Today we’re sharing a post by guest authors Robb Wolf, New York Times Best Selling Author and one of the early advocates of the paleo lifestyle, and Diana Rodgers, RD, Real Food Dietitian and Sustainability Advocate. Robb and Diana co-authored Sacred Cow, an eye-opening book about meat, health, and sustainability, out this month.
The ancestral health community generally accepts the right type of meat as a health food. In fact, eating animals is the number one guiding principle of the Primal lifestyle. Still, some groups advise against meat consumption.
Two of the main arguments that you should give up meat are:
It’s healthier to eat vegan
You reduce your impact on the planet if you’re vegan
If your primary meat source comes predominantly from a drive-thru, then yes, these arguments probably hold true. But there’s a world of difference between mass-produced meat from large agricultural operations, and pasture-raised meat from small-scale farms. The animals’ diet and living conditions have a profound effect on what the meat does for your body and for (or against) the planet.
Here are the main reasons why eating meat the right way can benefit your health, as well as the planet’s carbon load.
Protein is the most satiating macronutrient – it simply fills you up better than fat or carbs. It’s also the building block of our bodies and immune systems. Meat is a low calorie way to get the most bioavailable source of protein for humans. It contains all of the amino acids we need to grow and thrive. Unless you are eating a LOT of vegan protein powders, a “plant-based” diet sourced from industrial agriculture is a sure way to ensure you are always hungry and will consume a lot more energy to get the nutrients you need, including protein. Read more here.
Red Meat Is Nutrient Dense
Meat is not just high in protein. It is also a source of many nutrients that are simply not available in plants. Meat provides B12, highly absorbable heme iron, preformed vitamins, all the essential amino acids, zinc, EPA, DHA, vitamin D, and vitamin K2, none of which are found in plant foods. Plants provide important antioxidants, vitamin C, and fiber. We need this variety of nutrients to survive. Compared to rice and beans or other plant proteins, red meat contains more vitamins and minerals per gram of protein. In order to get 30g of protein, you could eat about 200 calories of beef or about 700 calories of beans and rice.
Meat Provides Critical Nutrients That Aren’t Available in Other Foods
Vitamin B12 is not found in plant foods and is essential for neural development. Other vitamins and minerals that are found in both meat and plants are usually in their most absorbable form when eating from animals. This includes iron, zinc, vitamin A, calcium and essential fatty acids. Even though chicken and beef are both quality sources of protein, beef simply blows chicken away in the nutrient department. It has significantly more B12, zinc, choline, iron, and potassium. Meat contains heme iron, the most absorbable type of iron. Iron-deficiency anemia is the most common mineral deficiency in the United States. In terms of micronutrients, chicken only has more B3 than beef. Recommendations that ask people to reduce beef intake and replace it with chicken or vegetables are essentially asking them to reduce the nutrient quality of their diets. Read more here.
Without Grazing Animals, Some Ecosystems Fall Out of Balance
Well-managed grazing systems mimic the way that herds of bison used to migrate through the plains, biting and trampling pasture while depositing manure, before moving to the next spot and allowing the previously grazed area to rest. If plants are not controlled, then a few varieties typically takeover and shade out other plants. To test this theory, stop mowing your front yard for six months and see what happens. Without regular harvesting – whether through grazing or mowing – ecosystems can become dormant. Grazing animals help stimulate the constant regeneration and growth of pastures and grasslands. This provides better living conditions for wildlife, encourages plant root growth, and improves soil health.
Well-managed ruminants can also help eliminate the need to use chemicals to maintain weeds and other undesirable plants. Controlled grazing encourages cattle to eat types of forage that they may not otherwise select while adding sheep and goats can specifically target weeds and invasive species of plants. The use of chemical inputs like pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides has also taken its toll. Pesticide usage has led to pollinator decline while fertilizer runoff has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of Connecticut, as a few examples.
Good Grazing Management Can Improve Soil Health and Sequester Carbon
In a well-managed grazing system, the rest period after grazing has another important function. The more leaf surface area that a plant has, the quicker it will be able to regrow after a grazing period. By ensuring that the cattle only take the top half of a pasture, producers can ensure that those plants will rebound during the rest period. As plants photosynthesize sunlight, they expand their root systems. Healthy root systems help those plants transmit nutrients into the soil to feed microbial life. The more abundant a root system is, the healthier the soil will be, and the more carbon will be sequestered.
Grazing Animals Can Thrive on Land That Cannot Be Cropped
Removing livestock doesn’t mean that we will free up more land for crop production. More than 60% of agricultural land globally is pasture and rangeland that is too rocky, steep, and/or arid to support cultivated agriculture. Yet this land supports cattle production and nutrient upcycling. Sheep and goats are also well-equipped to thrive in harsh conditions and on challenging types of terrain. By raising well-managed ruminants in these areas, we are able to improve the ecosystems, create better wildlife habitat, and build soil health while also generating a nutrient dense source of protein and other nutrients. Burger King, Cargill and World Wildlife Fund recently announced a new project to reseed 8,000 acres of marginal cropland throughout Montana and South Dakota to ecologically diverse grasslands with beef cattle as the primary grazers to maintain the new ecosystem.
Cattle Upcycle Agricultural Byproducts and Other Materials We Can’t Eat Into Nutritious Meat
Only 13% of global animal feed (including feed for chickens, pigs, and cattle) consists of grain crops, according to United Nations FAO research, and only 32% of overall global grain production in 2010 was used to feed livestock. A staggering 86% of global livestock feed consists of materials that we cannot digest as humans, like crop residues including stover and sugarcane tops. Pigs and chickens are also monogastrics (like humans) and cannot digest these products either. However, ruminant animals like cattle, sheep, and goats can safely consume these materials and turn them into nutrient-dense protein for humans. When looking at what only ruminants eat, the numbers are even lower for grain, at only 10% of the diet for cattle, globally. Grass and leaves makes up 57.4% of global ruminant feed ration. The rest is inedible by humans, like “crop residue” such as corn stalks.
Buying Direct From Local Farmers Boosts Farmer Income and Food Security
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted many of the weaknesses of our current heavily-consolidated and industrialized meat industry. Choosing meat from local farmers helps to create a new supply chain that pays farmers what they actually deserve for the hard, never-ending work of raising livestock. It can also reduce the number of miles that your food has traveled while in some cases offering high standards of welfare for the livestock. Supporting small farmers also supports the preservation of open space in or near your community while keeping money close to home. Investing your food dollars close to home helps build a more resilient local food system that can withstand crises like the current pandemic.
Grazing Animals Produce So Much More Than Meat
Many people view livestock production as providing one simple output: meat. But when you add up the many products that source ingredients from cattle alone including tallow for beauty products, cartilage for osteoarthritis medications, and gelatin for foods as a few examples, it paints a much different picture of a cow’s contribution to our society.
In most cases, synthetic leather is made from two plastic-based substances polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). The process involves bonding a plastic coating to a fabric backing to create the look and feel of genuine leather. PVC has been identified by numerous organizations as one of the most environmentally damaging types of plastic. Many vegan leather makers also rely on plasticisers like phthalates to make the material flexible. Unfortunately, the wool industry has seen a similar turn of events. Competition from synthetic fibers has led to a reduction in the price for wool leaving many sheep producers in the lurch particularly in New Zealand and Australia.
Livestock Are a Critical Resource for Women and Children in Developing Nations
When people in a position of privilege talk about reducing global meat consumption, they overlook the negative impact that it would have on women and children in developing nations who rely on these animals for economic stability, food security, and vital nutrition. Two of the leading nutrient deficiencies worldwide are Iron and Vitamin B12. Animal products deliver these in the best form. Meat is a critical component of a child’s diet, particularly in developing nations where improved health and cognitive function is a key step to fostering a healthier, more successful nation.
According to ILRI, two-thirds of the world’s 600 million low-income livestock producers are rural women who are responsible for the day-to-day animal management, including processing, marketing, and selling animal products. The organization has found that when women control income, 90% is invested back into their household compared to only 30% to 40% when income is controlled by men. Enabling women to derive economic independence through livestock will directly improve the health, education, and food security of their households. Read more here.
To learn more about these topics and more, pick up the book Sacred Cow: The Case for Better Meat, by Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf. They also have a companion film coming out this fall. Keep up to date at www.sacredcow.info.