Monday, March 27, 2017

Eating Omily: If You are What You Eat, that Cow's Ass is Grass.

It's time to talk about the Lexicon of Sustainability again!! :-D We've made it to one of my favorite topics: grass-fed beef, or as I call it, NOT RAISING ANIMALS IN THE STUPIDEST WAY POSSIBLE! And even better, this video uses Joel Salatin, genius, common-sense, guru, animal lover, (those are my titles; he's a chill humble guy, but trust me, they're all true), and owner of Polyface Farms. Ok, ok, I'm getting ahead of myself. Go watch the video, and then we'll talk. It's embedded below, or you can just follow this link.
See what I mean? This is something many Vegan-diet proponents get wrong, and it's also why I can't stand it when people say 'plant-based diet' to mean a vegan diet: EVERY DIET IS PLANT BASED! Yes, you get more pounds of food by growing grains on land than by raising cattle there, but cattle turn food we can't eat (grass) into food that we can, and they can do it on land that it is not sustainable to grow food crops on. If we raise animals the way nature evolved them to live, and we respect basic laws of sustainability (No, you can't eat beef five days a week. Get over yourself.), then eating meat becomes a crucial tool for reforestation, combatting global warming, saving water, and many other things that seem straight up backwards if all you hear is vegan propaganda. 

Land that has evolved along-side ruminant grazers is healthier with those animals on it than not. News flash: most of our country used to host MASSIVE herds of ruminants commonly called buffalo, but more appropriately called bison. Through conservation efforts, and breeding, we've saved these incredible animals from extinction, and hopefully they'll cover more and more of their original range in the coming years. In the meantime, cows are grazing ruminants! Putting them on that land fills a crucial gap in the ecosystem, keeping the whole system healthier! Now, is there going to eventually be some competition between the recovering bison population, and people making money off of grazing cows on that land? Certainly! By maintaining protections, and supporting farmers with small, and diverse farms who are able to pivot to other crops and animals if they can't maintain the land for cattle that they once did, we can manage that situation responsibly. Yes, I'm optimistic. I can't help it.

On these small-scale diverse farms, cows, chickens, pigs, and crops all fill important ecological niches, creating a beautifully functioning cyclical ecosystem that produces healthy and delicious food for people, and improves the natural ecosystems they're a part of year after year. Whereas CAFOs (confined animal feeding operations, or feed lots) create cesspools of cow shit, really sick animals, really unhealthy meat, and tons of greenhouse gases, all in the name of, you guessed it, everyone having access to beef five times a week (or more).

Sometimes, I can't blame the vegans for their hardline approach. The situation is bleak, and so many people are so happy to put their heads in the sand, and their $2.99/pound steaks on the grill. Advocating for delicious vegetarian and vegan alternatives to what so many still think of as the only thing that can constitute a meal (animal flesh, starch, veggie) is a crucial role in building a sustainable future. If that's the role you can best fill in this fight, do it! But, please, don't fall into the trap of thinking, or worse, telling other people, that all meat is the same. Even if you feel that killing any animal for their meat under any circumstances is wrong, you can't compare the life of a CAFO cow to a grass-fed (and grass-finished) cow. And if you compared the life of that grass-fed (and grass-finished) cow to a wild ruminant, guess what? The grass-fed cow probably had a happier, easier life, and a less painful death. So that's enough for me.

But wait, what does grass-finished mean?? Ah, here's where it gets tricky. Big surprise: companies know that people care about these issues, and want healthy, sustainably-raised meat. Fun fact: much of the cattle in America spend the early part of its life eating grass before it gets shipped off to those feed lots. That's why the distinction of 'grass-fed' doesn't always mean a whole lot. Look for 'grass-finished' meat, or independent certification programs like the step system you'll see at Whole Foods to know what you're buying, and make the choice that's right for you, the planet, and the cow. Or even better, buy your meat directly from a farmer, and talk to them about how they raise their animals and why! Nothing protects you, the consumer, like a relationship with the people who grow and raise your food.

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