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Steak is for lovers.

November 7, 2011

Photo by Sam Beebe

You’ve heard the numbers: 20% of the corn produced in the United States is eaten by humans, 80% is eaten by livestock. It takes 16 pounds of grain and soy to produce one pound of meat. The industrial food system produces atrocities towards animal and nature. As Eric Schlosser points out in Fast Food Nation, two (two!) feedlots operated by Monfort produce more excrement than Denver, Boston, Atlanta, and St. Louis combined. The animals inside are subjected to horrible conditions, and the people who slaughter and pack them aren’t treated much better. Vegetarianism, as they say, is for lovers – both lovers of animals, and lovers of the environment.

However, what you’re reading up there isn’t the whole story.  These statistics are certainly sobering, but the truth is, we need to take a new look at ranching.

First off, those arguments about feeding corn to cows start sound a little weird when you remember that cows aren’t even supposed to eat grain. Grain-eating cows are a product of the industrial food system, and plant-centered industrial agriculture causes just as many problems — eating soy and vegetables won’t save the world, because industrially those are produced in equally destructive ways. Cattle are designed by nature to eat grasses, and feeding them grains results in unhealthy conditions and sick cattle that need to be pumped with massive amounts of antibiotics to stay alive. Cows are a wonder of nature. They eat what we can’t, and turn it into meat that we can eat. Ranching, at its most efficient, occurs on land that can’t sustain large-scale agriculture, like Eastern Oregon, the New Mexico desert, and even New England, with its rocky soil and short growing season.

Many negative attitudes towards the meat revolve around the environmental impact. But, as with the grain above, these arguments are based on industrial meat production; this only tells half the story. In fact, several studies have found that sustainable ranches are actually good for the environment. Well-managed ranches tend to have more native species, and fewer invasive species, than residential land — or even nature reserves(!). Lasater Ranch in Colorado actually is a wildlife sanctuary, while also sustaining a profitable beef business. Done right, cattle can mimic the role that elk, bison, and other now-rare grazers have traditionally played in the ecosystem. Across the nation, in a sea of suburban development, sustainable ranches provide hundreds of thousands of acres of wildlife habitat. There are some amazing things happening with federal and non-profit conservation, but there isn’t enough money to save enough of the land. We need new, creative solutions, and sustainable ranching should be one of them.

Unfortunately, while being a rancher has always been hard work, it’s an especially difficult job these days, due to the high cost of land, expanding residential development, and the tight hold that a few large corporations have on the price of beef. Many ranches are shutting down, and much of that land is turned into new housing developments. Grass-fed meat, which fetches higher market prices, is one way that ranchers can opt out of the industrial system and make ends meet, but there has to be enough demand in order for more ranchers to start switching over. With our dollars, we can support pastured meat and wildlife habitat with every bite we take. Investigate where your meat truly comes from, and find a rancher who you can support.

One Comment leave one →
  1. November 7, 2011 10:21 pm

    does this mean i’m getting steak for dinner?

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