When I was a child, I went to the summer camp offered by our local animal shelter. I loved it. Most of it, anyway. We got to play with kittens, romp with puppies, and be taken for walks by the over-eager shelter dogs. But the teaching styles were a bit unconventional, back then. The education director thought she could teach us to be kind to animals by scaring the wits out of us. We were shown videos of laboratory testing on animals and milk-fed calves confined to cages so small they could not turn around.
And then, there was the visit to the livestock auction. Yes, you read that right. They took a posse of wide-eyed impressionable children to a livestock auction (with Humane Society bumper stickers on the cars we drove in.) I suppose now’s as good a time as any to mention that when it was time to leave, we discovered that someone had slashed all of our tires. So we wandered around, killing time, waiting for the cars to be fixed…and noticed the pile of deceased animals hiding in the back. It was heaped taller than us. And it left quite an impression.
I made a decision that day to avoid meat from animals that were treated this way. And for over 25 years, I haven’t eaten a single bite of beef. Only recently did I start eating pork again – after finding a local farm that treated their pigs with dignity and respect.
But recently, there was a perfect storm. I sat in the fourth row of the Civic Center Auditorium as Michael Pollan talked about keeping our ecosystems in balance. I was awed as he showed us how people have thrown off the health of our planet by taking animals off the farm and putting them into factories (feed lots). And I had an ah-ha moment when he said that what is considered fertilizer on the farm is turned into pollution when it’s produced in a feed lot factory. (It doesn’t take much imagination to consider that each cow produces nearly 120 pounds of poop a day x 5000 cows closely confined together = horrid quantities of waste, groundwater pollution, and methane production.)
All of this pollution and inhumane crowding could be avoided if farms brought back the animals and practiced crop rotation. He walked us through the simple system that Joel Salatin does at Polyface Farm in Virginia.
- Cows graze in a large grassy field (and poop)
- The cows are moved to a new area, leaving this one to rest for about a week.
- In come the chickens (in their mobile coop). They eat the fly larvae in the cow poop, spreading it around as fertilizer, while adding their own…(No chemical fertilizers are needed!)
- The annoying flies that always accompany a cattle farm? Gone. The chickens have eaten all of the maggots and no pesticides are needed. Plus the field is uber-fertile for the new grass or other crops.
It goes without saying that grass fed cows are healthier. Their bodies are designed to eat grass (remember the bison on the plains in the USA before we barged in and took over?). Cows aren’t made to process corn, the inexpensive feed that grows on much of our country’s agricultural land. And because it makes them sick, feed lots add antibiotics to their feed, so they can grow big enough to slaughter and feed our hungry nation. Guess who those antibiotics are passed on to? Not very appetizing.
Back to the perfect storm I was telling you about. The day after I heard Michael Pollan speak, I was contacted by Rod, the main man behind Rocky Mountain Cuts. They produce grass fed, organic beef in Wyoming. We spoke for nearly an hour about how unsustainable our current food system is, and how important it is for people to eat less meat and to focus on what is good for our planet.
He offered to send me some beef and I had to confess that I hadn’t eaten beef in a quarter of a century. I told him that if I were to ever eat beef, his would be the type I would try: organic, grass fed and sustainably grown. But I told him that I’d have to invite my parents over for dinner so they would help me prepare it. I didn’t want to mess up the meal…
And so it was… We celebrated good, sustainable food, as a whole family.