OK, that’s a joke — and for the record I do actually own a hybrid car (it’s in my name anyway. It’s the car my oldest daughter drives) and I have in the past driven hybrid pickups. Why they quit making them, I’ll never know. They had plug-in outlets in the bed and everything.
I have nothing against more fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. You have to admit it though, that headline got your attention.
I’ve been kicking around the idea for this blog ever since I read the latest story about some fancy eating establishments officially taking meat off the menu in an effort to help fight climate change and protect the environment.
Now everybody, in my opinion, has the right to eat or cook whatever they want. I am all about culinary freedom. If someone wants to move meat off their menu, who am I to question their personal choices?
Conversely, however, I feel I have the right to point out I believe this position is based on a misunderstanding of the actual impact livestock have on the environment and the important role grazing animals play (and will continue to play) in feeding and clothing humanity.
First, consider the health of the environment. Most ecosystems require grazing and browsing animals to function properly. They just do. One only has to consider the role bison played on the great plains of North America and how these natural systems evolved over the millennia to begin to understand the importance of including grazing ruminant animals in their management.
As my Dad used to say, “God made this country for the buffalo,” and while this is a simplistic way of putting it, it does kind of sum up the reality of the situation. If you’re going to have a healthy ecosystem in this part of the world, you have to include grazing animals.
Next, let’s consider the impact of livestock, especially methane emissions from cattle, have on climate change.
In an earlier blog I mentioned that methane emissions from ruminant animals are largely recycled through the biogenic carbon cycle when, after about a decade, they break down to carbon dioxide that is then taken up by plants through photosynthesis.
Some of this carbon dioxide then becomes the plant material that livestock eat and some of it is sequestered in the soil.
This differs from, say, fossil fuel emissions that are actually new emission caused by the breakdown of plant and animal material from millions of years ago that have been brought back up to the surface in the form of oil, gas and coal.
I would argue if we had more ruminants reasonably grazing on historic grasslands, we would be sequestering even more carbon dioxide into the soil and helping reduce greenhouse gas levels significantly instead of having a negative impact on the environment.
On top of all this, I would also point out less than one fourth of the planet consists of dry land and less than one fourth of that one fourth can actually grow crops that humans could consume through cultivation (and a lot of our best farmland is already under concrete and asphalt in our major cities).
The rest of this land can only produce food for human consumption if it’s utilized by animals. If we are going to feed 9 billion people by mid-century, livestock has to remain part of our food portfolio.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — we should try to reduce methane levels from livestock. We need to improve feed conversion efficiency to reduce the amount of feed consumed per gallon of milk or pound of meat produced.
When we do that, we will decrease the amount of methane produced per animal and with it help both the environment and the bottom line of farmers and ranchers.
We need to improve genetics. We need to improve technology and production practices. We can and should do more to reduce the footprint of the livestock industry.
With that being said though, we to understand that cattle, sheep, chickens and pigs are not the villains some people make them out to be.
I am all for folks eating whatever they want for whatever reason they want. They need to understand however that meat can be part of their menu and they can still be environmentally friendly.