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Discuss: The Only Way to Have a Cow



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1 P. Moss on Apr 01, 2010

How is this anything more than pissing into the wind? The globalized leviathan is killing and toxifying the planet at an ever-increasing rate and nothing we do besides drastic radical change stands any chance of counteracting the ecocide. Consumer solutions ignore all the most fundamental problems of this culture. The Earth knows this. Lets stop pretending.

2 Kevin Peer on Apr 01, 2010

I think this article points to part of a solution in that it is compelling people to gain consciousness about what the consequences of cheap and abundant food items are. I agree that factory farming in all of its manifestations are an abomination. I also believe that saying, as some do, that we should all be vegetarians or vegans is overly simplistic. It assumes that protein sources like soy are more environmentally desirable - yet the cutting of massive areas of rain forest for the planting of soy plantations would indicate otherwise. It also assumes that a vegetarian/vegan diet is the most healthy diet for everyone, and there is much research available that would beg to differ (consider the work of the Weston Price Foundation, for one). Both my wife and I were vegetarians for many years, and in our case, our vegetarian diet helped create some long term health problems for us, particularly hormonal dysfunction (soy, for instance, is very estrogenic). I know there are many who thrive on a vegetarian diet, and bless them. But there are many who do not, including friends of mine who seem to be constantly sick and/or run down. And by the way, even His Holiness The Dalai Lama eats meat, because when he tried to become a vegetarian upon his arrival in India it nearly killed him. Don’t believe me? Read his autobiography.

I suspect that the more judgemental and reactive folks reading this are not going to like the solution I found for me and my family, but here it is: I took full responsibility for my body’s need to eat a small amount of animal protein and became a hunter. My version of deer or elk hunting entails much prayer and ritual on my part. A deer or elk will last my family and the friends I share meals with for a year or two. I am honored to participate in the ancient and sacred circle of life and of death. And every time I partake of that creature to sustain me, I give deep thanks. I am 52 now and healthier than I have been since I was in my 20’s.

3 Mike Hudak on Apr 02, 2010

McKibben errs in environmentally lumping together the American Southwest with the Plains as fundamentally “grasslands covered places that don’t get much rain.” Except for eastern New Mexico, the native ungulate grazing of the Southwest has fundamentally differed from that of the Plains. Whereas the vegetation of the Plains has evolved under intensive grazing pressure of large, mobile bison herds until as recently as the mid 19th century, the Southwest has been devoid of large herds of large, native ungulates for at least the past 10,000 years. Consequently, much of the vegetation of the Southwest is fundamentally different from that of the Plains, and is unsuitable for the sort of grazing that McKibben suggests.

Much of that grazing today takes place on federally managed grazing allotments. And so we know from a government report that livestock grazing as a cause of species endangerment ranks 1st in southern Arizona and western New Mexico, and 3rd in southern Nevada and central Arizona. I’ll further note that no fewer than 151 wildlife species harmed by ranching on federal public lands across the American West are federally listed as threatened or endangered, or are petitioned for, or are candidates for such listing.

The federal agencies are not unaware of rotational grazing. Many grazing allotments are already divided by permanent fences, and ranchers are instructed to move their cattle on specific dates. Yet species of plants and wildlife continue to suffer harm. (More time-intensive herding is economically unfeasible for the vast number of small ranchers holding federal grazing permits. And there’s no reason to believe that such herding would even be beneficial in ecosystems in which it doesn’t imitate a local, natural process.)

The only effective solution in such situations is to reduce or eliminate the cattle grazing pressure in those locations that are environmentally unsuitable for ranching. But the federal agencies generally lack the will to do this. And so it is left to environmental groups to file lawsuits on behalf of the species placed at harm by the inept, politically motivated management of the federal government. That’s the reality.

4 Richard Schwartz on Apr 02, 2010

There is increasing evidence that animal-based diets and agriculture are contributing to an epidemic of diseases, using vast amounts of land, energy, water and other resources and contributing greatle to climate change, rapid specises extinction, soil erosion, deforestation, desertifucation, water pollution and many other environmental threats.

It is time that the many moral, environmental, health and other aspects of the production and consumption of meat and othet animal products be seriously considered.

For more information, please visit, where I have 140 articles and 25 podcasts, and see our acclimed documentary “A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help the World” at

5 Carol Kilby on Apr 02, 2010

The article spurs commonsense, hopefulness, and curiosity. It makes sense to refer to a pre-agribusiness era for a picture of an Earth community in harmony. It is hopeful to think a change in the methods of ‘beef’ production would be more respectful of both animal and environmental rights. I am curious where one might read more about rotational grazing and the natural processes of carbon sequestering. Finally I am curious, if this is a viable alternative, why we aren’t hearing more about it as part of the future direction from our activist groups and Green politicians. Thank you for opening the discussion. Carol, E.D. Gaia Centre for Eco-Spirituality and Sustainable Work

6 Henry McHenry Jr. on Apr 02, 2010

So I’m as of now no longer a meat-eater. I had reduced meat in recent months because of its association with prostate cancer, but this seems to me an example of a relatively easy, benign, and sudden move in the right direction. Another:  every time you enter an empty room in your house, notice if there’s a light already on.  We could cut electricity use overnight (all right; over a week) by half or two-thirds just by turning lights off, couldn’t we?

7 Leigh on Apr 02, 2010

When Joel Salatin (the Swoope, Va., farmer profiled in Michael Pollan’s Omnivore’s Dilemma) spoke after a screening of “Fresh” in Annapolis, Md., a few weeks ago, he said that if beef farmers converted to a more natural grazing system—where the cows are moved every day—we could sequester all the CO2 to take care of what’s been emitted since the industrial revolution began (something like that…I didn’t write it down and the audience didn’t ask for source citation). His point was, when the cows graze and the chicken follow and work over the cow patties, these actions are constantly putting biomass into the soil. The cows don’t have long enough to graze the plants to the ground, but they graze them enough to spur growth in the roots.

This makes sense. What would it mean for eaters? I’m an omnivore and we get our grassfed beef from a local farmer. It will probably last us a year and a half. It’s more expensive, but its higher quality means—I feel from when I eat—that I don’t need to eat as much. I cannot imagine that paleo eaters, though their diet was meat protein and greens, plus some fruit, had constant access to meat the way we do now (though what passes for meat in fast food joints is often full of fillers and additives).

Grain ag has been a Faustian “bargain”...check out David Montgomery’s Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization.” One could argue, too, that the amount of grain-based carbs we consume is, in part, what’s leading to an epidemic of diabetes.

In a permaculture design course, we deconstructed Salatin’s model to see where/how he could improve it. I’ve long viewed his model as being in equilibrium, but it has low overall diversity, even though there are grass polycultures. He could, with techniques such as alley cropping, create even more biomass to sequester carbon. I asked him about this and he said they have been allowing legumes (locust trees) to grow out on rented land where the cattle graze, but that there is a point where it would become inefficient, from a business standpoint, to do that in the kind of situation they’re in, where they’re moving the cattle every day.

Another interesting thing to note is the labor ratio: Adopting a moving “salad bar” model would presumably employ more people, because of the hands-on requirements. So, I see a lot of positives from this model. But even Salatin himself said, quoting Joel Arthur Barker, “All paradigms eventually exceed their point of efficiency.” This is, of course, what’s happened with the feedlot system.

8 Tovar Cerulli on Apr 02, 2010

There are many issues interwoven here: ethical, ecological, and more.

Like Kevin (comment 2 above), I was a vegetarian for many years, a vegan for most of that time. Also like Kevin, I found I needed animal protein in my diet. And my solution has included a similar turn to hunting.

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