I had the pleasure of reading an article from National Geographic from last month entitled “The Carnivore’s Dilemma”. It was apparent from the beginning that it was going to be an interesting article, with the premise being “Is it right for an American to eat beef?”. When I read this statement, I wondered right away if this piece would pass the smell test.
To cut to the chase, it was extremely well written and unbiased. It took an honest look at why beef cattle spend the last few months of their lives before harvest on a corn-based diet and how that actually contributes to less environmental impact. It didn’t gloss over the criticisms of this system, but balanced them against the alternatives of eating less beef or switching to feeding cattle grass their entire lives.
A couple of big take-aways from this article were two quotes. The first was from Jason Clay, a food expert with the World Wildlife Foundation. He stated, “Feedlots (that is, corn-raised beef) are better than grass-fed, no question,” because, “We have got to intensify. We’ve got to produce more with less.” Taking a step backwards and leaving new, but proven, technology and methods on the table because of unfounded fears will only exacerbate loss of wildlife habitat and native plant life.
The second quote was from Paul Deefor, chief operating officer for Cactus Feeders, a large feeding company based in Texas and Kansas. He said, “Assume that Mike Engler (his boss) and Paul Deefor are not an evil people.” This statement struck me because it went straight to the heart of the food debate. One would assume from reading Michael Pollan’s and other’s work that cattle farmers must be the spawn of Satan for all the terrible things they do. This is accepted as gospel by so many in the great food debate that his saying it almost sounds ironic.
I credit Robert Kunzig for going farther than many journalists have and taking a close look at beef production through unbiased eyes. To me, this article smells like a crisp fall day. That’s certainly a passing grade on the smell test.
Photo credit: http://www.noble.org/ag/soils/grasshoppers/