What is Soil Health Food?

November 12, 2015

I recently watched Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, a 2014 documentary about animal agriculture. Filmmakers Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn point to animal agriculture as “the most destructive industry facing the planet today.” They are incredulous that leading environmental groups such as the Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and Food & Water Watch do not speak out more forcibly against animal agriculture. The film implies there is a conspiracy – nod to clever title – to hide the impact of animal agriculture on global warming.

Vegan Leonardo Dicaprio wears leather jackets and uses hair gel, most likely made from cow byproducts.

Veganism advocate Leonardo Dicaprio wears leather jackets and uses hair gel, most likely made from cow byproducts.

I admire Anderson and Kuhn’s passion about climate change and their work to raise awareness about its causes. They did exhaustive research and interviewed a list of academics, authors and scientists to support their premise. Their numbers are staggering. I won’t repeat them here, you can refer to their infographic here. But their statistics are skewed to advocate their agenda against animal agriculture. They ignore data that doesn’t support their opinion, such as this Global Warming Flow Chart from the respected and unbiased World Resources Institute and  in a classic case of propaganda, the interviews with experts are heavily edited and out of context. Of course industrial feedlots have negative consequences on our environment, but that’s not the only type of animal agriculture. The film also points to fisheries, grassfed beef, and even organic, urban farms that rely on cattle manure for fertilizer as harmful practices for the planet. They really don’t like animal agriculture. Their conclusion is that veganism is the solution. They have chosen the cow as their scapegoat in the larger, and systemic, problem of climate change.

Cattle are not the problem, humans’ poor management of them is. Animals have a crucial role in a healthy carbon cycle, turning and fertilizing the soil with the every step. They just need to be managed, on rangelands where they belong. Meat is simply a byproduct. Even the most serious vegans probably use animal parts in other areas of their lives. Do they drive cars? Tires come from stearic acid, a cow by-product. Roads are built with a beef-based fat that makes asphalt. Household products such as candles, cosmetics, crayons, perfume, mouthwash, toothpaste, shaving cream, soap and deodorants are all made with fatty acids and protein meals from cows. Cattle also produce hundreds of life-improving medicines. “More than 100 individual drugs performing such important and varied functions as helping to make childbirth safer, settling an upset stomach, preventing blood clots in the circulatory system, controlling anemia, relieving some symptoms of hay fever and asthma, and helping babies digest milk include beef by-products. Insulin, for example, is produced using cow pancreas. Additionally, gelatin capsules are commonly used for a variety of medications,” according to environmental site One Green Planet. Leonardo Dicaprio, one of Cowspiracy’s major funders, wears leather jackets and travels on private jets. One flight across the U.S. on a private jet releases  as much carbon on the atmosphere as an average American does in a whole year. 

Rather than taking a single issue, vilifying it as THE problem and trying to solve it, we should be focused on the whole system and ask ourselves what we can do to make it function better? Veganism will not eliminate dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.  In fact much of those are the result of nitrogen fertilizers flowing from soybean (read: tofu, fake meat) and corn monocrops covering the Midwest. Corn and soy crops reported record production levels in 2014, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nor does veganism solve the problems of deforestation or desertification, also symptoms of poor land management. Palm oil farming takes out rain forests too. Soybean fields blanketing the Midwest and the bare soil – soil loss – associated with large-scale vegetable monocultures have their own massive environmental consequences. Veganism fails to address the issue of how to manage millions of acres of rangeland unfit to farm other crops. If we are to slow, stop, and ultimately reverse climate change, we need to use systems thinking and look to processes, preferably modeling the most brilliant process of all: Mother Nature’s carbon cycle.

Oak tree

The Soil Carbon Coalition is helping people shift from a problem-solving orientation to a creative one, focused on the solar power of the biosphere.

Soil Carbon Coalition Founder Peter Donovan suggests “covering the land with green, photosynthesizing plants.” He calls soil carbon “the most powerful and creative planetary force.” Rangelands provide an enormous opportunity to produce soil carbon and animals are Mother Nature’s way of turning, fertilizing, and “covering the land with green, photosynthesis producing plants.” (They also use no fossil fuel to operate.) Meat is simply a byproduct of animals, our partner in a well functioning carbon cycle. Maybe the reason Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation and Food & Water Watch aren’t looking solely to animal agriculture is that they are trying to look at the whole system. Ask yourself this the next time someone offers you a tofu burger or fake egg made of yellow peas: Does this food enhance soil health? Is it beneficial to the carbon cycle? How was it produced? Am I supporting what I want for the planet when I buy it? If it’s not, you may want to re-consider. It’s not the type of food one eats that will determine the future, it’s how it was produced. I call it “Soil Health Food.” A locally-grown, grassfed burger that comes from a cow who nurtured a plant that helps capture and store carbon where it belongs, deep in the soil beneath our feet, may not be such a bad choice after all.

Some vegans  emit more carbon in one plane flight than meat-eaters do in an entire year.

Some vegans emit more carbon in one plane flight than meat-eaters do in an entire year.

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3 Responses to “What is Soil Health Food?”

  1. dwingp Says:

    Brilliant Julie – I love your posts! Debbie

  2. Cowspiracy Says:

    […] (Source: What Is Soil Health Food?) […]


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