Last week, I opened the discussion of whether or not the whole world could go Primal. As you may recall, I noted that given the realities of our infrastructure, our policies, and the entrenched interests who wield considerable amounts of power and influence, practically speaking such a dramatic shift simply isn’t likely anytime soon. While it may be true that much of the world can’t access or afford grass-fed beef or other examples of privileged dietary staples it shouldn’t keep those that can from enjoying it. In fact, pulling out wallets can go a long way toward changing the state of things as they are now. That was last week, though. Today, I’m going to address some of the logistical concerns many of you raised regarding a transition to a world of Primal eaters. This is a huge topic beyond the scope of any one blog post, and there’s no magic bullet, but I’ll give it an honest go.
What follows are a few commonly cited logistical concerns folks express regarding feeding a world of Primal Blueprinters, slightly embellished with selective use of punctuation and followed by my thoughts. It may not happen (probably won’t), but it’s helpful, I think, to entertain the possibility of a global shift. First, the most basic concern of all:
“Primal can’t match the calories people are currently eating!”
First of all, we waste a lot of food, folks. A lot. Globally, a third of edible food (PDF) is never eaten, mostly in industrialized countries. A third! It exists and can be eaten by humans, but it simply isn’t. In America, food waste jumps to 40%, or about 1400 calories per person. And when you look at the household level, at actual families bringing food home, 25% of it is wasted. In these studies, the definition of “food waste” is a food loss caused by retailers or consumers; other “food losses” occur in production, post-harvest, and during processing. The food, then, is there. We’re just squandering it.
Second, do people even need the amount of calories they are currently getting? Take a look at this interactive world map of global daily per capita calorie intake. The United States is, unsurprisingly, at the top of the heap with 3770 calories per person per day (up from 3510 calories in the early 90s). Most other developed nations fall in the 3000+ range, while emerging nations like China (2970 kcal/day, up from 2580 in the 90s) and India (2300 kcal/day, same as the early 90s) get by on far fewer. Calories don’t tell the entire story, of course, but it makes you wonder. Do humans really need 3770 calories every day? Unless they’re on a mass gain protocol of whole milk and squats (to which the vast majority of the 3770 calories-eating population of the country is assuredly not subscribing), I’d argue that they generally don’t.
I certainly don’t.
Although I don’t habitually track my food intake, my carbs, or my calories, I’ve done it for the blog on a number of occasions, and I’ll typically come in right around 2500 calories (or maybe even a bit less). Maybe a bit more on an active day, but it stays pretty consistent as near as I can tell. As my buddy Aaron Blaisdell says, I eat When Hunger Ensues Naturally, and since going Primal, my hunger tends to ensue calmly, naturally, and justifiably. Because I’m eating Primal foods, I get hungry when my body honestly needs the calories and nutrients. No tricks, no unnatural spikes in hunger brought on by industrial foods designed to induce ravenous, unnatural eating even though you’re already overweight and replete with energy.
So, yeah, maybe a Primal food system couldn’t match the hypercaloric intake of a sick, overweight population eating foods that dysregulate appetite (both by express design and by evolutionary mismatch) – but the point is it wouldn’t have to match it. I posit that caloric intake and “needs” would spontaneously drop, as they have for the many thousands of people who have already gone Primal. How far might they drop? A study (PDF) from 2000 examined, in addition to other stuff, the average daily caloric intake of extant hunter-gatherer populations. The authors found that average daily caloric intakes generally stayed between 1200 calories and 2700 calories, with one outlier dipping lower and one (the Hadza people of Tanzania) obtaining 4030 calories per day.
(Somehow, I doubt the Hadza were very fat.)
Next up are the myriad concerns folks have with the viability of grass-fed, pastured beef (and other animals):
“There’s not enough pasture for everyone to eat steaks!”
Perhaps so, but:
Grass-feeding cattle can be done far more efficiently. Take the famous (but not famous enough, it seems) Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms, whose rotational grazing method gets him 400 “cow days” per acre; a cow day is the amount of grass a cow will eat in a day. Farms in his area average 80 cow days per acre. If everyone converted to his methods, or at least incorporated some of them, we could provide a lot more grass-fed steaks per acre than we currently provide.
There’s more pasture available than most people think. Consider that all cows, even grain-finished cows, generally begin on pasture. You know all those cows you see nibbling on lush grass besides highways? The vast majority of them will end up on a feedlot somewhere. If we keep them on grass, convert the cropland currently being used to grow animal feed grains to pastureland, and make sure to use efficient rotational grazing, yields would increase further.
We’re not just eating cows here. Other animals exist, like sheep, or the goat. We may not see many goats in the United States or Europe, but Africa has 511 million of the things domesticated, and Asia has almost 300 million. Goats produce milk, meat, and can thrive on forage that other animals wouldn’t know what to do with. In fact, incorporating other livestock, like sheep or goats, into your cattle grazing actually increases the overall output of all three. Since sheep, goats, and cattle prefer different types of forage, they work very well together.
Who said anything about eating nothing but steak, anyway? People would obviously have to utilize the entire animal from nose (or beak) to tail. Offal of all kinds would have to be eaten, including various glands, sacs, linings, cartilaginous tissues, skin, fat, blood, and bones that normally get processed into animal feed, discarded, or repurposed for other culinary and non-culinary products. A cow that weighs 1150 pounds live will produce a dressed carcass weighing just 715 pounds. From that 715 pounds, 146 will be discarded as “fat, bone, and loss.”
And now, the environmental impact of all those farting, chewing cattle:
“But grass-fed cattle produce more greenhouse gases!”
Ah, yes, that one. While a couple studies have found that grass-eating cows produce more methane than grain-eating cows (which shouldn’t really surprise you; just imagine the incredible farts you could produce by running pounds and pounds of fibrous grass through multiple stomach chambers), I’m not sure we’re getting the whole story. Feedlot-fed cattle may not fart as much, but they also don’t enrich the soil, generate new grass growth, or create viable sinks for carbon dioxide (PDF). Furthermore, grain-fed cattle consume grains that require the burning of fossil fuels for production and transport – they get “takeout” almost exclusively – whereas grass-fed cattle eat nourishing food at home that requires little to no external input. Overall, the “environmental footprint” of grass-fed cattle is lower.
“Yeah, but everyone knows grazing causes desertification!”
Not when you employ holistic grazing methods, like Allan Savory’s. Savory (who greatly influenced Salatin) has been reversing desertification in African lands by reintroducing cattle and grazing them in a very specific way. Instead of letting them go where they please across the land, he allows them to intensively graze on one section at a time. The cows are densely packed together and allowed to intensively graze. Their hooves break up the hard, barren ground, allowing water to enter and plant roots to gain purchase. Their manure acts as fertilizer, spurring vegetal growth, enriching the soil, and creating a sink for both water and carbon. As a result, once desertified lands are now lush pastures teeming with life and open water.
Hmm, maybe there’s more room for livestock than we think, eh?
Well, that’s it for today. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, of course. I had hoped to get to some of the (many) other logistical issues, but cattle and calories – two incredibly important topics – took up more room than I expected. Before you go, remember that these aren’t meant to be definitive answers. I’m not saying Primal eating will, or even can, sweep the world. I’m simply trying to explore these problems from a different angle than absolute defeatism since a better world is something worth being optimistic about, and because they appear to be of particular concern to many of you reading.
Next time, I’ll discuss and try to counter some of the other logistical concerns. Until then, thanks for reading! Be sure to leave a comment, and see you next time.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.