Save the Planet: Eat a Grassfed Burger

March 1, 2009

This is an excerpt from our Spring Newsletter, written by Joe:

Jack an Joe grilling up some grassfed burgers

Jack and Joe grilling up some grassfed burgers

The rains have finally come, and everything is a beautiful green.  What a blessing!  We still haven’t heard the mating calls of the frogs in the ponds on the ranch, though, so it is still pretty droughty, but the grass is growing well.  Drought is not a pleasant thing, but it seems to make more sense to be grateful for the rain we do have rather than bemoaning whatever we might not have.  I recently was told that “Attitude is the only thing we can actually control.”  Makes sense to me.

 

Our new ordering process is going very well.  The orders are arriving fast and furious, and yet the processing of them is not overwhelming.  Thank you, all of you who have ordered already.  It makes life a lot easier, if we can fill in our planning sheets earlier rather than later.  Please get your orders in, if you haven’t done so already, for we would hate to have you miss out.  You may either go to our website order form or just click here http://www.morrisgrassfed.com/order.php .

 

I was reading the e-newsletter from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza market, and found something I thought warranted a comment.  The idea of eating less meat to save the earth seems to crop up weekly at least, and kind of sounds like it might make sense, for it is bandied about by some authoritative voices, but it doesn’t.  This is what I read:

 

“Mark Bittman wants you to eat less meat. In his typically disarming way, The Minimalist as he’s referred to in his New York Times column, as well as online, where he writes a blog and appears in short cooking videos will dish it to you straight.

 

His new book, Food Matters expands on his idea that “if you buy your own food and cook your own food, you tend to put much better things in your mouth than if you don’t.” Thanks in part to a realization he had after reading the UN report called Livestock’s Long Shadow, and to his decision to tackle some of his own health issues head on, The Minimalist is now advocating an even larger shift.”

 

Many of Mr. Bittman’s observations on food make sense, but his arguments about the ecological soundness of meat do not.  Let’s take a look at the assumptions behind the UN report he cites, that livestock production imperils the health of the earth.  The premise that livestock production is responsible for so many greenhouse gasses is totally dependent upon the belief that beef animals require confinement and grain feeding.  It further assumes that the land that cattle are raised on could be used for production, in a sustainable way, of vegetables or grains that people could eat directly. These premises are not true, even in any remote sense.  Therefore, the rest of the argument is not worth much.

 

The carbon footprint of the meat you eat is directly related to whether the animals from which it comes harvested the plants they ate; whether or not the plants they ate grew upon soils that were fertilized by their dung and urine; and whether or not the grazing and animal impact of the cows occurred in a way that added carbon and nitrogen to the soil and nourished other members of the rangeland community.  Furthermore, beef animals should be raised, and mostly are, either on lands that are not suitable for the production of other human foods or in a way that replenishes the fertility of the soils used to produce these other foods.  Neither Mr. Bittman’s nor the UN’s argument recognize these essential differences, and, therefore, their advice is actually counter-productive. 

 

It is very difficult for a vegan diet to be sustainable, for the production process of such a diet excludes the use of animals in the mix of crops that a sustainable farm needs.  Beef animals and other ruminants can digest much of the residue from the other crops grown on the farm, and as they do so they will happily provide labor for the farm, protein and energy for the farmer and fertility for the soils. 

 

Mr. Pollan’s advice is wiser: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”   But strive to know the source—both place and process–of all of it.  If you are eating Morris Grassfed beef, you are actually reducing your carbon footprint and enhancing your health and pleasure with every delicious bite.  Now that’s a pretty picture!

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9 Responses to “Save the Planet: Eat a Grassfed Burger”

  1. emceekate Says:

    thanks for posting this – i’m out of the loop on the newsletter (gotta get our order in!) and have been looking for a solid argument to use against this eat less meat theory.

  2. seonghuhn Says:

    Very interesting. This article, AAAS: CLIMATE-FRIENDLY DINING … MEATS, stated that grass-fed beef is 50% worse in terms of amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Are you saying that article’s assumptions are incorrect also?

    • localfood Says:

      The assumption that grassfed beef is 50% worse in terms of greenhouse gas emissions is most definitely incorrect. Mr. Pelletier’s comparison of the fecundity of a fish and a cow makes no sense. Indeed a mother fish may give birth to thousands of offspring … that each weigh mere ounces and produce bites of food. A cow’s healthy calf grows to weigh approximately 1,200 pounds, providing enough healthy protein to feed four families of four over the course of one year. During the cow’s lifetime, she is fertilizing and turning the soil to create healthy plants which sequester carbon, not emit it.

      Pelletier is correct when he says that grass-finished systems are highly managed, which is precisely why they are environmentally beneficial. Grass trampling, and the subsequent movement of cattle into the next field, creates healthy rangelands and mimics nature’s natural rejuvenation process. (See Grasslands Video Project, Episode 1: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGB7QiWbpFg)

      But these arguments need not be made by the grassfed beef producers, they have been studied and verified by environmental scientists. The Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS combines independent scientific research and citizen action to develop innovative, practical solutions and to secure responsible changes in government policy, corporate practices, and consumer choices.
      In their 2006 report, Greener Pastures, they note “Our review of the relevant literature finds general agreement among scientists that raising cattle on well-managed pastures will provide significant environmental and other benefits including:
      – Decreased soil erosion and increased soil fertility
      – Improved water quality (due to decreased pollution)
      – Improved human (and water!) health due to reduced antibiotic use”
      To read the full report, you can go to:
      http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/greener-pastures.pdf

      • seonghuhn Says:

        This is really interesting and I am quite convinced.
        My other question though is if everyone ate grass fed beef would there be enough land to sustain such production? I always thought that the reason for today’s factory farms was simply a matter of economics, to produce so much meat on so little land requires reducing the amount of space each animal takes up.

  3. localfood Says:

    The land that is used for grazing is usually considered marginal by soil scientists: hillsides and non-prime farmland that is abundant around the world. Think of all the open space that is currently not being utilized, or worse, mismanaged. It could be put into productive grassfed beef land. Not only would we be restoring perennial grasslands and watersheds – reducing our carbon footprint by promoting sequestration – we would be producing self suffcient communities and healthy food for the planet.

    An exciting new documentary, “The First Millimeter: Healing the Earth” is scheduled to air on PBS on this very topic.
    For more information go to: http://www.holisticmanagement.org/n9/about/carbon.php

    • seonghuhn Says:

      That documentary sounds really interesting. I am definitely looking forward to seeing it.

      I think everything you say makes sense. But I just saw this Greenpeace video, Slaughtering the Amazon, http://www.vimeo.com/4910404. Much of the deforestation is because of cattle farmers making land for cows to graze. Is this not another sign that our appetite for beef and leather and other cow products is too large for us to count on using marginal land?

  4. localfood Says:

    Thanks for this, Seonghuhn.

    Cattle management in the Amazon has indeed been destructive to the planet and indigenous people – one of the symptoms of our consumption mentality. All the more reason to support local, grassfed beef that is raised in harmony with nature. In addition to cattle, though, monocrops of any kind threaten this fragile ecosystem. Consider this from an article by Michael Astor of the Associated Press:

    Title: Soybeans: the new threat to Brazilian rainforest
    Source: Copyright 2003, Associated Press
    Date: December 18, 2003

    “But, to the horror of environmental activists, soybeans are
    claiming increasingly bigger swaths of rainforest to make way for
    plantations, adding to the inroads by ranching. The Amazon lost
    some 10,000 square miles (25,476 square kilometers) of forest
    cover last year (2002) alone – 40 percent more than the year before.

    ‘After cattle ranching, soybeans are the main driver of Amazon
    destruction,’ said Roberto Smeraldi of Friends of the Earth
    Brazil.”

    Even the vegetarians among us, who do not eat beef, but prefer tofu, need to reconsider their food choices. Choosing producers who are trying to work in harmony with nature will benefit local economies, animals, our health, and the earth.


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