Isn't the general consensus that the meat industry is unsustainable? That the energy required to produce beef far outweighs the caloric value? That cow farts are causing global warming?
These claims have lead to a growing 'eat less meat' movement, where meat is reclassified as an unnecessary indulgence that we should all move past. However, the reality is that in the natural world the consumption of meat is the end result of an ecological process. G
razing animals break down old vegetation, stimulate new growth, and fertilize the earth in the process. Maybe the idea should be to stop eating cheap meat and 'eat better meat'.
It is absolutely true that the commercial beef industry is a danger to our environment. Almost all the horror stories are true, and there are serious problems with 'Big Meat'. Eating less meat would help to solve this issue, but there is more than one way to be considered.
Grown naturally, there is nothing inherently wrong with beef production. In fact, raising cattle on grass in a well planned grazing system actually has a net positive effect on the environment. That's right, it's possible for beef production to actually improve the world. Grazing practices can capture carbon in plants and lock it into the soil - effectively reducing the carbon in the atmosphere. Cattle can also be used to restore worn out farmland, or make use of pasture that would otherwise have no use agriculturally.
Our farm is a perfect example. When we moved here, the property had been abandoned for over 40 years, and hadn't been actively farmed in even longer. It was never great farmland in the commercial sense, and the biggest crop raised here was stones. With the help of our cattle, we are improving the health of our farm and benefiting the environment as a whole. Sometimes they trample old grass to feed and build soil. Sometimes they stimulate dense regrowth of grasses which captures and locks carbon in the soil. Sometimes they eat down brush allowing the succession of more valuable forest trees.
By saying 'eat less meat', we are forgetting that not all meat is the same. Every cut of meat has a backstory. What story would the last meal you ate tell? Is it an ethical one? A story to be proud of?
Buying grassfed beef from a responsible farmer means knowing that your beef left a positive impact on the earth. Buy from a farmer you know and trust. Visit the farm. Watch the cattle. This meat is almost definitely going to cost you more than commercial beef, and maybe that does mean that we will be eating less meat overall. But the beef that is being eaten will be much more valuable, and hopefully that leads to a better understanding of the true importance of grazing animals and the ecological role that they play.
Buying a steak becomes more than just a food purchase. It becomes a contribution to an entire backdrop of trees, grasses, shrubs, insects, chipmunks, foxes, rabbits - any plant or animal that participates in the ecosystem that cattle can help to improve.