The Only Way to Have a Cow

MAY I SAY — somewhat defensively — that I haven’t cooked red meat in many years? That I haven’t visited a McDonald’s since college? That if you asked me how I like my steak, I’d say I don’t really remember? I’m not a moral abstainer — I’ll eat meat when poor people in distant places offer it to me, especially when they’re proud to do so and I’d be an ass to say no. But in everyday life, for a series of reasons that began with the dietary scruples of the woman I chose to marry, hamburgers just don’t come into play.

I begin this way because I plan to wade into one of the most impassioned fracases now underway on the planet — to meat or not to meat — and I want to establish that I Do Not Have A Cow In This Fight. In recent years vegetarians and vegans have upped their attack on the consumption of animal flesh, pointing out not only that it’s disgusting (read Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book) but also a major cause of climate change. The numbers range from 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions to — in one recent study that was quickly discredited — 51 percent. Whatever the exact figure, suffice it to say it’s high: there’s the carbon that comes from cutting down the forest to start the farm, and from the fertilizer and diesel fuel it takes to grow the corn, there’s the truck exhaust from shipping cows hither and yon, and most of all the methane that emanates from the cows themselves (95 percent of it from the front end, not the hind, and these millions of feedlot cows would prefer if you used the word eructate in place of belch). This news has led to an almost endless series of statistical calculations: going vegan is 50 percent more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than switching to a hybrid car, according to a University of Chicago study; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization finds that a half pound of ground beef has the same effect on climate change as driving an SUV ten miles. It has led to a lot of political statements: the British health secretary last fall called on Englishmen to cut their beefeating by dropping at least a sausage a week from their diets, and Paul McCartney has declared that “the biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle to help the environment would be to become vegetarian.” It has even led to the marketing of a men’s flip-flop called the Stop Global Warming Toepeeka that’s made along entirely vegan lines.

Industrial livestock production is essentially indefensible — ethically, ecologically, and otherwise. We now use an enormous percentage of our arable land to grow corn that we feed to cows who stand in feedlots and eructate until they are slaughtered in a variety of gross ways and lodge in our ever-larger abdomens. And the fact that the product of this exercise “tastes good” sounds pretty lame as an excuse. There are technofixes — engineering the corn feed so it produces less methane, or giving the cows shots so they eructate less violently. But this type of tailpipe fix only works around the edges, and with the planet warming fast that’s not enough. We should simply stop eating factory-farmed meat, and the effects on climate change would be but one of the many benefits.

Still, even once you’ve made that commitment, there’s a nagging ecological question that’s just now being raised. It goes like this: long before humans had figured out the whole cow thing, nature had its own herds of hoofed ungulates. Big herds of big animals — perhaps 60 million bison ranging across North America, and maybe 100 million antelope. That’s considerably more than the number of cows now resident in these United States. These were noble creatures, but uncouth — eructate hadn’t been coined yet. They really did just belch. So why weren’t they filling the atmosphere with methane? Why wasn’t their manure giving off great quantities of atmosphere-altering gas?

The answer, so far as we can tell, is both interesting and potentially radical in its implications. These old-school ungulates weren’t all that different in their plumbing — they were methane factories with legs too. But they used those legs for something. They didn’t stand still in feedlots waiting for corn, and they didn’t stand still in big western federal allotments overgrazing the same tender grass. They didn’t stand still at all. Maybe they would have enjoyed stationary life, but like teenagers in a small town, they were continually moved along by their own version of the police: wolves. And big cats. And eventually Indians. By predators.

As they moved, they kept eating grass and dropping manure. Or, as soil scientists would put it, they grazed the same perennials once or twice a year to “convert aboveground biomass to dung and urine.” Then dung beetles buried the results in the soil, nurturing the grass to grow back. These grasslands covered places that don’t get much rain — the Southwest and the Plains, Australia, Africa, much of Asia. And all that grass-land sequestered stupendous amounts of carbon and methane from out of the atmosphere — recent preliminary research indicates that methane-loving bacteria in healthy soils will sequester more of the gas in a day than cows supported by the same area will emit in a year.

We’re flat out of predators in most parts of the world, and it’s hard to imagine, in the short time that we have to deal with climate change, ending the eating of meat and returning the herds of buffalo and packs of wolves to all the necessary spots. It’s marginally easier to imagine mimicking those systems with cows. The key technology here is the single-strand electric fence — you move your herd or your flock once or twice a day from one small pasture to the next, forcing them to eat everything that’s growing there but moving them along before they graze all the good stuff down to bare ground. Now their manure isn’t a problem that fills a cesspool, but a key part of making the system work. Done right, some studies suggest, this method of raising cattle could put much of the atmosphere’s oversupply of greenhouse gases back in the soil inside half a century. That means shifting from feedlot farming to rotational grazing is one of the few changes we could make that’s on the same scale as the problem of global warming. It won’t do away with the need for radically cutting emissions, but it could help get the car exhaust you emitted back in high school out of the atmosphere.

Oh, and grass-fed beef is apparently much better for you — full of Omega 3s, like sardines that moo. Better yet, it’s going to be more expensive, because you can’t automate the process the same way you can feedlot agriculture. You need the guy to move the fence every afternoon. (That’s why about a billion of our fellow humans currently make their livings as herders of one kind or another — some of them use slingshots, or dogs, or shepherd’s crooks, or horses instead of electric fence, but the principle is the same.) More expensive, in this case, as in many others, is good; we’d end up eating meat the way most of the world does — as a condiment, a flavor, an ingredient, not an entrée.

I doubt McDonald’s will be in favor. I doubt Paul McCartney will be in favor. It doesn’t get rid of the essential dilemma of killing something and then putting it in your mouth. But it’s possible that the atmosphere would be in favor, and that’s worth putting down your fork and thinking about.

Bill McKibben is an author and environmentalist who in 2014 was awarded the Right Livelihood Prize, sometimes called the ‘alternative Nobel.’ His 1989 book The End of Nature is regarded as the first book for a general audience about climate change, and has appeared in 24 languages; he’s gone on to write a dozen more books. He is a founder of, the first planet-wide, grassroots climate change movement, which has organized twenty  thousand rallies around the world in every country save North Korea, spearheaded the resistance to the Keystone Pipeline, and launched the fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement.


  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  9. I don’t think P. Moss actually read the article. McKibben’s proposal here would mainly involve a change by producers, not consumers. Getting all consumers to voluntarily choose leaner and more expensive grassfed meat won’t happen, but if the producers simply become unable to continue the practicing the feedlot system, for any number of reasons, including skyrocketing prices and reduced availability of cheap, grain based feedstock, regulations on runoff pollution to protect groundwater, etc etc — then consumers won’t have any choice in the matter. Consumption is a passive activity, and consumers have very little actual power, other than choosing to consume something or not. But if the thing they want to consume just plain isn’t available, or isn’t available at a price they can afford, then consumers are completely impotent.

  10. For the past 15 years or so I have been involved fighting against the adverse impacts of CAFOs, industrial dairies, livestock concentration camps, open pit livestock mines. They aren’t good for air, for land, for water, for people and certainly not for animals. They are not agri-culture, which implies some connection between the land, the people and the animal. They are plain and simple about exploitation. Industrial beef or dairy it is much the same, the only difference the milk cow gets mined of its milk for a few years before being turned into hamburger.

    I once asked a neighbor, a small dairy owner, what the life expectancy of a Holstein cow should be. He said, “They used to live 12 to 15 years, but that was before we changed the diet. Now they live 4 – 5 years.” Great diet, eh?

    The diet along with the intense concentration of the animals created a serious odor and waste problem. Too many animals concentrated in too small and area and fed an unnatural diet creates lots of problems. Government looks away, doesn’t address the issues of cumulative impact.

    Starting energy education classes I write 2 billion, 6 billion and 9 billion out across the top of the white board. Those are the human population numbers when I was a kid, now and when the current kids are my age. Cumulative impact, how does the planet support all the wants, what more the needs of that many people?

    There are certainly lots of aspects to the issue. So much for a chicken in every pot or a steak on every plate.

    At almost 64, I’ve been a vegetarian for a bit better than half my life. I’ve also been a yogi and do a fair piece of manual labor. I am finding that though I am very active, I need to eat less and less. We do have choices and we best be making some good ones soon.

    I have no tolerance for sport killing, but I do respect those that chose to eat meat, that hunt in a spiritual and respectful way. Seems far better to eat an animal that lived a good life than one that spent its life or most of it in a livestock concentration camp.

  11. i’m finally getting to this article and feel relief at its common sense approach. the dinosaurs disappeared because they were too big to sustain life. the industrial approach to livestock creates something that is also too big to sustain life. there’s another issue in relation to meat. some people have no choice about eating it. their bodies may not handle vegetable proteins well enough for health. they may be allergic to things like milk products, eggs, soy, etc. or there may be substances in specific kinds of meat that they need that they cannot make inside themselves and cannot get any other way. i’m one of those kinds of people, and i’ve seen the fate of others like me who lived in a country where their families saw eating meat and eggs as shameful. can you imagine the life of a highly moral mother who had to hide in the garage with a kind, low-class servant to eat an egg or a small bowl of stew because her health demanded it and to keep this as secret as a heroine addiction? i do wish the food nazis would get off their high horses and work towards a saner way to include me and those like me, as well as those who simply don’t agree with them. a bigot is a bigot no matter what the stripe.

  12. This article does make sense. If the price of meat reflected the harm done the environment, feed-lot beef would probably not be cheaper than grass-fed. I believe it’s feeding cows a diet they cannot digest that is the insult to the cow, not eating them. And taking no responsibility for the run-off is an insult to the earth. I found the farm in Michael Pollan’s book a delight to read about.

  13. “And the fact that the product of this exercise “tastes good” sounds pretty lame as an excuse.” — I disagree. That right there is what makes it all worth it. The problem with this solution is that it’s completely inefficient. When push comes to shove, it all comes down to market forces. Consumers want beef, lots of it, and they want it cheap. While your points about the impact on the environment are well received, they’re unfortunately irrelevant. The market will not willingly tolerate increasing the price of beef (which is, of course, what’ll happen if we turn away from factory farming and move towards these green methods) regardless of its impact on the environment. The environment is just going to have to step up and take another one for the team.

  14. The problem is there is only so much elasticity in the eco-system. We have probably maxed out the immune system and now the dis-ease of dis-connect will take its toll.

    It is the old law of karma, we will reap what we have sown and we haven’t sown well.

  15. A local farm supplies us with grass-fed lamb, chicken, pork and beef in a meat CSA once a month. This has been our solution, as a few of us in the family thrive with some meat in our diet.

    On another note: Another local farm is losing 25% of its crops each year to deer (this is in Boston!, who have no natural predators around here. By law the farmers cannot kill the deer! How bizarre–selling a few venison steaks alongside the beets and arugula would be good for farmer, consumer, and ecosystem.

    Meat has its place.

  16. Where did you get the statistic that one billion people are herders?

    I can believe it (and imagine some of the “herds” are small), but I’m wondering who would measure this.

  17. Hi, AT.

    You said: “The problem with this solution is that it’s completely inefficient. When push comes to shove, it all comes down to market forces. Consumers want beef, lots of it, and they want it cheap.”

    Under what guise is the current system “efficient”? It’s only “efficient” when all the costs (land/ecosystem health, animal health, and human health) are NOT internalized. Including those costs makes the current system inefficient and uneconomically viable. Animal and human health — and information about health and the effects of feedlot v grassfed — are also part of the “market.”

    And as for the environment taking another one for the “team”–we are all the “team.”

  18. Herds of hoofed ungulates did, indeed, once roamed the land. But that was then, and this was now. We’ve got almost seven billion people on the planet. We need to look forward and find 21st century solutions. Nostalgia yearnings for days gone by won’t solve our problems.

    The benefits of pasture-raised animals are overblown and the negatives overlooked. For example, cows raised on pasture produce an estimated four times more methane than those at feedlots. Animals allowed to move around expend more calories and thus consume more resources than those crammed into crates and cages. A shift to eating pasture-raised animals doesn’t offer a viable solution for the masses unless consumption is slashed by well over 90 percent. Until meat becomes a small part of the diet rather than something Americans eat at the rate of 270 pounds a year, factory farms will be the norm. There are just too many people to feed, and, unfortunately, population is growing exponentially. Where, exactly, is all of this “free range?” How much of the planet would need to be deforested to make room for mass grazing? Do the math.

    We, as environmentalists, must set the right example. Do we tell the world that it’s okay for the privileged to eat meat, but everyone else must be vegetarians? Or do we embrace the necessity of a paradigm shift towards healthy, plant-based diets? Factory farms are killing the planet, but “elite meat” is not the answer. Why must we cling to the desire to eat flesh when there is no need to do so, we are healthier without it, and the environmental effects are so devastating?

  19. Interesting article here very interesting. In my opinion we should basically eat from what Mother Nature gives us. Really would better for us in the long run and plus wouldn’t have to worry about the environment as much.
    I try not to eat meat but with a family that loves meat kinda hard so when I’m out I’ll go for a salad just something that is not meat. But we shouldn’t push people to not eat meat if they knew the truth the real truth then yeah they could switch over. The younger generation would be easy to switch over but the older generation is kinda hard from my stand point anyway.

  20. Dear Bill,

    Thanks for your authenticity and many sagacious comments. Perhaps much of the world in which we live has gone utterly mad. Whatsoever is politically correct, economically expedient, socially convenient and culturally prescribed appears to be automatically espoused loudly as “the truth”. Ideological idiocy prevails over science. Greed rules this world. Intellectual honesty, personal accountability, moral courage and doing the right thing are rarely expressed.

    As a consequence, the human community appears to be inadvertently making a colossal mess of our planetary home, Earth. Everyone can see what is happening but few people are willing to speak out about what they can observe occurring around us. Billions of people are recklessly engaged in per-capita overconsumption and scandalous hoarding of resources; in megabillion-dollar pyramid schemes and unsustainable large-scale industrial enterprises; and in overpopulating the planet.

    Let me give you an example of what I mean. What happens if it turns out that human population dynamics are common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species? What does that mean? From my humble inexpert perspective, it means increasing production of food the world over equals increasing numbers of human organisms worldwide; less available food for consumption equals less humans; and no food equals no people. Just that simple.

    Bill, imagine our failure to acknowledge that human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species as the greatest misperception in human history because this failure could eventually result in a global ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort. In such circumstances would experts not have a duty to science and humanity that would lead them to correct so vital a mistaken impression of what could somehow be real? It appears to me that many too many experts have willfully rejected the best available science of human population dynamics by ignoring certain evidence and chosen to let stand, as if scientific, preternatural thinking based upon specious understandings derived from inadequate ‘scientific’ investigations.

    Extant research of human population dynamics appears to directly contradict the near-universal misconception that humanity needs to increase in a seemingly endless way global food harvests in order to meet the needs of a growing population. The best available research indicates just the opposite: that, just like other species, the size and availability of the human food supply is the independent variable upon which the global human population depends for existence.

    Please note, too, that this relationship cannot be conveniently passed over as a “chicken and egg” situation. That appears to be one of the ways many people have found to miss the point of the science. Because an adequate enough understanding of the relationship between food supply and its effect on human numbers could have profound implications for the future of life as we know it on Earth, perhaps this relationship could be made the subject of authentic communication.

    Thanks again to you and the Orion community for speaking out.



  21. Stewart David – I agree with you that the current amount of meat that Americans eat is the main factor contributing to the existence of factory farming (and all of its horrors). I see this as a challenge for education to tackle – a daunting challenge for sure. but it is possible.

    However your post seems to show that you have not read or you have disregarded the previous posts in this thread from people who have not been able to maintain their health on a plant-based diet. Believe it or not, there are many folks out there who have tried unsuccessfully to be healthy vegetarians or vegans.

    Like you perhaps, my wife and I were among the enlightened vegetarian ones, celebrating our eco-enlightenment while judging others for not following our example of how a human ‘should’ eat. Like you, we insisted that there was no justifiable reason to ‘eat flesh’.

    We scoffed at our holistic doctor who repeatedly expressed concern that our health was not benefitting from a lack of animal protein. We continued to scoff until our health deteriorated enough that there was no choice but to incorporate a small amount of meat into our diet . And so we did. And our health improved greatly. And we continue to do so – but none of it is factory farmed. We are humbled, and grateful.

    Like religion, one diet does not fit all. And as long as vegan and vegetarian fundamentalists insist that they are the sole representatives of the only path to dietary-ecological enlightenment and salvation, they will continue to be incorrect, and they will have little more to offer to the food production challenges facing us than something akin to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say NO”.

  22. I see a step towards the controlled and managed market hunting for deer as a logical solution to the ecoogical havoc wreaked by large scale industrial meat farming. It is time that we declared the recovery of the Eastern Whitetail a success and adopt a sane approach for its exploitation as a protein sorce.

    Joel Salatin’s corner of Valley is one I have known very well for over 50 years and I’m sure that he would tell you that deer predation to his cereal crops is huge. It is so bad in that region of Augusta County that the historic winter snows didn’t make much of a dent in the population that I can tell. The deer yarded up and ate whatever green ornamentals they could find. (My mother’s azaleas got a good shearing.) When the snow melted last month, while you might have expected to see bleaching bones and hides, you saw….nothing much. In the Blue Ridge on the trails of SNP, same story. Why do we turn our backs (and stomachs) on such an amazingly resilient source of protein? Think of the potential to feed sustainably so many and put the ecology back in a better balance. Hunters alone can’t eat enough venison to keep this population down. A regulate market hunt each year might could.

  23. Kevin: Well said. My experiences and perspectives (both past and present) match yours closely.

    Plowboy: Interesting thought. Here in Vermont, the whitetail population is fairly sparse. In your region, though, I do hear it has gotten rather out of hand.

  24. Hi, Plowboy.

    So, how do you learn how to hunt when you don’t come from a family that hunts?

    When I lived in Northern Virginia, I was out walking one evening at dusk in a crowded suburban neighborhood and came across a herd of deer…seven, including a buck. I can’t tell you how shocked I was. That area abutted a park, which was probably where those deer spent most of their time. They were not at all disturbed by the presence of people.

    Many of the deer taken in controlled hunts there are provided to soup kitchens in the area. I prefer the hunts over seeing the carnage along the highways. But that goes for any animal.

  25. Hi Kevin,

    I read every word. But I follow the science, not anecdotal information.

    The overwhelming body of science tells us that the less animal products we eat, the healthier we will be. I’m not just talking about T. Colin Campbell’s The China Study (
    Even the conservative American Dietetic Society says: “It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life-cycle including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood and adolescence and for athletes.”

    IMHO, based on both reading the science and my discussions with those who didn’t thrive on plant-based diets, is that most who had problems ignored the “appropriately planned” portion of the statement above.

    Regarding anecdotal evidence, I’ll share my personal story, since you shared yours. At the age of 30 my cholesterol was over 200 and I was on my way to obesity, heart disease, and who knows what other ailments. At 60, after over twenty years of eating a plant-based diet, my cholesterol is now 135 and I’m 20 pounds lighter. I credit my dietary changes with saving my life.

    Those who believe in the need to eat flesh, eggs, and dairy products usually ignore the fact that the quantities currently consumed are insane. That’s generally absent from the conversation when people tout “alternatives” like pasture-raised. Some folks send the irresponsible message that it’s okay to gorge oneself on these products, which I think is clearly the wrong message to send. I’m glad you are not in that camp.

  26. Hey back at ya Leigh.

    Hmm. Well, if you have no experience with firearms, hunting, or dressing game, and it is only the meat you are after, I’d say that the best way to go is to befriend a hunter. You might go down to your local gun dealer or any place that sells hunting licenses and ask around. Most hunters have a pretty good accumulation of deer meat in their freezers that they just can’t bear to waste. (In my experience, the hunter is sometimes the ONLY family member who eats it and it does tend to stack up. I had one friend, who when you visited him, you had to keep your car windows rolled up so he wouldn’t throw in a haunch as you were leaving. He loved to hunt, but his wife only would deign to cook deer a few times a year.) I’ll bet that you’ll find one who will make a gift of some to you. Even better, locate a local deer processor…sometimes a mom and pop operation that butchers animals for a fee during the season. Selling wild game meat is illegal in every state as far as I know, so don’t offer money. What you can do is offer barter, or just let them know that if a hunter doesn’t wish to keep his kill (usually a large buck, killed only for the trophy rack) he/she can donate it to you. You may have to pay some or all of the processing fee though.

    Be aware that the quality of venison varies greatly, depending on nutrition, diet, sex, size, age and (most importantly) how cleanly it was killed and how quickly the deer was gutted and the carcass cooled. Every successful hunter will have an opinion on what tastes best to him/her, and it is valuable knowledge.

    Good luck!


  27. Hey, Leigh, just to follow up on Wade’s last comment:

    Those of us who come to hunting as adults are definitely in the minority among hunters. But I think we’re a growing minority.

    For women, there are many helpful programs such as BOW (Becoming an Outdoorswoman). For men, I don’t think there’s anything comparable.

    Personally, I explored it mostly on my own, with help and support from a few hunters I know, including one uncle. For me, that was the way to go, as my move toward hunting was an ethically and emotionally sensitive one.

    But more “public” opportunities do seem to be on the rise. Jack Landers (in Virginia) has been offering “Deer Hunting for Locavores” classes, though I think he might be getting too busy with other projects to continue them. And the Bull Moose Hunting Society (based in CA, but expanding across the country) is drawing quite a few adults to the pursuit as well.

  28. For the millionth time I will quote Einstein “We can’t solve our problems at the same level of thinking at which we created them.” Only I will change the word thinking to “consciousness”. Our thinking comes out of our consciousness, our awareness.

    The sport killer (freezer full of unused meat) and the commandant of the livestock concentration camp share the same disconnected consciousness. Powder powered projectile pointers, those that hunt with high powered rifles aren’t even required to be as attuned as those that hunt with a bow or a spear.

    We have to keep the multiplier in mind 7 billion, can we sustain not only our lives but the lives of other species with our decisions and actions. No matter what it is we chose we must do it with the whole in mind.

  29. Sure Bill…goes without saying.

    Not to get drawn into the whole man-is-carnivore-man-is-herbivore rock fight, but eating wild meat, to me, IS a shift in the level of thinking. Truth told, it is a shift BACK to a solar powered food chain that is there for the taking. Another truth is that by doing it, you’ll help the vegetarians around you who will find their grain production increase.

    And, if you prefer to take your meat with a hand carved ash bow, dogwood shoot arrow shaft with sinew fletched turkey wing feathers and hand knapped flint point….well, crack down on it! (Hell, it’s getting to the point that you can probably walk up to one and club it with a stick and be as successful.)

    No matter what food chain you are part of..vegan, vegetarian or carnivore.. you can’t overlook that you are probably at the end of a petroleum based production chain as well. The whitetail (or moose, or elk or caribou) hunter, to a great degree, is not.


  30. And Bill…

    If you’ve ever had to stalk, shoot, track, gut and drag a whitetail, the last thing you are going to feel or be is “disconnected” from the animal, I assure you. 🙂

  31. Hello Stewart –

    I am glad that you found a dietary path that led you to good health – that is something to celebrate!

    Likewise you can probably imagine how grateful I was when I switched from a well-researched science-based vegetarian diet to an omnivorous diet and found my own return to good health. Or can you not allow that?

    You see, fundamentalism is a sneaky thing. It is always looking for a monopoly on the truth and is very willing to deny others the validity of their experience – especially as it relates to the truth of their own bodies. You cite the scripture of the China Study and the church of science via the American Dietetic Association. When I was a vegevangelist I also touted the China Study, until I found out more regarding how the data was gathered. As for the ADA, a cursory search on the internet just now revealed that they are far from objective in anything they do, since they are closely aligned with major food corporations. Follow the money and you will see the quality of the science.

    I’m not sure what it is about vegetarianism that makes one so susceptible to claiming a monopoly on the truth. As a former vegetarian fundamentalist I remember this tendency well. For some reason everyone else just had to be wrong. I can vividly recall how much it diminished the quality of my listening to others. Perhaps it is because I felt so marginalized that I felt so divinely informed, correct and holy. Any ideas?

  32. Well put again, Kevin. I wish I’d gotten this discussion going over at my blog. It would fit right in! I have material for a related post kicking around in the back of my mind.

    Speaking of how righteousness might come from feeling marginalized, I notice the same phenomenon among some hunters, too.

  33. Hey Leigh –

    I also came to hunting from a non-hunting family. I was familiar with firearms however and as a former wildlife filmmaker I knew something about how to be in the wilds among other critters, but there was still a ton to learn. I was fortunate to become friends with a neighbor through the local volunteer fire department who has been a great teacher and who has tremendous respect for wildlife.

    As Plowboy said you can check out the local gun shop / sporting goods stores. But here’s a caveat – if you are liberal-leaning, be prepared for culture shock – and don’t wear a t-shirt applauding a liberal cause. At the risk of making a gross generalization, I would say that gun shops are not going to be the optimal place to meet folks who outwardly display much sensitivity regarding hunting. That has been my experience at least. Much depends on the culture surrounding the shop that you visit. The area around the gun shop / sporting goods store I frequent is peopled by very right-leaning loggers and ex-loggers and so I keep my touchy-feely hunting stories to myself.

    The key of course is to find a hunter or hunters who have strong ethics around hunting and who also love to share their knowledge. How to find them? I don’t know where you are located but I would suggest trying to find a local chapter of an organization such as the Elk Foundation that does habitat restoration and that sort of thing. Already you will be mingling with folk who want to give as well as get.

    Understand that hunting is a big undertaking, involving intimate knowledge of habitat, weather, the weapon you are using and the creature you are pursuing. There is much to learn, yes – but if you enjoy learning and being outdoors, the ancient art of hunting can have a tremendous amount to offer you.

    And practice practice practice with your chosen weapon! It is imperative that you be familiar and comfortable and competent with it. By the way the notion that someone posted here that a high-powered rifle disconnects you from the process has obviously never hunted. A high powered rifle ensures a clean and humane death to your prey.

    As I said the key is, find an able teacher. When the student is ready the teacher will appear. Be sure to offer to do something for your mentor in return. Make sure your teacher is ethical, generous and understanding. Consider the possibility that when you do take your first deer that you may get emotional, so choose a hunting companion who will not judge you if you shed some tears. Fare forward!

    I recognize that this whole exploration of hunting is leading away from the central focus of the Orion article. Should we take it elsewhere, like to Tovar’s blog?

  34. Very sound advice Kevin, I think.

    I guess I was the one who veered us off into this territory. While my tangent doesn’t jibe with McKibben’s discussion of grass fed beef’s carbon footprint and such, I do think it is in the spirit of his approach. Namely: How do we optimize the “greeness” of our meat?

    As I’ve said, to me, nothing is as natural a source of protein as an animal you don’t have to birth, nurse, graze, innoculate, shelter, castrate, dehorn, dip, dock, brand or feed.

    Especially when you consider other environmental costs of the grass fed cow.

    Someone mentioned Virginia farmer Joel Salatin, and as I said, I know his part of the world very well. Beef from the upper end of the Shenandoah Valley is some of the best I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve tasted a lot. Much of it is exclusively pastured beef. (In recent years it has almost been exclusively Angus, as opposed to the Herefords I knew/ate growing up.) That part of the Valley is know as the “River’s Head” district for good reason. There are lots of creeks (or “drafts” as they are known in that area) and the best grazing land has at least one or two flowing across it. The cattlemen mostly allow their stock free access to the water. What you’ll see on a hot summer’s day is any number of them standing in the streams, doing what cows do best. What this does to the Chesapeake Bay is well documented. Cow manure=algae bloom=no oxygen=dead Bay.

    So, I’d say that HOW you grass feed your beef is also a big part of the equation.

    The more enlightened stock growers take advantage of the Commonwealth’s subsidies to fence off streams and plant riparian areas to reduce this kind of thing. As one cattleman up Salatin’s way told me, he does it first and foremost for the simple fact that he has far smaller vet bills for a cow who doesn’t stand in water all day. Still, there is a decided resistance to any program, even one for the greater good, driven by an aversion to anything that the gumint offers that infringes on the absolute right to do as you please. That seems to be loosening in recent years.

    Let me also (reluctantly) throw this on the pile: I feel that most of modern agriculture’s problems of unsustainability can be directly attributed to the removal of animals from the farm. Salatin’s closed loop/low input model is only possible when animals are part of the equation. In that regard, he’s returning to the model that was the norm there and everywhere else. Like lots of other farms from the 19th century, my great, great grandfather’s has a huge barn given over to decay. One reason is the advent of the round bale, but the biggest reason is there are no animals to husband anymore. A tractor shed just about covers it.


  35. In his essay on the evils of industrial cattle farming for the purposes of meat production, Bill McKibben, interchanges “red meat” and “animal flesh” at the beginning of the article with “industrial livestock production” later on. I think it’s important to separate the two former phrases from the latter. They are not one and the same. He corrects this broad brush stroke later in the article when he discusses the former practice of hunting (“former” in the historical sense of a hunter-gatherer), but by then the reader is already equating one with the other. Thus, we are left to conclude that red meat equals industrial livestock production, and we all have to become vegetarian to save the world from climate change.
    Industrial livestock production is bad; I agree with him on that. But what has made such a process necessary? We will not correct that supply and demand issue by becoming vegetarian, which Sir Paul McCartney (as quoted by McKibben) seems to believe is “the biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyles to help the environment.”
    Shortening the food chain – the distance between origin and plate – is important. But what will shift our society away from the need for industrial livestock production is to stop having children. All of us. THAT is the biggest change anyone could make in their own lifestyle. That is the sacrifice that is necessary to relieve some of the pressure our presence on this planet places on the resources we need to survive.

  36. Plowboy, Tovar, and Kevin:

    Thank you kindly for your suggestions. I’m in too-suburban a location to find a local abattoir that handles deer, but I know of some elsewhere that I may try. I have not heard of BOW or Landers, so I will check out the organization, and, if Landers is too busy, maybe he’ll know of someone. People’s political persuasion doesn’t much concern me…my family’s various shades of purple, so I’m accustomed to differing views…but thank you for the heads-up.

    My only experience along similar lines involved stew roosters…It was not a pleasant experience, but it made me appreciate all the more my place in this Space. I imagine taking a deer would be quite different, because they live the wild, they are wild, even though they appear tame to me.

    And I wholeheartedly agree with Plowboy about the need to look to more of a sun-chlorophyll-photosynthesis-animal protein chain. I’m in the process of becoming an herbalist, and I can’t tell you how much it troubles me the short shrift that we humans give so many plants, if we pay attention to them at all. I believe each one has sentience, that they move in their own ways, with their own types of energies. And although they are very giving, they also do not exist for us. I think the only way to “choose with the whole in mind” — and in heart, I’ve got to add to what Bill Chisholm says — is to become cognizant of our place in relation to everything else. Plants and animals — whether we are “merely” beholding them or whether we are eating them — give context to our lives. In fact, that may be their greatest gift to us–one that goes beyond bodily sustenance. And for that, we need to be grateful.

  37. As for the diet discussion, there are many, many appropriate plant- and animal-based diets. It really depends on one’s bodily constitutional proclivities…best to avoid that which makes us feel bad, and gravitate to what makes us feel good — and these can change through different stages of life (like adolescence or menopause or andropause). Sometimes figuring out what makes us feel bad means we have to stop eating them for a while and then add them back to check their effects.

    Incidentally, what we’ve done to commodity crops is just as crazy — and just as destructive — as CAFOs. Soy is a good example. Soy’s best assimilated when it’s been fermented, as in miso. Soy, hops, and pomegranate are all estrogenic. So beer, infant formula, and pomegranate juice–we need to question these things. I’d say the same about any newfangled plant-based (or animal-based) food. We should know something about the plant before we ingest or imbibe.

    So, Tovar, thanks for mentioning your blog; I will check it out.

  38. Kevin,

    I quoted the American Dietetic Association because they are, as you note, aligned with major food corporations. They are a very conservative group, yet even they had to admit what the preponderance of scientific evidence reveals. I do believe that the less animal products we eat, the healthier we are. You obviously disagree, but there is no reason to insult me and call me names because of it. Calm down and quit being so emotional!

    My point, which you evade, is that if we, the people, continue eating a meat-centered diet, we’ll continue to have factory farms. We could clearcut the entire planet and not produce enough pasture-raised beef to replace what comes out of the feedlots. That’s hardly an environmentally-friendly approach to food production. Those who feel like they are making a difference by buying pasture-raised beef need to acknowledge that along with this change, they also need to eat a lot less of the stuff. If they buy from a local farmer, they are thinking locally. If they eat 100-200 pounds of flesh every year, they aren’t acting globally and looking at the big picture. Feeding plants to animals and eating the animals rather than simply eating the plant food directly is wasteful. And continuing this model, as world population expands, is a recipe for disaster. Do you disagree?

    I encourage anyone interested in learning more about plant-based diets to check out this link from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine:

  39. I’ve thought a lot about how we and the food supply are bound to the same immutable law: If your energy returned by your food falls short (in eating it)of the energy invested to grow it, you are by definition participating in a non-sustainable practice which will yield increasingly smaller marginal returns.

    This inefficiency continues to ramp up. All food grown, either animal or vegetable, is going to crash into the realities of dwindling and increasingly expensive fossil fuel inputs. Because of that, I think we will increasingly see silly squabbles over whose food of choice is “best.” (The absurdity extends to even a distinction made between Red state red meat eaters and Blue state granola crunchers. Hell, we’ve managed to politicize our dinner plates. How screwed up is that?)

    Show of hands here….who thinks that the world food supply is going to be increasingly cheaper and abundant in the next few decades? And I’m talking about cereals, grains, fruits, nuts, herbs, vegetables, dairy and meat. Not a one, I’m betting.

    Another straw poll…who thinks that their particular preferred food group(s)(see above) is likely to be able to meet the increasing demand for calories? If you think that, I’d challenge you to think again.

    It is just irrefutable that we will need ALL combinations of food
    to feed the world’s population. What works one place…say free range bison on a plains commons…is not possible in some other location. If you are growing corn by sucking water out of the Oglala aquifer, you are also not adapting to your conditions to reach the greatest efficiency. As Wendell Berry has repeatedly noted, we need to find out what is possible “here.” Yes, I’d also agree that people, on average (especially for the majority of Americans)need to eat less of EVERYTHING if the pie is going to feed everyone who wants dessert.


  40. Hi, Stewart.

    I guess “pastured” could also be a misnomer for those areas where nothing but “livestock” will grow. I’m thinking of places like Ireland, but also Appalachia, where certain small ruminants do well in rocky, steep places…places where, unless we adopt terraces, we will not be able to grow annuals. (More on this below.)

    In my own diet, I feel that because I eat higher-quality beef or pork, I also eat much less. Going out to eat is a different story, but we do that much less than we used to. And here, you’ve inspired me to start tracking pounds, because I doubt, but don’t know for sure, that I eat — what was the number you mentioned earlier? — 275 lb meat/annually.

    About annuals: What I dream of seeing here in the Mid-Atlantic is a perennial, forest-based diet. Like Wade, I know we are bumping up against the limits of eating crude-as-food. And this type of forest gardening/silviculture likely will play a much larger role in the way we eat. Greens, mushrooms, small fruits, nuts, small game.

    But we can also do more with permaculture methods in our own back yards. If people in suburbia, where I live, can get over viewing what I’m doing as “farming,” then there may be hope. We have only a couple of patches of grass left, and I hope to convert those, too, this growing season to form of biomass that will store more CO2, etc.

  41. Good luck on your “lawn elimination” strategy Leigh. I’ve had one in place for many years. Most neighbors, I find, can be bought off with merely a couple of heirloom tomatoes. One year I sprouted a bunch of those and passed them out to anyone who wanted to grow them. Some had spectacular yields and it blew their minds. This year, some approached me to see if they could get some more. No, I told them, but they should now be growing their own seedlings anyway. As they say, “The first one is always free.”

  42. Hello Stewart –

    I’m sorry you got upset from my last post, as I intended no insult to you. I have actually been enjoying this lively discussion.

    My central challenge to your posts has not been that we disagree on whether vegetarianism is a viable alternative for all people on the planet. I fully support and celebrate that you have found what is right for YOUR health and well-being. And I have not ‘evaded’ the issue of the need for people to eat much less meat, as that is central to my philosophy and also to my personal practice of being an omnivore hunter (read my earlier posts again and you will see). I very much agree with you that a plant-based diet is superior to a meat-centered diet, if by a meat-centered diet you mean a diet where meat is about the only thing on the plate (although it seems to work for the Inuit). I fully advocate the health benefits of a plant-based diet, meaning mostly vegetables with some animal protein as well. Unless I am incorrect, the longest-lived people on the planet have this kind of omnivorous diet.

    No, I don’t mind that we disagree. My challenge to you has been that you have been denying the validity of other’s actual experience that their bodies feel better with a little animal protein, and your reasons for this denial are flawed. I do not need to be emotional to call this inflexibility ‘fundamentalist thinking’. It is not a flattering term but I believe it is accurate. Fundamentalism, as defined by Merriam Webster, is “A movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles.”

    You claim to have science on your side, but perhaps you are unaware that there are also many scientific studies out there which show that a strictly plant-based diet can be hazardous for some, even many people, depending on their physiology and the particular phase of life that they are in. Reliance on soy in particular has been implicated in research studies with hormone disruption, cognitive decline, reproductive disorders, even heart disease and cancer – studies which the soy industry has tried to suppress (read, for instance, The Whole Soy Story by Kaayla T. Daniel, PhD, CCN). If you want to see other scientific studies relating to the risks of vegetarianism here is a link to the Weston A. Price Foundation “Vegetarian Tour” .

    Again I say, if being a strict vegetarian works for you, then I am happy you have found a diet that agrees with you. It’s just that science is actually not exclusively or even preponderantly in agreement that this diet works for everyone.

    And as for the American Dietetic Association, they also receive a great deal of money from Monsanto, ConAgra and other immense agricultural soy-producing corporations, so naturally they are not going to be making recommendations in conflict with the markets that those corporations are developing. Holistic health/organic food advocates like myself do not regard the ADA as ‘conservative’, we regard them as corrupt.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you that protein production is going to be a continuing and increasing challenge for humanity. And I agree that beef production is way too inefficient energy-wise to meet this challenge for our planet, in any of its incarnations, if we continue to consume so much of it. However protein sources such as soy are not the answer either, given the well-documented health risks, and the continuing massive deforestation of the rain forest for soy production.

    Yes, the rain forest pays a dear price from vegetarians and meat-eaters alike…

    As we have all said here, the problems are immense – and I suggest it requires each of us to be creative, to keep and open mind, and to consider that the solutions will take a variety of forms. Eating smaller portions of beef and supporting local organic animal production and agriculture, developing other sources of protein such as through closed-containment recirculating aquaculture, considering the benefits of hunting if we are so inclined – there are many ways to gather those amino acids. Yes we are 7 billion, but it is what we each do as individuals that begins to knaw away at the issue of lessening our impact on this beautiful planet. For me that now means driving as little as I can, generating electricity off the grid through solar and micro hydro, and securing a protein source (venison) that is pretty near to my own back yard.

  43. Thanks, Plowboy.

    It’s the compost that has them upset. We moved two bins from what would be Zone 5 to Zone 2 and, in the process, picked up some wet leaves that accumulated near the bases over winter. These DID stink. But overall, the compost smells like dirt — or nothing, depending on one’s distance. We did offer kale and other greens, but only the husband eats them; it’s the wife who said everything was smelly. Mind you, these folks also garden a few tomatoes and cucumbers every year. But they do not compost. So, I don’t know if a buy-out will work with them, but I’m willing to try again.

  44. Leigh, you might have better success if you offered them some of your “black gold.” Guess that would be too yucky though, huh? I have to chuckle at anyone, fellow gardeners especially, who think decomposition is something that happens only in the poorer areas of town. I love the smell of compost in the morning…smells like victory!

    Here in the deep South where I live, the agrarian ethic runs fairly deep and you will seldom, if ever, catch anyone even on the tonier side of town deriding self-sufficiency of any sort. It is popular to stereotype the Southerner as a Wally-mart dependant, corn syrup guzzling cretin, but I have to tell you, in Birmingham, AL at least, most people are at most only one or two generations removed from a subsistence farming background. Up until only about 5 years ago, you could still find a feed store downtown that did a very brisk business. They know how to make do and have a well honed appreciation of what the little things are that make life enjoyable. A homegrown tomato still trumps any other luxury, as far as I can tell.


  45. As a rancher I’ve found this discussion very interesting. I’ve never considered myself a commandant or in the category of those who caused the Jewish Holocaust. We feel like caretakers and stewards. Our animals receive excellent care, often their needs are put above our own or our children’s. The same can be said of the feedlot operators buy our cattle.

    I’m one of those “poor people in distant places” that offer hospitality to strangers on the road taking pictures for Nat Geo because our land is in such great shape due to generations of controlled livestock grazing. Yes, I’ve fed them steak and roast. Please don’t patronize us.

    We are fortunate to live in a time and place of plenty. Freedom, peace, and food security should not be taken for granted. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and discussion.

    The latest from over the pond.

    By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent
    Published: 7:00AM BST 08 Apr 2010

    Cows absolved of causing global warming with nitrous oxide

  46. Thank you for the link, Wild Rose. I sometimes wish climate science could be simplified, so we could say, This is bad…this is acceptable. But there are so many complex interactions that, for someone not versed in systems modeling, it’s hard to understand. I don’t think any one of us would get a pass, because we all use energy in its various forms and that leaves an indelible, though not always discernible, mark. I agree with you — nothing should be taken for granted, but that also include ecosystem stability, which, in its own way, is a sort of peace.

  47. Just read this disturbing article about grass-fed beef on the NPR website ( ).

    I say ‘disturbing’ because it does nothing to educate the NPR audience about how grass-fed beef is so environmentally superior to corn-fed feedlot beef, and says nothing of the suffering that feedlot cattle experience as a result of the food they eat and the conditions they live under.

    It is a fluff piece such as I have never seen from NPR before (apparently NPR now receives major funding from Monsanto.. oh boy..).

    The comments section in response to the article is great however, showing that there are a lot of folks out there who will gladly pay more for beef that is produced consciously. Hats off to you, NPR listeners!

  48. From anybody who has experience with them, I’d like to know what the U.S.D.A. regs say about what constitutes “grass fed.” I’ve found that some stock growers are quick to slap that label on their beef, charge a premium and not advertise that the beef is corn “finished.” That is the case with a lot of the bison you find. Ted Turner’s ambition was (is?) to reach a point where he didn’t need to do that, both from a bottom line standpoint.. to get his meat to market quicker… and from a consumer palatability standpoint as well.

    Does anyone know?


  49. Plowboy,

    Not sure of the answer…maybe’s Jo Robinson would know? BUT, if “grassfed” is not regulated, then I’d prefer it not be. That would lead us into the industry-controlled morass that organic certification has become. Much better would be just to ask the farmer and visit the farm. That said, if a person rarely eats beef but buys a “grassfed” steak at the grocery store, then he/she probably has no way of actually knowing whether it was corn finished. There again, though, that’s true of anything where a long supply chain comes between the farm/farmer and eater.

  50. Causing the torment and death of another living creature because it tastes good is wrong- just plain wrong. There is no justification for it, even though many of the commenters are trying to justify it on the basis of health etc. Until the human species decides to include non-hauman animals and the natural world in the moral community, we are doomed.

  51. Lisa – I haven’t seen any posts here by omnivores saying that they torment other animals, or that they kill animals because ‘it tastes good’. Are you seeing things that don’t exist?

    You do raise an interesting point about the ‘moral community’ that we humans belong to along with what you call our ‘non-hauman’ brethren. But if as you indicate we and other animals belong to the same moral community (indicating that we are subject to the same moral code), then why is it that in your mind a lion or a hawk or a predatory free-range chicken can eat other animals and it is good, yet for us humans it is a sin?

    In your moral universe apparently you will allow an alligator to eat the baby egret on Wednesday morning that it needs to survive, but you will send the Dalai Lama himself to disease and a premature death because you will not allow him to eat the meat that his body needs (see his autobiography about how being a vegetarian when he arrived in India nearly killed him). Doesn’t that seem ‘just plain wrong’, as you say?

    You, like so many supposedly well-meaning vegetarians, seem so bent on your belief of moral superiority and having a monopoly on the truth – it is rather alarming to behold. As I have written here before, I remember being the same way when I was a vegetarian. I now think it was because my diet caused a nutritional deficiency and my brain was not getting a crucial enzyme that was needed to greet my fellow humans with respect.

  52. One effective way of limiting population growth is by educating women and enabling them to earn money (by microfinance, for instance). Independent women tend to have fewer children.

  53. Dear Nancy Schimmel,

    Your ideas are good ones; but there is still more to do.

    After more than ten years of trying to raise awareness about certain overlooked research, my focus remains riveted on the skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population and scientific evidence from Hopfenberg and Pimentel that the size of the human population on Earth is a function of food availability. More food for human consumption equals more people; less food for human existence equals less people; and no food, no people. This is to say, the population dynamics of the human species is essentially common to, not different from, the population dynamics of other living things.

    UN Secretary-General Mr. Kofi Annan noted in 1997, “The world has enough food. What it lacks is the political will to ensure that all people have access to this bounty, that all people enjoy food security.”

    Please examine the probability that humans are producing too much, not too little food; that the global predicament humanity faces is the way increasing the global food supply leads to increasing absolute global human population numbers. It is the super-abundance of unsustainble agribusiness harvests that are driving population numbers of the human species to overshoot, or explode beyond, the natural limitations imposed by a relatively small, evidently finite, noticeably planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth.

    The spectacular success of the Green Revolution over the past 40 years has “produced” an unintended and completely unanticipated global challenge, I suppose: the rapidly increasing supply of food for human consumption has given birth to a human population bomb, which is exploding worldwide before our eyes. The most formidable threat to future human wellbeing and environmental health appears to be caused by the unbridled, corporate overproduction of food on the one hand and the abject failure of the leaders of the human community to insist upon more fair and equitable redistribution of the world’s food supply so that “all people enjoy food security”.

    We need to share (not overconsume and hoard) as well as to build sustainable, human-scale farming practices (not corporate leviathans), I believe.

    For a moment let us reflect upon words from the speech that Norman Bourlaug delivered in 1970 on the occasion of winning the Nobel Prize. He reported, ” Man also has acquired the means to reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely. He is using his powers for increasing the rate and amount of food production. But he is not yet using adequately his potential for decreasing the rate of human reproduction. The result is that the rate of population increase exceeds the rate of increase in food production in some areas.” Plainly, Norman Bourlaug states that humanity has the means to decrease the rate of human reproduction but is choosing not to adequately employ this capability to sensibly limit human population numbers. He also notes that the rate of human population growth surpasses the rate of increase in food production IN SOME AREAS {my caps}. Dr. Bourlaug is specifically not saying the growth of global human population numbers exceeds global production of food. According to recent research, population numbers of the human species could be a function of the global growth of the food supply for human consumption. This would mean that the global food supply is the independent variable and absolute global human population numbers is the dependent variable; that human population dynamics is most similar to the population dynamics of other species. Perhaps the human species is not being threatened in our time by a lack of food. To the contrary, humanity and life as we know it could be inadvertently put at risk by the determination to continue the dramatic, large-scale overproduction of food, such as we have seen occur in the past 40 years.

    Recall Dr. Bourlaug’s prize winning accomplishment. It gave rise to the “Green Revolution” and to the extraordinary increases in the world’s supply of food. Please consider that the sensational increases in humanity’s food supply occasioned by Dr. Bourlaug’s great work gave rise to an unintended and completely unanticipated effect: the recent skyrocketing growth of absolute global human population numbers. We have to examine what appear to be potentially disastrous effects of increasing, large-scale food production capabiliities (as opposed to small-scale farming practices) on human population numbers worldwide between now and 2050. If we keep doing the “big-business as usual” things we are doing now by maximally increasing the world’s food supply, and the human community keeps getting what we are getting now, then a colossal ecological wreckage of some unimaginable sort could be expected to occur in the future.

    It may be neither necessary nor sustainable to continue increasing food production to feed a growing population. As an alternative, we could carefully review ways for limiting increases in the large-scale corporate production of food; for providing broad support of small-scale farming practices; for redistributing more equitably the present overly abundant world supply of food among the members of the human community; and for immediately, universally and safely following Dr. Bourlaug’s recommendation to “reduce the rate of human reproduction effectively and humanely.”

  54. Interesting thread. Reducing human reproduction and “non human bretheran” got me to thinking…just a question…Are we the only species that has sex for pleasure rather than reproduction purposes only? Anyone specialize is primates? Lisa I respect your viewpoint, however, in the natural world in my big backyard, a pasture actually, coyotes eat calves if they are not protected, coyotes have no moral objection. If I do not protect my cage free chickens with a fence they like them too. Racoons raid the chicken house if you forget to lock it. Every living thing struggles for survival including us.

  55. What an interesting discussion this has been; like life it is multi-faceted.

    Beyond the food supply as a vehicle for expanded population, the changes in medicine have saved lives of those that might not have made it otherwise and extended life expectancy. No other species has that in the quivers.

    An interesting link of the two is that industrial-ag while expanding the good supply has brought a lot of non-food to the table, which is impacting and off-setting some of the medical life extensions. Being that industrial-ag is a mining operation it is by its very nature exhausting the resources on which it depends, so there are two roads converging that will lead to lowered population. Throw in the disasters in waiting in the confined livestock world of antibiotic resistance and potential for pandemics.

    Humans do have the capacity for choice and it is interesting that in the area of local food production is where some of the most incredible creative energy is taking place. Grassroots leadership is certainly outpacing the ineptness of our political leaders in coming to grips with our problems.

  56. P. Moss’ comment is entirely too cynical. In the wake of government intervention we have seen a reduction in sulfur dioxide since 1980 of nearly 50%. Innovative ideas in America are and abroad are key to eradicating our problems but you’re right there are over consumption issues involved. Without reducing our energy demands and wasting less, the world will see increased pollution. This is not to say that instances such as better cattle farming techniques will not help. The article mentions using electric fencing in order to herd cattle to graze distributively. This seems unrealistic for most but if there became a market for grass-fed beef more and more would demand this food. Without consumer demand, this technique may not be worth it.

  57. The majority of farming operations are producing losses, which may be preventable.Science and technology are working overtime to find cost effective solutions to restoring the Symbiotic relationship between Livestock and Nature. In the interim successful Scandinavian live stock farmer are implementing a cost effective solutions of integrating the livestock industry with nature. Utilizing the potential hidden in feed, livestock farmers produce more in terms of quality and quantity on 20 per cent less feed, not to mention the drop pharmaceuticals. The environmental impact is reduced at the same time. By analyzing both excrement and blood from i.e. poultry, research detected that there was more than 50 per cent drop in ammonia (NH3) suggesting that the availability to improve nutrition reduced the GHG (green house gases) emissions.

    The conclusion is that it’s possible in a economical feasible way to reduce GHG emission from livestock without compromising feed efficiency and jeopardizing animal health

  58. Allan Svory has the solution for having cows the natural way

  59. Sand – the Dinosaurs did not die out because they were too big to sustain life. They lived for 160 million years, in what appears to have been more or less equilibrium with the environment of the time (for million year stretches). And some were no larger than chickens.

    Wild Rose – Look up Bonobos, Pan paniscus, for a non-human species that engages in widespread sexual activity beyond strict mating purposes – even more so than humans. Sexual intercourse is used for greeting, conflict avoidance, conflict resolution, and a host of other social purposes.

    Sexual activity actually fulfils more functions than reproduction in many species, from crows to dolphins (“A Mind in the Water” in the May/June issue actually touches on that), as a source of social bonding, dominance or hierarchy (unfortunately). I don’t know of a good reference to an overview of the research, but it turns up in the natural history of many species.


  60. Great comments, but PLEASE use some references. Anybody can write stuff, but finding sources so claims could become facts takes some work. If the writer did so, the work could have some legs and run too fast for the meat industry to eat it, thus make a real difference!

  61. Though I already knew the answer, I once asked a small dairy owner/neighbor what the life of expectancy of a Holstein should be. He said, “They used to live 12-15 years, but that was before we changed their diet. Now they live 4-5.” There is no ethic in much of industrial-ag, which is not agri-culture. These animals are viewed not as living creatures, but as machines to be pushed to maximum production and then discarded.

    There are those that say the growth hormones not only impact the cows but are responsible for some of the early maturation of young girls, who get them through the milk that is pushed as nature’s perfect food. That statement is true for young bovine, but questionable beyond that.

  62. I’ve been thinking about that old adage that we are what we eat. This is true at the molecular level and also culturally. We are becoming a lot like these feedlot cows ourselves; eating the wrong things, confining ourselves, medicating the symptoms of our disease.

    The parallels between how we treat cows and how we treat children are very frightening to me. For example, the rise in diabetes, autism, obesity etc. mean that today’s youth will be the first generation of Americans to live shorter lives than their parents. Our children don’t free range like they used to. And the mental environment in education is similarly impoverished and commodified: there is relentless emphasis on standardized testing (an obsession with meaningless measuring and sorting that’s a lot like the nutritionism Pollan describes) and institutional expedience (the feedlot) and little respect for basic human instincts like play.

    I think Marshall Mcluhan was getting at this idea when he said “the medium is the message.” How we do something is actually what we do. The answer to the question, “Do we want to be what it is we eat?” is fairly obvious if we think about it.

  63. It is our birthright to be connected to all things and all beings.
    To live at ease in the world.
    To be in harmony with each other and with Nature.
    Those things, beings, institutions that dis-connect us, profit from our dis-ease and create dis-harmony among us and with Nature are the antithesis to that birthright. There is a big difference between agri-culutre, which implies a connection to land, water, air, neighbors and animals and industrial-ag which is plain and simple exploitation of those things for profit.

  64. Bill — Thank you for the article I’ve been waiting for. My analysis generally agrees with yours (we can argue about the details later) — grazing animals are critical elements of grass systems, and they can provide the tools to heal the earth if properly managed.
    I do want to ask/plead with you that, with 10-10 events being planned in association with, the organization inform its followers about what you discuss here in this article. Without this, we never reach 350. ***It puzzles me that an organization called “350” would almost exclusively present information that would slow down the rise in CO2 and not reverse it.*** I recall your article “calling for a fast greenhouse gas reduction to 350 parts per million” that only argued for reduced rates of emissions, ignoring the potential we have to sewuester carbon in soils. Please consider making information available to your energized following that will turn this thing around, not just slow it down! Your words: “That level is 350, and it’s a non-negotiable demand from the planet itself.” It will take more than GHG reductions, and not just “a different kind of PPM-a ‘people powered movement'” either, but actually sequestering carbon from the atmosphere — putting it in the soil, where it belongs. Please put this idea out there! And have a happy 10-10!! Glenn Gall

  65. Homegrown shrimp from local growers is a clean protein. There are many freshwater shrimp farming operators in the US, but this is a niche business that has huge demand and more growers are needed. Consumers, like the author and those who have made comments, are demanding clean food. You can learn how to start a shrimp production operation at our site.

  66. Three words: The Vegetarian Myth. Handles morals and ethics and the how-to’s as well. By the awesome and eloquent Lierre Keith.

  67. Studies have shown the obvious-that animals raised in their natural environment, eating the foods they evolved to eat are healthier and this benefit transfers to anyone consuming these animals. Corporate raised meats-grain and junk food fed- are not healthy for you-but naturally raised meats are. This is so because just like other animals, humans eating the foods they evolved to eat will be healthier. For most of the last million or so years humans have been hunter gatherers-and hunter gatherers, for the most part, got more than half their diet from naturally raised animal products. Hunter-gatherers also did not have chronic diseases (obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels) that universally afflict the elderly in western societies.

    Our analysis of the Ethnographic Atlas data
    showed that the dominant foods in the majority of huntergatherer
    diets were derived from animal food sources. Most
    (73%) of the world’s hunter-gatherers obtained >50% of
    their subsistence from hunted and fished animal foods,
    whereas only 14% of worldwide hunter-gatherers obtained
    >50% of their subsistence from gathered plant foods. For all
    229 hunter-gatherer societies, the median subsistence dependence
    upon animal foods was 66 – 75%.

  69. The demand for wholesome organic food will only increase with time. The dangers of pesticide residue in food is becoming more apparent the world over.

  70. Leaving aside the environmental considerations, it does seem like there are valid health concerns about feedlot beef. But it also seems unlikely that we could produce enough beef to meet market demand by other methods, which would tend to push people toward more vegetarian diets. But is modern Factory Farming really any better than Factory Meat production? There are some who believe that modern strains of dwarf wheat, which were breed (genetically engineered using more primitive engineering methods) for yield and protein content are also bad for you, in ways that ‘more natural’ strains of wheat were not. The truth is that ‘natural’ food gathering methods that produce ‘traditional’ quality foods cannot feed 6 billion people. Speaking for myself, I’d rather eat poorer quality foods than starve to death.

  71. I have no quarrel with anything that was mentioned in the article. I myself am a meat eater but only on rare occasions. I try to maintain a healthy balance of the meats and non meat products that my family and I consume. The only thing that worries me if every being on Earth were to become a vegetarian or a vegan is: what would then become of the vegetation population after a certain amount of time? Yes plants are easily a renewable source, but how much more clear cutting would have to occur in order for there to be plenty of land to grow these vegetation’s for human consumption? How many non native species of plants would be introduced to different bio-diversities around the world to help ensure that there were enough vegetation for mass human consumption on a regular basis? Yes at one point in time there was an abundance of cows, elk, deer, etc roaming the Earth and yet the methane levels were considerably lower then they are now. And yes there was an abundance of predators to help keep the cow, elk, deer, etc. population in check. But let us remember that it is due to human activities and human population growth that there are no longer enough predators to keep these cow, elk, deer, etc. populations in control. Let us remember that due to human activities and our out of control population growth that we are the cause for the rising methane levels, rising CO2 levels, rising nitrogen levels and phosphate levels. We are the reason the Ozone layer is damaged and there is a big hole looming over us, we are the reason that so many organisms are becoming endangered or threatened. We are the reason for many of the problems we face today. We think that we are so smart with our technology and our sciences and yet we only continue to make matters worse. We are so wrapped up with our human rights and civil liberties that we cannot even bring ourselves to pass laws that would help keep our population growth under control. We created modes of transportation that burn fossil fuels and made factories that burn even more fossil fuels that started this whole ozone mess we face. We continuously clear forest and other environments to make room for own kind. How many fast food joints do we really need? How many restaurants do we really need? How many gas stations do we really need? How many high rises do we really need? How many malls do we really need? What ever happened to making our own clothes and since when did fashion become such an important commodity? How much technology do we really need? Why must every being on the earth have to have a cell phone? Why must so many people need four televisions, tablets, labtops, and desktops? Why is it so impossible for more people to grow their own garden? Why is it such an inconvenience to car pool or to take public transportation? Why is it so difficult for people to walk 20 minutes down the road rather than walking or riding a bicycle? Why must we humans continuously put harsh chemicals in our hair and on our faces just to look good? How many newer models or versions of this or that do we really need to keep coming up with? Cows are not the only problem that we face and cows are not the only thing that adds to the never ending situation that we find ourselves in. So many people are unwilling to sacrifice their life style so that we can have a safer, cleaner, and healthier Earth to live on. I mean, hell, do we really need plastic especially sense so many people find it utterly difficult to recycle? Why have there not been laws passed making it mandatory for people to recycle? Instead we sit back and hope that every one will do it, knowing full well that they don’t. As long as people can make money out of convenience, breaking laws, finding loop holes, and by not caring, they will continue to only bring more harm on the environment. For those who think cows and eating meat is the issue, well what about our landfills across the world? Landfills produce a heck of a lot more methane than cows and the vehicles needed to transport this waste burn more fossil fuels than the transportation needed to carry meat and food to other places. This waste also ends up in our water ways and oceans only leading to more contamination. There are so many lazy individuals out there today that they just littler and throw trash right out their car windows without a care in the world. If an animal based diet leads to an epidemic of disease, it is usually because the animal is unhealthy. They are usually unhealthy because of people/businesses who cut corners to save money and don’t take care of the meat they sell or the animals are being housed in unsafe and unclean conditions, etc. We humans are so fast paced that everything is rush, rush, rush, now, now, now. We have air planes, cruise ships, trains, buses, email, cell phones, electric this and electric that, and most of what we have today we really do not need. But hey, I guess convenience, easy, and accessibility is all that really matters to people now a days. That and being remembered. Look at all the buildings, monuments, bridges, etc that are raised just so someones name can be remembered 200 years from now. What ever happened to manual labor? No, instead we build machines to do the work for us because it is so much easier, and look at the fossil fuels those things burn and the space they take up. Look at the fossil fuels that are burned to make these machines too. Just so our lives can be less complicated. My dream is to have a little cottage in the middle of nowhere surrounded by nature and all here beauty where my family and I can live sustainable off our own land and live in peace and harmony.But no, that can’t even happen due to lack of space on the earth and lack of money, because you have to be as rich as Bill Gates for that dream to happen now a days. We humans are lazy, unreliable, selfish, greedy, miserable, destructive, excuses of organism. We take, take, and take. We destroy the one thing that freely gives us protection, food, and life (Earth), all the while blaming everyone and everything else but ourselves. And yet we do nothing but point fingers instead of attempting to actually make real change occur. Becoming a vegan or a vegetarian and eating less cows is not going to help make that big of a difference in the world today. There are many more things that need to be worried about and many more things that we humans need to do and get rid of if a real and positive change is to occur. But I don’t see that happening any time soon because of the way we are and the lack of give we offer. Heavens forbid if our life style became a bit more difficult to maintain because we had to change the way we live and give up things that make life so easy. BOO HOO, whaaaa, whaaa, whaaa. We truly are a bunch of babies. I firmly believe that we humans are a cancerous disease upon the earth to which there is no cure but one. I will let you all decide what cure you think that is. Until then, I welcome a disaster that wipes out two thirds of our population and if I am one of the people that gets wiped out too, then so be it. But I already know that humankind will be its own demise. We will be the death of our own species and I laugh every time I think about that and about how asinine we really are. Humanity disgust me on so many levels. And those of you who honestly think that by just becoming a vegetarian or vegan your going to change the world and reverse the global warming situation we find ourselves in, your foolish. I say too each their own and if you wish to be a vegetarian or vegan, then I support you. But you really do not have to give up meat just to make change occur. People have been eating meat since the dawn of mankind. We need to work on technology, work on recycling, we need alternative fuel methods, we need to ban certain materials and chemicals. We need to grow our own gardens, walk more, turn lights off, figure out our landfill and sewage situations and fix those, we need to stop our population from growing so fast. We need to stop cutting down trees, we need to do so much more than just stop eating meat. There is so much that we need to do and we have yet to even touch the tip of the ice burg. HAHAHA Humankind, humanity, makes me sick. I cannot help but to laugh at us. I wonder how many vegans and vegetarians grow their own gardens? How many make their own clothes, recycle, have a compost pile or drive a vehicle that doesn’t burn fossil fuels? I wonder how many live with electricity? I wonder how many use and or make their own all natural cleaning agents, make up, soaps, lip balms, sugar scrubs, shampoos, etc? I wonder how many actually use their vehicle when they could have walked instead? I wonder how many vegans and vegetarians have cellphones, computers, and televisions and game stations? I walk every where, carpool or take public transportation. I make my own all natural, safe for the environment cleaning agents, makeup, clothes, shoes, lip balms, candles, storage containers, shampoos, toothpaste, etc. In fact, I make most of all the things any house hold would need. I don’t have a t.v or a game station or a cell phone. I walk to the library and use the computer there if I need to go online. I grow a garden and I have a compost pile. We don’t use electricity, we use the candles we make for light. We reuse what ever we can as well. My family and I volunteer to help clean up streets, parks, forests, marshes, etc from all the litter that is laying around. We plant trees every year and volunteer our services with the wildlife foundation. We shop locally for things that we cannot grow or make ourselves and we always read the labels. I can guarantee you that my family and I do more than most vegans and vegetarians do in their life time to help add positive change to our environment and we eat meat. Granted we get our meat from the farm that is 15 minutes down the road from us, so there is no transporting and burning fossil fuels because we walk there every time, Unless Nancy and Jim (the farmers) bring the meat and eggs to us on their horse so the kids can catch a ride on the carriage.

  72. So not eating cows isn’t a solution; A more reasonable solution would be to use enormous amounts of electrical wire to herd the cows around the continents to create an artificial cow-herd ecosystem?

    What kind of a fucking environmental magazine is this?

    And the Vegetarian Myth is probably the worst researched and book I’ve ever seen. It’s full of more BS than all these cows we’re trying to deal with.

  73. Nik, is that really the best you can do towards making a contribution to the thoughtful conversation that is taking place here?

  74. i loved how someone said about how that he has not been to Mickky D’s tell collage because micky D’s is really cheap for collages students

  75. Lisa – I haven’t seen any posts here by omnivores saying that they torment other animals, or that they kill animals because ‘it tastes good’. Are you seeing things that don’t exist?

  76. Bill McKibben, your comments have been construed as supporting those esp. in the recent “TED” talks by Alan Savory. Please renounce ASAP this charlatan, racist, anti-environmentalist, person with a history of animal cruelty/genocide/exploitation.

  77. Your naivete is absolutely stunning. I do however wholeheartedly agree with the comments of Leigh [Leigh on Apr 02, 2010,] and add that vegan or vegetarian is a ridiculous claim as a universal diet. Read Mercola who got his ideas from Dr William Kelley on this and realize that we need to eat according to our metabolic types. The Inuit wouldn’t survive on a Fijian diet and vice versa and nor were they supposed to. Let’s get real hear instead of banging on a worn out drum forever.

  78. Interesting to note that 10,153 million (nearly 10.2 billion) land animals were raised and killed for food in the United States in 2010, according to data extrapolated from U.S. Department of Agriculture. Are some of you who support this new viewpoint then suggesting that they are to be put out to graze on the land? Where exactly would they all go? Just wondering….

  79. I stick to only grass-fed beef (which I get almost exclusively from Chipotle … ironic that McDonald’s owned Chipotle at one point).

    Obviously, the carbon emissions linked to corn-fed red meat are enough to abstain, but the unnaturally high fat content is an added incentive to stay away. And honestly, that’s the biggest reason why I typically opt for white meats.

  80. This article starts out well by pointing out the inconvenient truth about meat. Then it seems to just offer a guilt alleviating cop-out without any supporting research at all: just eat and advocate for grass-fed beef and you can still feel good about yourself. I’d love to see the studies that say that will make it all okay, especially after considering how much land it would take to supply current demand, the extent to which greenhouse gases would in fact be reduced (or not), and the fact that we are still talking only about the cows (not pigs, chickens, lambs (what kind of a-hole eats a lamb anyway), etc.). Finally, to the people who considering hunting a good alternative: you can’t really think there’s enough wild game for every meat eater on the planet to feed themselves that way; and it’s not really a policy solution unless there is.

  81. That guy’s talk has been thoroughly discredited. Look at the comment section in the link you supplied.

  82. Well, I’ll be doggone. Here, I’ve always dismissed McKibben as just a media whore. I was wrong! This is a well reasoned piece, and well written, both.

    Holistic grazing rocks!

  83. Will petio, Allan Savory has not been discredited, not on this planet. Holistic grazing has become widely known as a result of the TED talk, and the approach spreading among farmers and ranchers, and is currently embroiled in controversy, as the likes of George Monbiot enter the fray. Controversy is good. 🙂

  84. What research? I’ve never found anything. When you write an article based on research, it’s imperative that you quote this research to be credible.

    I have livestock, and I’ve attended farming conferences and read research papers, trying to find a solution for my animals, but I’ve found nothing that backs up what was said in this article.

    As someone with livestock, here are the challanges:

    1. There isn’t enough water. Half of the US consumable water supply goes to livestock.

    2. Climate extremes kill livestock. Heatwaves cause massive die-offs in the millions in my area of California. In the colder climates, freak snow storms killed livestock, enough to be called an emergency prompting government aid. Flooding also kills livestock, and standing in muddy ground (and drinking dirty puddles) causes disease. On pasture, what is there to keep livestock cool?

    3. Livestock are a major cause of people killing important predators (endangered by climate change as well), displacing wildlife, and habitat destruction.

    4. Climate-change-caused forest fires kill livestock.

    5. Sequestering carbon is temporary, and can be easily reversed by the right conditions, such as fires, plowing, and more. I haven’t seen any reliable data about how to accomplish sequestration on pasture to prove it works.

    Here’s an article that debunks the “raise livestock to stop climate change” myth:

    Eat Meat and Save the World
    By George Monbiot

    Lastly, I love the statement about it being unrealistic that people will change their diets to eat fewer animal products. It’s one of the easiest, and least expensive, changes one could make. How many people can afford electric cars or a Prius? Changing to clean energy is a huge and very expensive shift that will take many decades! Right now, it’s largely for the rich, or governments, and we’ve seen how well that has gone.

  85. It is estimated that over 40 million bison were in the US when Europeans arrived.

    There is much more ruminant livestock now. Just cattle (which I assume doesn’t include dairy cows, goats, sheep, and so on) are more than double that:

    That’s a whole lot more, and then we added fossil fuels, and methane leaks from landfills, natural gas wells, etc., which are also big sources of methane. And climate change has caused methane to leaks from the ocean and areas that were covered with glaciers. So logically, his bison statement does not hold up.

  86. ChPo, where do you get your data on water use for livestock? I am unable to find it. It seems to me that most of ag water goes to irrigate crops — a pound of rice taking 1000-3000 liters of water to produce, for example. I would like to see a breakdown if you have it.

    Your statement “Sequestering carbon is temporary, and can be easily reversed by the right conditions, such as fires, plowing, and more.” — sounds confused.

    Sequestering carbon into “stable humus” in the soil is a long term solution. Fire does not touch it. Yes, plowing destroys stable humus, which is the whole point of leaving grazing lands alone.

  87. I eat nothing but organic meat, due to the elements that surround gmo crops and animals. I think Monsanto and many other corporations that tried to create these products for profit, have backfired on them, now it’s causing serious disease amongst the population. If you’re not a vegetarian or you’re not eating organic food, you’re not in the know. Because this is a must in order to have a long healthy life.

  88. I know a lot of my friends won’t be happy to read this article (They can’t think of any other food than hamburgers you see). But I agree with you Bill. I switched to being a vegan an year ago and I can see the difference. I don’t have to watch my weight… I feel a lot more energetic and I tend to eat less.

    In fact I have been advertising how people can switch to vegetarianism on my site. If you want to take a look head over to

    I’ll be glad to hear your views on it too. Thanks for this amazing read.

  89. 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.

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