Fewer Cows, More Vegetables

Today I’m sharing some comments from Robert Lawrence, founding director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  These are taken from an article titled “Fewer Cows, More Vegetables–Too Many Food Animals Harms People and the Planet” that appeared in the October edition of the Nutrition Action Healthletter.   After each of Mr. Lawrence’s comments (in italics), I’ve offered some thoughts of my own.

“The most important impact of the industrialization of agriculture in North America is the progressive consolidation and concentration in the way we raise animals for human consumption.  In the United States we now produce 9 billion animals for food every year:  about 100 million hogs, 35 million head of cattle, and slightly more than 8 billion broiler chickens.  That’s one million broilers per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.  Raising animals this way degrades our environment and consumes our resources.”

We raise our animals naturally and humanely.  We do not concentrate them and we only raise natural breeds of chicken. 

“Our industrial agriculture system produces about one ton of animal waste solids–what’s left of their excrement after the water has been removed–for every single person in the country.  That’s 40 times as much waste as humans produce.  Animal waste, which was once a rich source of organic fertilizer, has now become a major polluter of surface water, soil, and air.”

We use animal manure as part of our process of creating natural fertilization, the way our ancestors have for thousands of years.  Our sustainable practices make the land healthier–they do not pollute it.

“We have lost diversity because of the large concentrations of row crops, particularly the corn and soybeans that feed the animals we eat.  As one example, in the mid-1950s there were more than 25 different commodities–things like potatoes, cherries, popcorn, oats and plums–that were commercially viable in Iowa, meaning that they were sold within the state or shipped out of state.  Today, Iowa is reduced to essentially four:  corn, soybeans, hogs and cattle.”

We are a diversified farm on the model of a traditional family farm.  We raise a large variety of vegetables.  Unlike the large industrial farms, we are not monocultural.

“The way we are farming increases the need for long-distance transportation.  It means, for example, that the grain grown in the Midwest is shipped 1,000 miles to the eastern shore of Maryland to feed the 500 to 600 million broilers that are produced on the Delmarva peninsula each year.  That requires more energy, and not just for transportation.  We have come to rely more and more on fossil fuels to produce synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides.  The net effect is that we have compromised the resilience of our food system.  Our heavy dependence on fossil fuel puts our nation at risk as the cost of energy goes up and the cost of food follows.”

We use no synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides.  We try to avoid the use of any off-farm inputs.  We are committed to sustainability.

“Eat less meat.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average adult American male consumes about 70% more protein every day than he needs.  For women, it’s about 25% more.  What’s more, 67% of the dietary protein in the North American diet comes from animal sources, compared to a worldwide average of about 30%.  So not only are we eating more protein than we need, we’re eating more of our protein in the form of meat protein as opposed to high-quality vegetable protein.  Reducing the amount of beef, pork, and poultry that we consume would immediately ease our footprint on the environment.  That’s a very tough message to sell to people, though, because culturally we have developed this taste for meat.  And our biological evolution probably prepared us to enjoy eating fatty foods.  The biggest source of saturated fat in the U.S. diet is meat.  Americans could go a long way toward meeting the Surgeon General’s recommendation by going one day a week without meat.”

We eat little meat (Cherie eats none) and we eat no meat from animals that weren’t raised, hunted or fished on this farm.  Our community is one of the unhealthiest in the nation, despite being surrounded by rich farm land, primarily because so many folks around here overeat fatty foods.  We see the damage daily and we are committed to being part of the solution, not another part of the problem.

“Beyond eating less meat, people can help by buying more locally grown foods.  That helps decrease our reliance on long-distance transportation and the fossil fuel that requires.  Locally produced foods are available at farmers markets, which are increasing dramatically in number.  We’ve also seen an encouraging increase in the number of small farming operations that participate in consumer supported agriculture, or CSAs.”

Amen.  Our hope is that we will be a reliable local source of the healthiest, highest-quality food available.  We will continue spreading the “buy local” message.  And next year we’re excited to be launching a CSA, making great locally grown food available to families who want to make good food a priority in their lives.

Love Wins