight over. Discuss. She also outlined for me the kind of information we should seek to present to those who attend and write about this event. I think it’s all very smart.
The meeting will happen. Slow Food will go on. The bison will die and be eaten. But that doesn’t mean our outrage can’t exist more publicly, in the mainstream media, rather than merely seething in the confines of our little blogs.
I trust you will share this information far and wide.
It has been a long-running quest of mine to debunk the myth of “rotational” or “holistic” grazing. Allan Savory’s recent TED talk drew fresh attention to the issue in a way that seemed to evoke rabid salivation in those who think they can eat animals as a way to ameliorate climate change. Savory’s talk went viral, foodie environmentalists everywhere started sharpening their steak knives, and I leaped headlong into the fray with this piece, published today in Slate, a venue that—to its everlasting credit—is fearless about taking on the status quo. If you are so inclined, express your opinion about the article there. It helps.
The underlying premise that renders moot all efforts to graze animals holistically is the fact that humans cannot, no matter how eloquent they are, create ecosystems that replicate the shifting relational matrix that we call nature. It almost seems absurd that this limitation would even have to be pointed in the first place, but every time I look up there seems to be another old white man claiming that he has the key to capturing and mimicking the infinite complexity of global ecosystems. These people call themselves environmentalists, but their approach to the ecosystem is as arrogant and aggressive as that of any corn-growing, GMO-using monoculturalist. The best thing we can do to any ecosystem (he said on Earth Day 2013) is leave it well enough alone. Back off, human.
Removing domesticated animals from the planet is the best way we can do this. Livestock emit more GHG emissions than cars. They use more water than any other aspect of agriculture. They trample potentially healthy land into hardpan. They take up one third of the globe’s arable land. They are a menace to the environment and no amount of theorizing about how herds and predators once kept carbon-sequestering grasslands safe and healthy will rectify the reality that the reason those grasslands are no longer safe and healthy is because humans domesticated animals to eat them.
The complexity of the earth is beyond us. What we need on Earth Day is a recognition of this reality. Some call it humility.
What gets me most is the arrogance. I’m currently researching a rebuttal to Allan Savory’s now viral TED talk about holistic grazing. Maybe it’s the TED format talking, but even the mere notion that a single human being could, as Savory insists he can, take into account “all of nature’s complexity” in what’s at best a freewheeling agricultural experiment affirms the desperation hiding beneath the almost comically bold proposal to reverse global warming and end starvation in Africa.
The phrase that Savory uses over and over—”mimicking nature”—is, as I read it, little more than a cover for the newest form of destruction and animal exploitation. If this is what it means to be an environmentalist, count me out. This is the tyranny of ecology.
From the macro to the micro: I listened to this story yesterday on NPR and commented that “this must be an April Fool’s joke, nobody would allow sharpshooting in Rock Creek Park.” Way wrong on that. Deer have been deemed by the USDA to be overabundant. This overabundance has, according to the official line, threatened native plant species while favoring invasive ones.
While minimal evidence is provided for this claim, there’s ample evidence of suburbanites sent into high dudgeon by deer nibbling their gaudy shrubbery. “They eat everything,” one botanically besieged neighbor said. “Don’t even think about tulips. They’ve eaten them down to the nub.” This, of course, is the tyranny of stupidity.
PS: Thank you so very much to those of who who sent me studies critical of the Savory talk. Very, very helpful.