I feel a rant coming on today - Earth Day - when as if on cue, the media is hot and heavy with the message that the best thing any one of us can do to reduce our carbon footprint is to eat less meat. In newspapers, magazines and blogs we find all sorts of reasons behind the rush to banish meat from our diets:
Toronto Star: "Eat less meat. Raising cattle, sheep and pigs uses up resources."
Sacramento Bee: "Another thing is, gosh, if you can reduce demand, get people to eat less meat, all those things would be great."
The Day: "People should eat less meat. You would be healthier and so would the planet,” because of the tremendous resources used in raising and processing meat for consumption."
The Guardian: "But there is a bigger reason for global hunger, which is attracting less attention only because it has been there for longer. While 100m tonnes of food will be diverted this year to feed cars, 760m tonnes will be snatched from the mouths of humans to feed animals - which could cover the global food deficit 14 times. If you care about hunger, eat less meat."
The Guardian: "For both environmental and humanitarian reasons, beef is out. Pigs and chickens feed more efficiently, but unless they are free range you encounter another ethical issue: the monstrous conditions in which they are kept. I would like to encourage people to start eating tilapia instead of meat. This is a freshwater fish that can be raised entirely on vegetable matter and has the best conversion efficiency - about 1.6kg of feed for 1kg of meat - of any farmed animal. Until meat can be grown in flasks, this is about as close as we are likely to come to sustainable flesh-eating."
PETA: "Mr. Gore likes to be thought of as an environmentalist steak-and-potatoes kind of guy, but there's no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist," says PETA Vice President Bruce Friedrich. "He needs to confront the 'inconvenient truth' that meat production is the main culprit in global warming."
I could continue with more quotes, but I think you get the point - we're being told, repeatedly, we need to eat less meat!
With all the urgency in this message, the question begs - is eating meat really an environmental problem?
The answer really is a "yes" and "no" - meat from livestock is an excellent source of complete protein, vitamins, minerals and fatty acids essential to human health.
The big problem isn't so much the meat, but the way we in the United States (and more and more countries around the world) raise livestock today - intensive feedlot operations which demand huge amounts of "inputs" to fatten cattle quickly.
The various reports on the global impact of raising livestock are based on factory farming practices which are indeed damaging to the environment. To really understand how, we need to look at how livestock in the US, and in other parts of the world, is now routinely raised for food and how the messages about the "inputs" is virtually ignored by the popular and politically correct message to eat less meat. All of these "inputs," interestingly, are also required for growing the plant-based vegetarian/vegan diet being promoted as the way for us to save the plant....but those promoting that message don't bother telling us that in their cries we must eat less meat.
Like I said, the problem isn't the meat - it's the method used to produce the meat. You see, cattle, pigs, turkeys and chickens are no longer pastured - that is allowed to graze in fields all day - instead, they're raised in what has been rightly named "factory farms" [CAFO - Confined Animal Feeding Operations] where they're raised in huge numbers - apparently the largest operations in the United States have tens of thousands of cattle in one facility at a time.
The practice of CAFO is fairly new, gaining ground in the US since the 1960's and was/is seen as a way to produce food while controlling cost and a uniform standardized product output.
But to achieve the output desired requires some intense "inputs" - namely fossil fuel based fertilizers, chemical pesticides, diesel and fuel for transportation, energy for manufacturing ferilizers, pesticides and feeds, pharmaceuticals to maintain animal health (somewhat) while feeding a diet they are not designed to eat, supplements to provide vitamins, proteins and such not in the feed, energy and resources to house and maintain the animals from birth to slaughter and managing large volumes of waste that is unsuitable for use as fertilizer since the diet teh animal is raised on renders it toxic.
While the industry calls these practices "efficient" - they're anything but, and I'd say are part of the problem we're trying to solve.
The equation looks sort of like this:
Synthetic Fertilizer & GMO Patented Seeds [$] ----> Pesticides [$] ---> Feed [$] ---> Cows [$] ---> Building [$] ---> Electricity [$] ---> Pharmaceuticals [$] ---> Manure Lagoons [$] ---> Transportation [$] ---> Food
On the other hand, properly raised livestock is solar powered food, it's equation looks like this:
Sun [free] ---> Grass [free] ---> Hay & Silage [$] ---> Cow [$] ---> Food & Organic Fertilizer
Funny, while the politically correct message these days is eat less meat, it truly should be eat more - from livestock raised properly - that is livestock that turns the energy of the sun into high quality food for human consumption rather than requiring intensive energy inputs as the means to an end.
This food - pastured meats - is food that truly is created from the sun to become a solar powered plate of delicious and nutritious quality food for us to enjoy, not only guilt-free, but that also is environmentally friendly too!
You see, what those repeating the message above fail to disclose is that livestock, especially cattle, are not naturally grain consumers - they eat mostly grass, ground covering legumes, and an assortment of weeds and other plants that are indigestible for humans.
These plants grow in abundance in rich soil, turning the energy of the sun into food for the cow - which in turn allows us to consume that same energy that's not usually available to us when we consume the flesh of the animal.
Not only that, but grazing animals do more than turn the energy of the sun into food for us - they fertilize and replenish the soil upon which they graze, allowing rich soil to accumulate and grow plants rich with nutrients, which in turn squesters carbon in the soil and those plants sucking CO2 out of the air.
Farmers from long ago understood the relationship between their animals and their crops too - livestock did much of the necessary "work" for the health of the total farm - grazing in the fields, depositing manure to provide food to birds that followed along behind them (chickens, turkeys, etc.) and create rich soil deposits to optimize the grass and ground covering plants growth, and consuming silage from crops planted on the farm and hay baled throughout the warm months.
All this in a dynamic that allowed the farmer to not only have quality protein from the meat, but also healthy soil to grow nutrient-dense plant foods to provide for both his animals, his family and his community.
This dynamic is lost in factory farming of animals and in monoculture crop farming of plant-foods, where one crop dominates again and again, requiring the use of synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and now, even patented seeds year after year.
And rather than address this issue, we're being told to eat less meat to save the planet.
We're told that's green and good and that it's the way of the future; that it's healthier for us and the environment; that we'll all benefit if we just eat less meat.
Sorry, no can do - I'm simply not going to be part of growing an industry that will continue to require, in higher and higher quantity, synthetic fertilizers, fossil fuels, chemical pesticides, sterile patented seeds farmers need to buy from the industry year after year since storing seed is either useless or illegal whle still requiring huge amounts of energy to transport and process the resultant crops into foodstuff...!
I'm not going to enhance their profits while they destroy our health and the balance of nature with unnatural and intensive input requirements to grow their self-defined "healthy" food products.
Soyburgers? No thanks!
Soymilk? You're kidding, right?
Quorn? Oh, don't even go there!
Tofurky? What's up with mock "meat" anyway?
This Earth Day my commitment is not to enhance the bottomline of ADM, Cargill or Monsanto, but to:
A) Support my local farmers commited to traditional farming practices that enhance the health of the planet and those eating from its bounty - those who pasture their animals and grow crops using organic methods
B) Grow some of our food this summer - tomatoes, lettuce, beans, cucumbers, carrots and more, in our garden
C) Try my best to create and eat foods that really are on a solar powered plate - local fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and yummy pastured meats, eggs and dairy!