My favourite thing about traveling somewhere new is being to see and experience a new landscape. Yes, seeing beautiful architecture and experiencing different cultures is awesome and powerful. But what I really crave is escaping into the wilderness and seeing the beauty of the raw land. There are some absolutely amazing places on this Earth, and I’ve been blessed to experience a few first hand, and hope to be able to see even more. When I take a moment to really appreciate this beautiful land, I can’t help but think about the things we humans do to destroy it. I know I’m not alone in this, especially as we are constantly bombarded with reports about climate change and animal extinctions and the like. And I also know that I, like many of you, want to do my part to still these negative effects.
I’ve seen a lot of information put out there about the unsustainability of beef, trying to persuade people to give up meat in order to “save the planet”. I’ve witnessed quite a few people become vegetarians in order lessen their carbon footprint. I’ve considered it myself. On one hand, this is good. It is good to be aware that what you are eating has an impact, not only on your personal well-being, but on that of the world, because it does! But is not eating beef (or meat at all) really a solution? I don’t think so. What matters far more is not whether you eat beef, but where your beef comes from, or how it was produced.
Think back to your last meal with beef, perhaps it was beef tacos or a nice steak. Do you know how it was raised? If not, then it is most likely that beef came from a conventional livestock system, or a factory farm. These operations are where a majority of the data comes from that show the negative effects of beef production on the environment, and many are not wrong in their conclusions. Unfortunately, these systems are not natural and a far cry from how an animal, such as cow, is designed to live.
When a cow is out on pasture, there are many things taking place. They move across the land, trampling down and eating vegetation. The trampled vegetation covers the soil, protecting it. The plants that die add to the organic content of the soil. As trampled or eaten plants regrow, they are using carbon from the air and releasing oxygen as a byproduct. Both of these processes serve to trap carbon into the soil, rather than releasing into the atmosphere, and increase the organic content and biodiversity of the soils. The manure and urine from the cow also work to add nutrients back into the soil.
In conventional systems, animals are treated more as products on conveyor belt rather than living, breathing organisms apart of a complex ecosystem. The cows are often raised on grass for the first 6 months or so of life, which is great (and a lot better than conventionally raised pork or chicken). But after that they are shipped (often long distances) to feedlots and fed grain. This grain also has to be shipped in. Much of the grain produced to feed cows is grown on huge monoculture farms and harvested by machinery. Because the cows are not there to provide soil inputs, artificial inputs (such as chemical fertilizers) must added. These are also shipped in. Conventional beef production completely disrupts that natural ecological systems that work to provide balance between inputs and outputs in the environment.
There are A LOT of other things that can and should be considered, such as the health benefits and animal humane issues, when considering grass-fed vs. conventional beef. I urge you to look deeper into it and not just blindly accept the information put out to the public. There is often more to the story. It’s time to reconnect to the source of our food and gain a true understanding of how what we eat impacts not only our health, but the planet.