Wednesday, 24 February 2010


I caught and released ten shrews in my house last week - all in 36 hours (including nights, when I didn't put the trap down, as they get hungry once or twice an hour). They were so tiny - the biggest 5 cms long, plus tail. It is marvellous that you can get an entire mammal into such a minute volume - heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen, guts, brain (not very much!). And the mother must have got into the house with nine teeny-weeny babies inside her.

It makes you realize how extravagant nature is producing huge creatures like us, and in such large numbers that we are now clearing the world's tropical forests to make room for oil palms and soy beans. But there was a preposterous article in the Times recently, saying that vegetarianism is more damaging for the planet than meat-eating. The analysts, at Cranfield University (of all places) compared people scoffing quantities of tofu with eaters of English mutton. Well it's obvious that clearing forests to grow soya in Brazil puts more carbon into the atmosphere than grazing sheep on established British grassland, but they failed to notice that most of the world's soya production is fed to livestock to produce meat, and that much of the pasture on which the sheep graze was once forested.

Warm-blooded animals like sheep and pigs and people are altogether very expensive for the planet because we waste a lot of energy keeping our bodies warm and moving ourselves around (though most pigs, alas, are not allowed to move at all, and they are kept warm by burning fossil fuels to heat their barns). And I haven't mentioned the methane-rich belches of cows. If meat-eaters seriously want to avoid destroying the world's forests, they should raise cold-blooded animals like snails or earthworms. Plenty of scope for new recipes there!

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