An email conversation I had with correspondent Kathy S. somewhat parallels the enviro blogosphere discussion of PETA's assertion "you just cannot be a meat-eating environmentalist".*
Kathy noted how little emphasis the enviro groups place on eating less meat, while I mentioned that sometimes meat can be more environmental. Here in the SF Bay Area, eating locally-raised grass-fed beef, especially if the cattle isn't finished on grain, is more environmental than eating imported tofu.
Still, my response reminded me of a criticism someone posted on the John Edwards blog to my idea that monster mansions should lose the home mortgage tax deduction. The counter-argument ran that some large houses could be more environmentally-sound than smaller ones. Personally, I'm unimpressed with the claim that a generally-good rule should be stopped because in rare exceptions it will be counterproductive. Same holds true about meat.
On the other hand, there's a difference between a general rule and a universal rule. Generally, vegetarianism is better than meat-eating. Transforming that into a universal claim like PETA did is illogical. A better argument is to avoid factory-farmed meat, and choose either veggies or locally-raised animals.**
*I expect the PETA statement will be followed by the nuclear industry's assertion that you can't be an environmentalist and oppose nuclear power).
**Unlike cattle and buffalo, chicken and pigs can't be raised on grass. However, it just takes 2 pounds of feed to make one pound of chicken (including the inedible parts), so the loss ratio isn't all that bad, and free-range chickens live partially off the land.