Plumb Lines

July 22, 2009

Eating Beef to Save the Environment

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matthew Schmitz @ 1:12 am

Environmentally conscious diners are told that one of the best ways to reduce their carbon footprints is to eat less meat. Much more energy is required to produce a pound of beef than a pound of, say, tofu. Making things worse, cows account for some 20% of greenhouse gas emissions.

However, that’s not the full story, according to a recent report in the Utne Reader:

In large-scale farming confinement systems, manure flows into (disgusting) lagoons, where its decomposition releases millions of tons of methane and nitrous oxide into the air every year. “On pasture, that same manure is simply assimilated back into the soil with a carbon cost close to zero,” Hamilton writes.

What’s more, grass-fed livestock can be an essential player in a sustainable set-up. Manure revitalizes soil (in lieu of chemical fertilizers or shipped-in compost), and grazing encourages plant growth. Hamilton also points to Holistic Management International, an organization that proposes managed, intensive grazing as part of a climate change solution.

“In order for pasture-based livestock to become a significant part of the meat industry, we need to eat more of its meat, not less,” Hamilton writes. “So if you want to use your food choices to impact climate change, by all means follow Dr. Pachauri’s suggestion for a meatless Monday. But on Tuesday, have a grass-fed burger—and feel good about it.”

Conservatives leery of lefty dining choices should remember that the main type of agriculture practiced today has more to do with a industry than what we usually think of as agriculture. Its logic of efficiency and consolidation, of industrial production, entails the extinction of the family farm.

Before pasture-fed beef became a bobo-targeted marketing ploy, it was simply the way that most ranchers operated. Even if you don’t care about the environment, it’s worth doing what you can to support a type of agriculture that could, just maybe, create more space for family farms.

-Matthew Schmitz


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