my friend dean sent me this article in time magazine about grass-fed beef and the environment, “how cows (grass-fed only) can save the world“. it got me thinking about how things used to be. when we were growing up, my japanese mother would prepare meals that were predominately veggie, with small amounts of meat added for flavor. “special” dinners were rare, but would be when my father’s montana cravings were satisfied with a steak or a meatloaf and some potatoes. cattle were fed on huge swaths of pasture. everything had a peaceful and natural rhythm to it…now, livestock is crammed side by side and end to end in enormous force fed lots – the sound and the smell (and the horrors within) unbearable.
there have been many articles about how unhealthy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are for the cattle, for people and for the environment. feeding cows grain instead of grass is unnatural (only done to cheaply fatten them up quickly) and causes them to suffer from feedlot bloat or acidosis, which must be treated with antibiotics.
the interesting thing about the time article is that two organic vegetable farming experts – eliot coleman, author of the new organic grower, and barbara damrosch, the washington post’s gardening columnist – are going to start raising cattle. why? because they care about the planet:
It works like this: grass is a perennial. Rotate cattle and other ruminants across pastures full of it, and the animals’ grazing will cut the blades — which spurs new growth — while their trampling helps work manure and other decaying organic matter into the soil, turning it into rich humus. The plant’s roots also help maintain soil health by retaining water and microbes. And healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere.
Compare that with the estimated 99% of U.S. beef cattle that live out their last months on feedlots, where they are stuffed with corn and soybeans. In the past few decades, the growth of these concentrated animal-feeding operations has resulted in millions of acres of grassland being abandoned or converted — along with vast swaths of forest — into profitable cropland for livestock feed. “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation,” says Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. “Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.” Indeed, although grass-fed cattle may produce more methane than conventional ones (high-fiber plants are harder to digest than cereals, as anyone who has felt the gastric effects of eating broccoli or cabbage can attest), their net emissions are lower because they help the soil sequester carbon.
in my research for this post, i came across a pretty informative blog, foodrevolution.org, and their article on this same topic. as michael pollan says in his interview in the new york times for his upcoming book “food rules: an eater’s manual“,
“eat food, not too much, and mostly plants”
…just like my mom says!
video update: grass-fed beef with emeril!
update: in the interest of fairness, this slate article was sent to me (thanks, jenn!) about grass-fed beef not being immune to e.coli. and although i don’t eat meat, if grass-fed is more humane and healthier, then i will stay on my side of the fence. the one takeaway i would advise to you meat eaters is to cook your beef (grass-fed or otherwise), just to be safe.
update: only grass fed writes informatively in response to the slate article. a definite must read!
video update 2: this discovery news video shows (in a very short piece) how simple, natural and profitable polyfarms grass-fed farm is. they haven’t planted a seed in 50 years and allows nature to do what it does best.
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