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On Cows

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

The cow is the most unfairly demonized food that we eat. I can sympathize with why. Industrial agriculture has done a great job of segregating livestock from nature, creating harsh and un-environmentally friendly conditions for them to be raised and live. Also, the media paints a black and white picture narrating meat as bad, and plant based as good. But I have to ask - why doesn’t the industrial agriculture of soy for example not get the same heat? After all, we are destroying whole ecosystems, killing millions of living animals and soil microbes while releasing vast amount of carbon and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere for a block of tofu. And what about the ethical and envioronmental implications of avocados, bananas or coconut?

The products of industrial agriculture are all in the same camp.

This all comes back to the sentiment that it doesn’t matter what you eat, it matters how it is raised and grown. There are zero similarities between feed lot beef and grass-fed beef. Zero similarities between vegetables from a market garden and a monoculture.

Both animals and plants when properly managed, can be greatly beneficial to our ecosystem, sequester carbon and build healthy soils. But you can't have one without the other. If we can mimic the cycles of nature in how we grow food and encourage biodiversity in our agricultural systems, we can make huge impacts in climate change!

Ruminants have always played a key role in our eco-system and have contributed many benefits to a healthy planet. Think of all the millions of bison and other ruminants that used to roam the once fertile Great Planes - even the methane they released was part of a natural cycle.

This is practically done by tending cows to mimic the grazing behaviour of elk, caribou and bison in their ecosystems. If managed properly using wholistic grazing, they can sequester a net positive amount of carbon from the atmosphere. Cattle keep grasses and vegetation up and the carbon down. They also turn something we can't eat into nutrient dense food. When ruminants graze, it forces the plants to go into photosynthesis, pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil. Some goes into re-growing that plant, but much of it gets stored in the soil. If cattle and grazing are taken out of the picture of agriculture, we are missing out on the opportunities to rebuild our soils. We’ve learnt that we can increase soil health, biodiversity and make things better – not just sustain but actually make them better! And it’s nothing new. Nature knows best.

I want to live in a world where we use the energy from the sun (photosynthesis), the rain from the sky and renewable resources (grass) to grow our food. Not to rely so heavily on fossil fuels.

A quote I love from Michael Pollan:

“A growing number of ecologists believe that the rangelands are healthier with the cattle on them provided that they are moved frequently… In fact – growing meat on grass makes superb ecological sense, it is a sustainable solar powered food chain that produces food by transforming sunlight (and grass) into nutrient dense food. Cattle can take a pretty low-quality product and convert it into high quality food. If you didn’t have ruminant animals, much of the land would be desert.”

A note on feedlot beef: Even the claims for feedlot beef are blown out of proportion and unfairly represented (not that I advocate for it at all). For example – did you know that all cows spend about two thirds of their life on grass? And that much of their feed is crop residues - for example upcycled from the ethanol and vegan industry (think corn and pea residues). It just goes to show that the narratives you have seen on media outlets are much more nuanced than they seem. The key is to stay curious, listen to different sources and investigate the research for yourself. It’s also worth looking into the different cycles and warming effects between methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions. You may be surprised at what you find. It is a huge topic and a very nuanced one.

I hope these thoughts plant seeds of curiosity.

A note on affordability: Grass-finished beef is much more affordable than people think! I purchase mine from Kootenay Natural Meats - a farm out of Creston. They supply to the Kootenay Co-op and attend a variety of markets including Nelson Farmers Market. They also make trips out to Nelson and surrounding areas in the winter for delivery a few times a month. You can order directly from their website. I pay between $2.75-$7.00/portion depending on serving size and cut. The minimal serving size is 4oz meat. This comprises 30g of bioavailable high-quality protein along with many vitamins and minerals in their most absorbable form.

And for those folks who truly can’t afford or access regeneratively raised meat – I love this post from Diane Rodgers. I think she puts it perfectly. Click here to read!

Anyways, stay curious everyone! Challenge the status quo and learn things for yourself from a diverse range of people, research and opinions.

Check out the book “Sacred Cow” by Diane Rodgers @sustainabledish. She has a lot of science-based resources on these topics. If you want to support her work, check out @globafoodjustice. She is doing some awesome stuff there!

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