Oxymoronic Agriculture: Placing the Human-Animal Relationship at the Core of “Sustainable”

I began to write this piece this morning with the intention of sending it to the Atlantic. Then it occurred to me how nice it would be to try out these ideas here first (hint: I’d love critical feedback). Plus, I also decided it would be delighful, for once, to write a piece critical of sustainable agriculture and not have my inbox flooded with invective. Everyone needs a break from the venom now and then.   🙂

The sustainable food movement has successfully transformed the way millions of people think about food. Nevertheless, it suffers from a debilitating blind spot: it fails to take seriously the complexity of the human-animal relationship. Critics of this assessment will likely respond that the movement is under no obligation to confront such an issue. Animal ethics, they will say, should be left to the philosophers and theologians, not the heady, hands-on pioneers of sustainable agriculture. I would argue to the contrary. A serious examination of the relationship between humans and the animals we raise for food is fundamental to any food system that hopes to call itself sustainable.

To the extent that the movement has addressed the human-animal question, it’s argued that all is well if animals are raised well. This claim–this inevitable claim–is not only conveniently vague, but it runs counter to the movement’s articulated goals. The sustainable food movement, as I read it, is passionately, even spiritually, committed to the ideas that, as humans farm the earth for food, we do so a) as gently as possible, b) according the nature’s rhythms, and c) with an ethic of respect and humility. These goals have been powerfully articulated by visionaries ranging from Michael Pollan and Barbara Kingsolver to their historical predecessors Albert Howard and Rudolf Stiener. In one way or another we’ve been offered versions of the same agricultural commandments for fifty years: tread lightly, let nature lead the way, and treat the natural world as if it were a living and breathing entity.

Of course, all agriculture is, in a sense, invasive, unnatural, and arrogant. And, yes, the human project of wresting food from the land necessarily requires artifice. In this sense, the call for farming according to the seamless dictates of nature is idyllic, if not misguided. That said, the question remains: is animal agriculture per se consistent with the aforementioned imperatives of treading lightly, farming naturally, and loving mother Earth? On each of these points, a serious consideration of the human-animal relationship illuminates an inconvenient truth: sustainable animal agriculture is an oxymoron.

First, the sustainable food movement insists that farming should cause minimal environmental harm. Should it then not also insist that farmers cause farm animals minimal harm? Unless we’re pursuing an environmental ethic that accommodates unneeded slaughter, these goals strike me as inseparable. Thus the conundrum: is it possible to seek minimal harm while, at the same time, raising farm animals to kill for food we do not need? I’ve posed this question 1,001 times to my friends in the sustainable food movement and have yet to hear an even remotely convincing explanation of how killing is not considered a type of harm. Which brings me to the last question on this point: aren’t advocates of sustainable agriculture left in the unenviable position of advocating for minimal environmental harm while simultaneously harming thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of sentient, social, and emotionally aware animals?

What about farming according the dictates of nature? On this point, proponents of sustainable animal agriculture would seem to hold the high ground. Vocal advocates of sustainable agriculture routinely highlight how smoothly the cycle of nature spins in intensively managed, rotationally-grazed systems.  Animals poop in the pasture, the soil improves, plants grow, etc. What’s always omitted in this description of nature at work is that, in nature, animals are not systematically plucked from the cycle before making it though even a quarter of their natural lives. I typically respond to supporters of this form of agriculture by saying that, if they insist on treating animals as poop machines for crops, then do so. Allow the cycle to spin in full. Allow the animals to live out the entirety of their lives. Allow them to die in the pasture, returning their bodily nutrients to the soil as they decompose. Of course, farmers won’t do this because it’s not economically profitable to do so. Profit, as I have written, always trumps nature when it comes to exploiting animals.  In short, there are many, many other ways to enhance soil quality without animals. Google “veganic agriculture” for a sampling.

Finally, there’s the matter of respecting the environment, lowering our agricultural footprint as much as we can, and behaving humbly in the face of our ecosystems’ complexities. I believe exploiting an animal for food (and other unneeded uses) to be the pinnacle of human insecurity and arrogance. The irony of this opinion is that those who raise animals tend to do so with a sense of pride in what they’re doing. This is something I’m still trying to understand, but suffice to say I think there’s a powerful coping mechanism at work among those who raise and kill animals, all the while claiming to care deeply for them. In any case, there is nothing humble or respectful about promoting agricultural methods–namely rotational grazing and other forms of free range agriculture–that sprawl across ecosystems. With 9 billion people predicted to be here in 2050, the last thing we need is a transition to an agriculture system that, in order to raise animals in a relatively decent manner, requires the deforestation of the planet. Instead, we need to do something that sounds so simple but is depressingly rare: grow a diversity of plants on a minimum amount of land for people to eat. Now there’s a revolutionary idea.

The only ways I can think of to advance these critiques, and to promote the superiority of an exclusive plant-based form of agriculture, is to relentlessly demand that we encourage more widespread consideration of the human-animal relationship. No topic, as I hope I’ve at least suggested here, could be more central to the deepest meaning of sustainable agriculture. My sense is that the current leaders of the movement have failed to examine the nature of the human-animal bond, and its relationship to agriculture, not because it’s irrelevant to the cause, but because doing so would mean thinking hard about excluding–or at least dramatically minimizing–the place of animal exploitation in its agenda.  It’s easy for most people to eat locally raised flesh. Avoiding purposeful animal exploitation–well, that’s a genuine challenge.

Courage.

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About James McWilliams
I'm a historian and writer based in Austin, Texas. This blog is dedicated to exploring the ethics of eating animals and animal-based products.

28 Responses to Oxymoronic Agriculture: Placing the Human-Animal Relationship at the Core of “Sustainable”

  1. CQ says:

    You refer to your “inbox,” James. You mean you want us to write to you privately, and not share our thoughts here, for others to read? I’m happy to do either one — just wanted to be clear on what delivery method you want your messengers to use! I’m asking publicly, in case others are wondering the same thing. 🙂

    • James McWilliams says:

      CQ,
      By all means, reply here on the blog. At the Atlantic, we have to provide our e-mail addresses, so you can imagine . . .

  2. Louisa Dell'Amico says:

    I’m sorry, but I think your logic is very weak here: “First, the sustainable food movement insists that farming should cause minimal environmental harm. Should it then not also insist that farmers cause farm animals minimal harm?” When people talk about sustainable food, they’re talking about not doing damage to the environment (land, water, air, soil nutrients, etc.) and not depleting its resources. I don’t see how your arguement to extend the principle of not doing environmental harm to also not harming animals is germane. Harming animals has no effect on the environment, but there are certainly many environmental reasons to not raise animals.

    • James McWilliams says:

      Well, I suppose it all depends on how you define “environment.” If it’s more than the objective interaction of limited resources within an ecosystem, then I think there’s certainly room for considering the emotional and psychological status of those who live in it. Thanks for the reply.

      • CQ says:

        You took the words right out of my mouth, James. I think true environment is mental — moral and spiritual — and is simply manifested in the physical realm. But it is not “caused” by the physical….

        I’ll respond to your initial request later, after I go out for a little fresh air….

    • Adam Merberg says:

      I agree. Particularly if we understand “sustainable” in the most literal sense of the word, capable of being maintained, the logic doesn’t really work. Or, put another way, it’s possible to have a notion of sustainability that doesn’t require us to care about the interests of animals or even the environment itself. One can advocate for “sustainable agriculture” merely because one hopes for humans to be able to continue to feed themselves as long as possible. If this is the goal of sustainability, then you could go out of your way to torture animals before slaughter, and it wouldn’t be any less sustainable.

      In another direction, one thing that I was reminded of while reading the paragraph about “farming according to the dictates of nature” is just how badly many advocates for sustainable meat farming tend to misunderstand nutrient cycles. It’s fashionable to talk about animals being necessary to complete or close the nutrient cycle. Of course, a closed cycle is one in which nothing is going in or out, but we always have nutrients leaving farms in the form of food. That should tip us off that talk of a “closed loop” farm is nonsense (at least unless we’re ready to use human waste as fertilizer).

      Of course, as far as sustainability is concerned, outputs aren’t a problem (we want those), but we don’t want farms to require inputs. However, if we keep removing nutrients from a farm, eventually we will tend to run out of something. Some lost nutrients (i.e. starch) can be synthesized by plants or animals on a farm, but elemental nutrients tend to be more problematic. Animals, not having nuclear reactors in their digestive tracts, can’t increase the amount of phosphorous or potassium on a plot of land. Nitrogen is a little bit more complicated because it exists in large amounts in the atmosphere but in forms that aren’t useful to plants or animals. Atmospheric nitrogen has to be fixed either by nitrogen-fixing bacteria in the roots of legumes or synthetically (or occasionally by lightning) before plants or animals can do anything with it. What this all means is that if there is nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium in animal manure because those nutrients were already in whatever the animals were eating. In other words, they only give you a fertile plot of land if you started with one or you had outside inputs.

      One thing animals are very good at is concentrating nutrients. An animal can ingest nutrients collected over a very large area of pasture by eating and then deposit many of those nutrients back on the land in a concentrated form that is much more useful to a farmer. Another thing that animals can do is eat food scraps or grain that people won’t eat. So animals certainly can have a useful role. However, only using animals this way would have significant implications for sustainable agriculture. It would mean raising much less poultry, and probably less pork, too. Chickens and pigs don’t eat grass, and farms that make these animals a big part of their business tend to bring in large amounts of grain. This includes even Michael Pollan’s model farm, Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm. Though Pollan credit’s Salatin’s chickens with making Polyface “completely self-sufficient in nitrogen,” the reality is that the farm hasn’t solved the nitrogen problem in any meaningful sense; it merely brings in nitrogen (in the form of grain) from another farm. Instead of eliminating the need for chemical inputs, it move those inputs out of view.

      Many arguments for raising animals for manure are analogous to asking a cashier to double bag your groceries so that you can recycle the extra bag. There are a few that make sense but many of the armchair ecologists don’t know what they’re talking about. Moreover, those that do make sense don’t necessarily make a good case for the kind of operations that sustainable agriculture types are telling us to support.

      • Adam,
        Amazing info as usual. Keep up the good work on your anti-Pollan blog. Also, do you have any sources for the great info you have here?
        JM

      • Adam Merberg says:

        Thanks, James. Though as I explained in my very first blog post, I don’t really consider my blog to be anti-Pollan. It’s an attempt challenge certain misinformation and ideas. Admittedly, as I’ve looked more closely at his work, the set of things that I’ve seen a need to challenge has grown immensely, but I still see a role for him, if more as a pundit than an expert or journalist.

        As for sources, is there anything in particular you want a source for? Much of what I’ve said, particularly about nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, is just a consequence of some high school science (chemistry and biology, namely). I’ll admit to having simplified slightly, too. There is an animal that has a symbiotic relationship with nitrogen-fixing bacteria, but it is the termite rather than an animal that is typically eaten for food. And pigs and poultry can find some amount of food on a pasture, but they aren’t ruminants that excel at turning grass into protein.

        The commentary on Polyface Farm is related to some blog posts I wrote about the efficiency of that farm:
        http://saywhatmichaelpollan.wordpress.com/2010/07/21/the-free-lunch/ (This includes sources for the inputs and outputs of the farm)
        http://saywhatmichaelpollan.wordpress.com/2011/02/11/the-grain-inputs-at-polyface-farm-joel-salatins-take/ (This discusses an exchange between Salatin and me when he spoke at UC Berkeley last year and seemed to concede much of my point. I’m still hopeful that I’ll be able to track down a video of this exchange, but the story is a little bit complicated)
        http://saywhatmichaelpollan.wordpress.com/2011/02/25/making-sense-of-the-polyface-calorie-numbers/ (a few further thoughts)

        Now that I think about it, if you want to confirm that the sustainable farms are using grain, the best approach is probably to call a few of them up and ask.

        Feel free to drop me an email if none of that answers your question.

  3. Jo Tyler says:

    Why let The Atlantic have all your wisdom? Please, please submit this – and other essays – to Mother Jones! They feature an anti-vegan rant almost every month and they need your help. Here’s just a quick sample of some of their misguided (self-serving?) “reporting”:

    http://motherjones.com/environment/2010/07/is-vegetarian-diet-green

    http://motherjones.com/environment/2010/12/naomi-pomeroy-beast-meat

    http://motherjones.com/environment/2012/02/urban-farming-slaughter-hobbyists

    And from Vegan.com:
    http://vegan.com/blog/2012/03/14/which-comes-first-the-chicken-or-the-ego/

    • CQ says:

      Read these last night. Very sickening and sad.

      A friend and I have a new name for Kiera. Hint: think of a character in the movie “101 Dalmations.” 🙂

  4. CQ says:

    OK, here goes. No complaints about the points you make, but the way they’re stated is a little hazy to me in places. Hope you don’t mind if I ask a few questions and suggest a few minor changes.

    But first, please correct the spelling of Stiener; it’s Steiner. 🙂

    Graph one, last sentence = could change to “…we raise to eat is fundamental to any food system…” (so as not to use the word “food” twice)

    Graph two, first sentence = could change to: “…it’s argued that all is well if the animals are raised humanely” (so as not to use the word “well” twice)

    Graph two, second sentence = I don’t understand how the claim to raise animals humanely “runs counter to the movement’s articulated goals.” It does? How so? Their claim is that they raise animals humanely and their claim is that this is their goal. Do you mean that the goal isn’t being met, in actuality, because the animals are in fact NOT raised humanely?

    Graph three, first sentence = “Of course, all agriculture is, in a sense, invasive, unnatural, and arrogant.” It is? Why “of course”? Perhaps a one-or-two-sentence explanation of WHY it is these three adjectives is needed — for me, anyway.

    Graph four, third sentence = “Unless we’re pursuing an environmental ethic that accommodates unneeded slaughter, these goals strike me as inseparable.” Huh? They ARE pursuing an enviro ethic that accommodates unneeded slaughter, aren’t they? So why do you use the word “Unless”? I’m confused! As to your comment that “these goals strike me as inseparable,” I’ve now lost your train of thought. Which goals? Minimizing harm to the environment and minimizing harm to animals? But do they even HAVE the latter goal? And if not, why do you call it their GOAL?

    Graph five, fifth sentence = “Allow the cycle to spin in full” (etc.). I would put the word “But” before your first “allow” to make it clearer that they are NOT already doing that. It’s minor, but my thought process would flow more smoothly with a “But” there. 🙂

    Graph six, next-to-last sentence = you might mention under your point about growing plants on a minimum amount of land that we can also take advantage of new technologies, such as growing plants indoors, vertically (Google Dickson Despommier). However, I just found a negative review of Despommier’s ideas here: http://www.alternet.org/food/146686/?page=entire. But at least Despommier is thinking outside the box (or inside the building!).

    Finally, somewhere you might want to find a place to enlarge your definition of “environment,” per your discussion in the comments section.

  5. Keith Akers says:

    If you want to engage them on their own terms, I would explicitly refer to “permaculture.” That is what these people are advocating, and it uses a vocabulary that the “Transition” people will immediately recognize.

    Their basic argument is that permaculture mimics nature and natural cycles. Animals and plants interact in nature, we need to use these same processes in agriculture. There are some who are doing permaculture veganically, but the way permaculture is being taught in this country, is mostly with the use of animals. By the way, are you aware of “Meat: A Benign Extravagance,” by Simon Fairlie? These are the kinds of people we need to respond to.

    If you can show that, aside from ethical considerations, permaculture using animals wastes resources, then you will make them think. It’s not just the effect of using animals on natural resources, but also the effects of slaughter on humans themselves is something to keep in mind — do we want our society to be desensitized to violence? The next step is to understand the natural revulsion which we have towards killing animals (“ethics”) is an instinctual and intuitive understanding that, for humans, killing animals is the path of last resort.

    Given the choice between something which produces more food sustainably, but is cruel, and something which produces less food or does it less sustainably, they will go for the cruel alternative. That’s what we’re up against.

    • Keith,
      Do you have any suggestions of sources that critique the specifics of permaculture?
      Thanks for your thoughts.
      JM

      • Keith Akers says:

        James,

        Permaculture has some really good insights, but it is also one of those trendy things which has never quite developed to the point where it has generated a lot of analysis and critiques by outsiders. (Veganism, be it duly noted, HAS reached this point.) To answer your specific question about critiques of permaculture:

        1. For my quick response to “Meat: A Benign Extravagance” by Simon Fairlie, see my review on Goodreads. (http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/183112641). In my mind, this is a much more serious book than Lierre Keith’s “The Vegetarian Myth.”

        2. The Veganic Agriculture movement has a discussion of permaculture here:
        http://www.goveganic.net/rubrique117.html
        However, they are not so much interested in critiquing the use of animals in permaculture, as showing that permaculture can be done without animals. “We’re permaculturalists too!”

        3. Jonathan Maxson, the “Permavegan,” had two ambitious blogs (an old and a new) which sought to critique animals in permaculture and develop a vegan interpretation. Unfortunately both have recently been taken off the web. If this discussion is ongoing I would try to bring him on board, once he finishes his current projects at his homestead in Maine.

        4. Two critiques of permaculture, but not of their use of animals per so, can be found here:
        Rob Scott: (http://robscott.net/2010/?p=1)
        Review of “Gaia’s Garden”:
        http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0GER/is_2001_Winter/ai_81790195/

        Permaculture is “hot” right now, but it is also a diffuse and moving target. It is being pushed by the Transition movement (“Transition Towns,” Transition network, etc.) though permaculture itself is much older. When you get into permaculture to try to give it a good looking over, you find that with those good ideas there is sometimes a lot of vagueness, although that could be taken as “flexibility.” Transition has formed alliances with other groups and ideas (such as “Slow Food,” “peak oil,” “grow local,” “organic,” and “local money”) which do not necessarily agree with, have anything to do with, or even understand permaculture. Alas, it has not really tried to develop an alliance with vegans. For them, permaculture trumps veganism.

        If you want to address permaculture quickly, without a lot of original research (which, as I write this reply, I am now realizing is harder than I thought), here’s my thought. You could mention permaculture and acknowledge that it has valid insights (our agricultural systems should mimic natural systems). But you could also note that the “sustainable food movement” is not monolithic, but has a lot of different strands which do not always intersect, and are sometimes contradictory. The overall concepts and specific applications of permaculture are not always well defined and researched, and there are controversies about what is “really” permaculture, and even whether animals contribute anything helpful at all. There are vegans trying to do permaculture. Permaculture doesn’t really eliminate the objections to animal agriculture, but just tries to minimize them. But the problems with animal agriculture are intrinsic. In the end, our natural revulsion to killing animals is there for a reason: killing animals creates a lot of problems. Cruelty is not sustainable.

        Then see if anyone picks up on that in the responses.

      • Keith Akers says:

        One more source which critiques permaculture is Dr. Richard Oppenlander, to which you referred in an earlier post. He argues that original permaculture only used animals for work and poop, not as food, but has become “Americanized” so that it now uses animals as food. His other criticism is that this doesn’t scale up: the whole world cannot feed itself on this kind of permaculture.

  6. CQ says:

    Keith, I’m glad to know that the buzz word “permaculture” should be used.

    Could you please explain what you mean by: “Given the choice between something which produces more food sustainable, but is cruel, and something which produces less food or does it less sustainably, they will go for the cruel alternative.”

    If the former part of the sentence refers to using animals, why is it more sustainable? I would think it would be less so.

    And if the latter part of the sentences refers to using no animals, why would it mean less food and be less sustainable? I’m puzzled. Thanks!

    • Keith Akers says:

      CQ,

      You won’t get any argument from me that the use of animals is not sustainable! I would refer you to Simon Fairlie’s book (“Meat: A Benign Extravagance”) as the most literate attempt to show that using animals actually has environmental advantages.

      Fairlie makes a big deal out of the use of waste. Animals can eat stuff (food residues, food wastes, grass, etc.) that humans can’t, therefore raising animals is actually a way to increase food supplies. Supposedly, if I recall correctly, George Monbiot went back from veganism to meat-eating after reading this book. Check out my Goodreads review cited in my other response above. You can find it by putting “keith akers goodreads fairlie” as a Google search and it comes up as the second entry.

      (I see that my other response to James was long winded and contained a bunch of hyperlinks, and so is waiting moderation, but will probably appear soon.)

      Keith

      • Keith,
        Thanks for your very informed response, and suggestions for further research. I’m wondering, off the top of my head, about waste. Animals eat all manner of waste–but couldn’t we compost much of that waste? Do animals concentrate nutrients better?
        James

      • CQ says:

        I will Google that, Keith. Thanks.

        I’m halfway through listening to Dr. Oppenlander’s speech here: http://www.idausa.org/conscious_eating/index.html (link courtesy of another post by James) — and don’t know whether it’s the same speech as the one you cite above. On Dr. O’s website, he lists at least half-a-dozen speeches he gives to various groups.

        James, I loved what you said in the IDA “Conscious Eating” program. Ditto Karen. And I learned a lot from Lauren. I’ll finish listening to the rest of the speeches tonight.

      • CQ says:

        Found it here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/183112641

        The book’s title is oxymoronic: it’s not benign to a cow to be killed.

        Also, it makes me cringe to think that killing someone is considered an extravagance — as if it the product of that act were special, rare, sought-after. Cows *are* special, intrinsically, but should not be special as an instrument or commodity “utilized” by humans. No wonder the word “elite” has such a bad connotation these days: it’s whoever can afford to pay a lot to be selfish and cruel to others!

        You mention grasslands, Keith. In James’ post today — https://eatingplantsdotorg.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/a-sustainable-steak-the-mathematics-of-nutrient-cycles — you’ll see, in the comments, that I reference a newspaper article and ask Adam a few questions about it. Perhaps you’d like to give your take on rotational grazing, too. Perhaps it’s another word for permaculture, in which case I missed that. I can’t keep up with all these buzzwords and agricultural techniques.

  7. Keith Akers says:

    James,

    You’re absolutely right — we not only could, but should compost waste rather than feeding it to animals. This concept of “waste” as introduced by Fairlie and others is an economic concept rather than an ecological concept.

    Protection of soil should be at the top of our agricultural priority list. Topsoil is being eroded 10 times faster than it is being formed. Food thrown away can be composted. Inedible parts of crops should likewise be left on the ground or composted. Grasslands can be left alone or allowed to revert to forest. Soil underpins our civilization, and to undermine the soil on the basis that it shortchanges our economy is a misguided economy.

    Keith

    (P. S. It looks like your blog only allows replies three levels deep so I’m opening a new thread.)

    • Adam Merberg says:

      Is soil protection really an argument against raising animals? Or is it an argument against eating nutrient-rich foods more generally? I guess what I’m asking is, if raising animals necessarily results in more topsoil being lost than growing similarly nutritious vegan crops, then where does that extra soil lost when raising animals go? (Feel free to just refer me to some books or online reading. I’ll be the first to admit not being informed on these questions.)

      • Keith Akers says:

        Adam,

        You might want to check out chapter 14 of my book “A Vegetarian Sourcebook,” on “Soil Erosion.” I’ve actually changed my position somewhat (in a more radical direction, actually) in the last 29 years since this was published, but the basic argument is still valid. Growing crops for animals is more erosive than eating the crops because of the standard “eating low on the food chain is good” argument. But pasture-raised animals are actually even worse.

        The main cause of soil erosion isn’t that plants extract nutrients from the soil, but exposure to the elements. If you manage your soil sufficiently badly and are sufficiently unlucky, you can lose a 100 years’ worth of soil in a few hours, although that’s an extreme case. This is a complex issue because it involves issues not directly related to veganism, “what about ‘no-till’?” etc.

        This is actually a fascinating question and I am still researching this. Pivotal in changing my position in a more radical direction was an article in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation by Leonard C. Johnson, “Soil loss tolerance: fact or myth?” published May-June 1987. I am unable to find any copies of this online, but you should be able to get a copy of it free from your public library if there is interlibrary loan (as I did). There is one reference to the article here:
        “http://www.jswconline.org/content/42/3/155.extract”.

        Keith

  8. Jamie Berger says:

    One of my professors in the environmental dept. just sent out this link to a blog post that argues for grass-fed beef. I find it really ironic that some of the arguments they offer about why we should be purchasing it are similar to those you use against it. The blog post basically (unintentionally) makes the case that grass-fed beef isn’t sustainable– that it’s a luxury for the rich and can’t compete with factory farmed meat.

    The post says: “And this is the great danger. If more and more grassfed farmers give up on raising grassfed beef and sell to the feedlots, the supply of grassfed beef will be reduced. The price will continue to rise to the point that only the truly rich can afford grassfed meat. If that happens, the movement is dead. The best way we can keep this from happening is to pay the prices charged by the quality grassfed producers who charge the least, so they can stay in business and thrive.”

    No, the best way we can keep the sustainable food movement alive is to eat plants!

    • Jamie,
      Thanks for the excerpt. Are you allowed to send the entire blog entry? Based on what you’ve included, it would seem (as you suggest) that your professor, in urging increased demand for grass-fed beef, is in fact advocating increased methane emissions, greater expansion of agriculture into rainforests and other sensitive ecosystems, soil erosion, water damage and overuse, alfalfa monoculture, and, in general, a system of producing meat that is, pound for pound, more polluting than many conventional systems. Advocates of grass fed beef routinely idealize the virtues of nutrient cycling within grass fed regimes. However, as Keith Akers, Adam Merberg, and others have argued on this blog, such cycling is never perfect, and rarely even moderately adequate. Weather, space, inherently inconsistent demand, genetics, and a host of other factors complicate the process of returning nutrients to the soil. Above and beyond all these point, there’s simple economics. As demand increases so do productive methods that value efficiency over responsibility to animals and the earth we share with them. Do send the whole post if you can.
      -jm

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