Eating Animal Products Ethically

Sharon April 2nd, 2009

Several people have asked me recently to give them some guidelines about what the best choices are if they are going to eat animal products.  I realize that plenty of people happily eat no animal products at all, and I admire that choice, although it isn’t mine.  I think people who limit or eschew animal products for ethical reasons are making one possible good choice.  That said, veganism isn’t likely to be everyone’s decision, so it makes a lot of sense to think carefully about how to eat animal products wisely and sustainably.  Colin Beavan once asked me to write this piece for him, but I had to keep it under 800 words, and I just couldn’t do it – some things can’t be summed up quickly.  So apologies in advance for the length of this essay.

I’m going to try and keep the focus here not one whether vegetarianism/veganism is the ideal choice, but on how to make good choices. I’d be grateful if people in the comments would try and keep the focus too.

For me this comes down to a fairly simple set of principles, but ones that aren’t always self-evident, particularly if you don’t think much about where your animal products come from.

1. First and foremost, given a world-wide food crisis, and a rapidly increasing number of starving people in the world, all animal products we consume should come from animals that are not or are minimally competing with human beings for food – that is the primary food source of our meat, egg and milk producing animals should be plant materials that humans can’t eat in perennial pasturage that preserves soil, sequesters carbon and supports wildlife - not grain products that feed human beings.

This, I think is the most central point – if we are going to eat animal products, our animal products should put us in competition with starving people who eat grain as their primary food source as little as humanly possible.  If at all possible, this should go double for our pets.

2. No industrial animal products.  I realize this is a tough one – for low income people, this often means giving up meat and dairy.  But with the exception of low income diabetics, who may require protein dense meats, I’d say that this one should be an absolute policy – industrial meat is bad in so many ways that it should be the first thing we give up.  There are inexpensive options for animal products that are humanely raised – local chicken producers will sell just about all the chicken feet you could possible eat, giving you an unending supply of chicken soup (best chicken soup out there, too) for very little.  Most producers have trouble selling organ meats and other unusual parts. 

 I generally try very hard not to set rich folks and poor ones up against each other, and I know this does – rich people can buy all the grassfed beef they want (well, not quite, see #3), while low income people are probably thinking “great, she wants me to eat liver…” but the economic, ecologic and other costs of industrial meat are so severe that I can’t justify industrial meat in any way.  We’ve just got to stop eating it – and it isn’t good for us either.

For low income pet owners, this is a tough conundrum.  Industrial culled meat has made pet ownership widely possible, even cheap.  It also makes feedlots profitable – 1 in 7 feedlot cows is deemed unfit for human consumption.  If those animals were unsalable, it is likely that industrial meat production would be a lot less economic, but because these products (and euthanized pets) can be incorporated for very low cost into industrial pet food, it makes industrial meat producers more profitable.  This is extremely problematic – but so is suggesting that low income people who love and care for their animals stop feeding them, or bankrupt themselves with expensive food.  It is one thing to suggest that omnivorous people go vegetarian, another that obligate carnivores like cats or even meat-eating omnivores like dogs that are more difficult to raise on a vegetarian diet be forced to adapt.  The only answer I have is to trust that my readers will be as ethical as they possibly can, and make the best choices they can.  If you can afford to feed your pets decent food, please, please do so. 

3.  A truly local animal based diet, aware of seasons, land use and carrying capacity.  What does this mean?  Well, in the future, if we are to raise animals ethically, we’re all going to have to eat a lot less meat.  And I’m tempted to write here that we should probably all consume meat like that right now – but I know that many small scale animal food producers depend on a loyal base of customers who now are probably eating more chicken and lamb than they will be in the future.  I don’t want to undermine the systems we need to feed us.  So I guess what I’m saying is that eating animal products produced sustainably should begin with the recognition that in truly sustainable societies, meat, milk and eggs are seasonal products.  It should also include no waste – that is, if you are going to buy an animal, you should eat all of it, not just the best parts, and make broth from bones, etc… and also we should be learning to cook and eat with fewer of these products.  A study at Cornell a few years ago found that a sustainable diet that maximized the number of people who could be fed in New York State included about 2 oz total of animal products per person, per day.  In much of the world, people eat much less than that.

4. Eat animal products that support methods of husbandry and slaughter that are ethical – they are humane, they minimize chemical usage, and they allow animals to live as natural a lifestyle to the species as possible.  Humane slaughter issues apply equally to the production of milk and eggs as to meat – that is, there is no retirement home for hens past their laying years, nor for male calves borne to lactating cows, etc…  All animal products involve slaughter at some level – so find out how they do it, or investigate veganism.

What does this actually mean in practical terms?  Why did I put not eating grain ahead of humane slaughter on the priority list?  How does that actually play out in terms of different foods?

Well, in practical terms, I think this means thinking hard about where our animal foods come from.  At the root of it, we are morally and personally responsible for the way animals live their lives and die in our interest.  Disinterested eater is not an ethical position.  I know some people would much rather not know all the details – IMHO, this is one of those “tough patooties” things – the huge impact of meat, the clearing of land for growing grain for livestock, rising grain prices for the poor and their hunger - all those things are issues that animal product eaters are responsible for.  We cannot become less responsible by refusing to think about them - period.  If you don’t want to think about it, go vegan. 

I put not eating grain at the head of this list because personally, I believe that human beings outrank animals in the hierarchy of priorities.  I realize some animal lovers will order things differently, even think I’m deeply wrong for being willing to slaughter animals (this is not hypothetical for us – we eat home-raised meat).  I can accept that worldview, although I don’t share it.  But I believe right now we are facing a very, very dire situation – one that could lead to the deaths of many, many human beings, and that in such a urgent crisis (the food situation may have slipped off the papers, but it has only gotten worse), the biggest obligation we have is to keep human beings alive and allow them to have enough to eat. 

Forty percent of the world’s grain gets fed to livestock.  Aaron and I spent two years researching _A Nation of Farmers_ and everything we found led us to the conclusion that we are very rapidly approaching a bottleneck in our ability to raise food production to meet rising demand for food.  That’s a recipe for starvation, all over the world.  It is already happening – more than 125 million new seriously hungry people were created in the last year.  Many of the gains that were lifting people out of poverty have been lost, and we are expecting to have to feed half again as many people, with big appetites for grain in the form of meat, dairy and eggs.  Climate change is the big wildcard in this situation – if, as seems likely, climate change accellerates past natural tipping points, we are likely to struggle to feed our population.

The only way we are likely to avoid massive world hunger in the coming decades is to cease having human beings, their pets and their cars compete with the world’s poor for human food – more than half the world’s population mostly eats grains in their most basic form.  The same half of the world’s population spends 50-90% of their income on food – so while increased demand for meat or biofuels may merely inconvenience, as the price of food goes up, for other people it is the difference between life and death.  And human life is not something you play games with.  As much as we like meat, eating meat that has eaten 8lbs of human-edible grain and helped increase the price is not ok.  Milk and eggs raise the same difficulties.

But that doesn’t mean that none of us should eat animal products – in fact, animals can enable us to feed more people, if they are used wisely and carefully.  Animals can be raised on land that is too steep, rocky, wet or dry to grow grain or vegetables on.  Animals can make use of weedy plant materials that need to be removed, or of food scraps and food waste that human beings will not eat, and can be carefully used to reduce the need for fossil fueled tillage.  Moreover, as we transition towards a local agriculture, animals can make it possible for small farmers to produce their own fertility and make better use of their land than they could otherwise.   

And appropriate breeds for appropriate conditions (not just climate, but economic and social conditions) can make more animal protein available.  We’ve tended to have an industrial view of the world, in which maximal production is always what is most wanted.  But maximized production can actually reduce available food – for example, in _Becoming Native to this Place_ Wes Jackson discusses a study done in Germany, where local breeds of goats that gave very small amounts of milk were crossbred with high producing Saanen goats.  What happened is that the goats produced a lot more milk – but it became much harder to keep them – the original goats had only produced a few pints of milk a day, but had done so on minimal pasture, hay and scraps, and had done well in the climate.  The new cross-breeds needed better housing, better quality hay, and grain – which meant that in two villages, one where cross breeds had been introduced and one where they had not, in the one where they had not, almost all households had goats and milk, while in the one where the crossbreeds were introduced, only the fairly affluent members of the community had goats, while most farm households had no milk at all.  Helena Norberg-Hodge documents much the same thing with the replacement of the high-glacier adapted Dzo with Jersey cows.  As often is the case, industrial production means more total food production, but far less food access.   So one of the major projects we’re going to have to engage in is finding locally appropriate breeds of animals that meet our real needs.

For those who want to include animal products in your diet, there are some really good options out there.  But you have to know something about how they are produced.  So let’s take a look at that.

1. Eggs – I won’t bother going over the horrors of industrial egg production, including the debeaking, the millions of dead chickens, the manure… etc… let’s just leave it at “don’t buy your eggs from industrial producers if you can avoid it.”  But even good egg producers have some issues – while it is possible to raise most entirely grass fed meat, and some grass fed dairy, it is harder (although not impossible, but tough on a very large scale) to raise eggs on a diet that doesn’t include some kind of grain.

Aaron does it – he has an arrangement with a couple of local food producers to save kitchen scraps for him, and his chickens are raised almost entirely on the pasture in their yard and local restaurant scraps.  On a very small scale this isn’t that hard at all, particularly if you have any access at all to food waste.  We have experimented with a similar relationship to a friend who produces food, but we simply don’t travel the distance to her store often enough to avoid mold and other things we don’t want to feed the chickens, and other rural dwellers may have the same issues.

Some breeds of chickens, particularly landrace breeds from countries that are still poor, like the Egyptian Fayoumi and the Black Java have reportedly done very well at foraging entirely for themselves – they are traditionally raised in countries where no one actually feeds the chickens.  Their yield is lower than other breeds, but if you live in an appropriate climate (they would find our cold weather tough, I’m told) and can live with more moderate egg production, that’s one possible answer for home scale production. 

During the spring and summer, our hens get fairly minimal quantities of organic feed – for 25 hens, we are using less than two cups of feed a day.  I would like to get this lower, and indeed, have been steadily reducing it over the last year.  One thing that has really helped is to make sure that *every* single bite of human food not eaten goes to the poultry – down to making sure the water that the pan with the burned rice or bit of oatmeal in it goes in the pan for the chickens.  In the winter, however, they are eating more, since there is no foraging area, and we are trying to compensate for that by feeding more of our own production.  This isn’t perfect – a lot of what we’re growing could be eaten by people too, if anyone wanted to buy our amaranth or worms, which thus far, they don’t seem to, but my long term goal is to barter eggs for food scraps with my neighbors. 

Most commercial egg producers use a fair bit more grain than we do, as far as I can tell, and in cold climates, winter feeding requires a fair bit.  One strategy for minimizing that competition is to buy your eggs during spring and summer when they are flush, when hens are producing the maximum number of eggs with the minimum number of inputs, and either make egg season your primary egg-eating time, or preserve some eggs for winter.  Another good choice is to do your own experimentation with reducing grain in your own chickens.  Eggs, at this point, are the food for which there is the least-good solution, but they also convert less grain to higher quality protein than meat or milk.  So it is a mixed bag.

2. Milk – this varies a lot by the practice of husbandry.  Your local milk may be pastured, or it may not, and how much of the year, how much grain they feed, and what other practices they use vary an awful lot.  In this case, you really need to get to know your dairy person.  Unfortunately, laws about dairy also vary a lot from state to state – in some places, someone practicing very small scale husbandry, even experimenting with primarily grass fed dairy (and there are some grass-fed dairy producers out there who use no grain at all), can sell their milk, in some places (like New York) they can’t – they can’t even give it away.  What is available in your area is going to vary an awful lot.

Now here’s one place that I’m a little ambivalent about “no industrial” – industrial dairy farming is often not good, but with the exception of the really huge operations, dairy farming tends not to be quite as awful as confinement egg or meat production, or feedlots.  Most dairy farmers can’t afford a lot of extra inputs, so they aren’t going to feed any more grain than they absolutely have to, and a lot of them pasture their animals and don’t spray their pastures simply because that’s the cheap way to raise milk.  The same reasons often apply to why they don’t use BGH – the cheap way is also the good way.  So I don’t insist on no commercial milk – in fact, there’s a real chance that your local convenience store dairy is the most ethical milk you can get, if there’s no one selling direct, particularly in areas where there are a lot of Amish dairies.  But you should do your research.

And again, with milk (cow, goat, or sheep) or its products (butter, cheese, etc…) you want as much of the food value to come from grass as possible.  Permanent pasturage is an ecological good – it supports more wildlife than anything but a forest, and lots of manuring can mean that the organic matter in the pastures sequesters as much carbon as a forest.  There are areas of the world (grassland plains) that *should not be tilled* and until we develop perennial grain species really ready for prime-time, pasturing animals is one of the best options we have for marginal, eroded, steep, etc… land.  If you can find a grass-only dairy, or one that is conscious of this issue and produces its milk with as few concentrates a possible, great.  If you raise dairy animals, before you try this, do a lot of research into animal nutrition – milk production in animals (including humans) requires some calorically dense material – light graining is often necessary.  Farms that grow their own are another possibility.

Most of all, remembering that milk is also seasonal is important – if you are going to make cheese and butter, or eat a lot of trifle (and probably none of us should eat a lot of trifle ;-) ) and custard, do when the grass is lush and plentiful in your area, rather than when the pastures are dry or the snow is three feet deep.  Remember, this is normal – food is seasonal, eggs and milk and meat too.  It was not usual for most people to have ample milk in February, or tons of eggs in November.

Meat: There are a lot of ways to look at the animal slaughter question, even among people who worry about slaughter.  Some people eat milk and eggs, and either ignore the slaughter involved in these, or accept that they are doing what they can and reducing overall animal slaughter.  Some people differentiate between kinds of animals, rejecting mammals, but eating poultry and/or fish (my friend Jesse calls this “beady-eye vegetarianism” – ie, he’ll eat any animal with beady eyes, but if it has big brown cute eyes, he won’t) for various reason.  Other people, particularly in non-vegetarian Buddhist cultures, actually make the opposite distinction – they argue if you are going to take a life, you should take as few lives as possible to feed as many as possible, and would thus say that killing a cow is more ethical than killing 50 fish.  I’m going to leave fish off the table here, and I’m also going to refrain from choosing between these viewpoints.  I think that every person who consciously tries to minimize their impact, even if the conclusions they come to are different, deserves respect.  What I’m going to focus on is the impact of different meats.

Ruminant animals – sheep, goats, cows, buffalo etc…  can generally be raised entirely on pasture and hay to butchering weight, and in fact, until not really that long ago, that was how all animals were raised.  In many countries, they still are.  IMHO, there is really no reason for feeding grain to these animals at all.  That, of course, means that we’ll all be eating less beef, but in the rich world, that would only be good for all of us.  For these animals, raising them entirely on pasture is simply the way to go.  Ideally, you want them to be raised on land that wouldn’t otherwise be used for other kinds of agriculture – which means that people living on the prairies would be producing a lot of beef, lamb or buffalo again, while the rest of us would probably have less. 

Cull animals – these are the side products of egg, milk and breeding production, and they are an inevitable consequence of these practices.  If you are drinking milk, that means that the cows are having calves, or the goats kids.  Half of these babies will be male, and since any given herd only needs a couple of males (and may not need any on site with Artificial insemination), most of those will be killed, as will some of the female kids/calves that are not well suited to becoming future dairy animals.  While some very small producers can create markets for neutered animals, and while we may see some return to draft (which also creates markets for neutered animals) oxen or goats, this will probably be true for a long time.  The other category of cull animals are those adult animals that are either no longer suited for breeding, or past the age of production – old hens, rabbits that eat their litters, goats that throw a defect, sheep that don’t mother well.

And the thing about these cull animals is that culling (assuming that you don’t think the whole project of livestock is wrong, which some people do) is necessary.  That is, the breeds of animals that can live on what is available and thrive, while also producing human food in local circumstances are the product of vigorous culling – of human breeding of animals for their locality.  If we want to keep appropriate livestock at all, we’re going to be culling animals.  Some animals can simply be relocated, but really responsible breeders sometimes are going to say that this animal simply can’t improve the breed, and should be removed.

Most of us do not eat older animals, which many culls are – this involves different techniques (old hens are perfect for stewing or coq au vin, older ruminants also need long periods of wet cooking to tenderize, and can be helped with marinades), but this kind of meat eating is one of the more ethical options.  These are also good choices for feeding to pets – some high quality pet foods rely primarily on these older, organically raised animals, or you can buy the meat directly sometimes. 

Poultry and pigs are not ruminant animals – they are omnivores that should be raised on minimal grain, but will often be raised using some grain or legume foods.  Both, however, can forage and can be fed on human scraps (remember, you want good food scraps – if you pork is raised on twinkies, its value will be lot less than if it is raised on past-prime produce).  So ideally, you want your chickens or your pork to come from a producer who is getting as much food as possible from woodland (pigs can be raised on acorns and in the days of chestnuts were often raised on chestnut mast), food scraps and/or pasture, and feeds grain minimally.

 Geese are a major exception to the poultry rule – they can live in fairly cold climates on pretty much forage alone.  One of ours escaped some years ago and lived several years (before she was caught by another creature) on our local pond, surviving quite happily.  Geese are the one really grass-fed bird, and if raised that way, are a great option. 

Rabbits (though sadly not kosher) are also a great option – in many places, rabbits are raised entirely on garden scraps and marginal weeds that are cut, and can be dried as hay.  Most people use pellets for convenience, and you’ll get higher production that way (and while not perfect, alfalfa pellets are considerably better than grain, if the alfalfa doesn’t come from irrigated pastures, which can be tough to find out – actually, rabbit pellets aren’t a terrible feed supplement for many animals, instead of grain, again, assuming it isn’t California irrigated or something), and probably will want to choose animals well adapted to that form of production, but rabbit is also a meat that people and animals can eat pretty sustainably.  Rabbit can’t provide all the fat in a human or animal diet – it is too lean, but it can provide much of the meat for many people.  The problem is finding a producer, and one who uses sustainable methods – this is a potential backyard food niche, if you can build a clientele.

Hunted/snared wild meat – like eating more meat than you might eventually because you are supporting local producers and there is more local meat than beans, or because you live on a farm and have more eggs than you can donate to the food pantry, this is one of those “doesn’t necessarily work if everyone does it, but isn’t a bad idea now” things – in many cases, highly edible animals are overpopulating local areas or are a major pest problem, but because of our prejudices against eating certain foods

Remember, also that meat is seasonal (does it feel like I’m repeating myself?).  Other than very small lambs and broiler chickens in late spring early summer, in much of the country, there isn’t much meat in the spring and summer in the natural order of things?  Why?  Because sustainable meat producers mostly reduced their costs and the number of animals they had to carry through on stored food in the fall.  The ones they kept were breeders, and the babies born haven’t had time to eat enough to be eaten (this is somewhat different in hot, dry places).  Meat is most abundant in the late fall and winter, when the animals have put all the weight they can on by eating their pastures or foraging.  If the situation is different with your producer, ask why – for example, older hens may be culled in the spring or summer.  But mostly seasonal eating means not a lot of meat in spring and summer, but lots of eggs and milk, while the eggs and milk taper out in the fall and winter.  This is a natural cycle, it is normal, and it is worth being aware of if you are trying to eat sustainably.

While I consider it essential, I should add that I’m really reluctant to put the “no grain” policy in truly absolute terms, because so many small, otherwise sustainable producers are using as little grain as they can.  We are among them – we use a small amount of commercial feed for our goats and poultry.  And I’d get rid of both animals, if I didn’t think that modelling and developing both breeds and practices for low-grain, or eventually no-grain husbandry was so important.  If you know farmers making the transition, or working on finding a balance here, support them.  The reality is that deindustrializing agriculture is a big project, and all the people involved in it deserve your assistance.

 Cheers,

 Sharon

46 Responses to “Eating Animal Products Ethically”

  1. dewey says:

    What a superb piece, Sharon! I do have qualms, though, about the consequences of distributing food according to needs worldwide. Right now, America produces more grain than we “need.” If we and our pets avoid grain-fed meat, we could produce less grain, save our soils, and let the dead zone in the Gulf recover (so our children can still eat fish). Alternatively, we could keep cranking out just as much grain but send more to other regions whose population already exceeds their carrying capacity. The trouble with that is that we suspect our current grain production may be unsustainable. Even if the U.S. would never cut off anyone’s food supply for political or economic motives (hah!), what if the day comes when we CAN’T produce food for so many? What would happen then to people who had become wholly dependent on American imports? If they have not had incentives to preserve their own agriculture, there could be a much worse disaster than we are seeing today.

    You mention giving water from a pan of burnt rice to the chickens. There is at least one country where water is boiled with the burnt rice as the beverage (served hot) with meals. The stuff ranges in color from deep yellow to opaque dark brown, and in flavor (my opinion) from bearable to hideous. But if you’re really hard up for food, it extracts extra calories from the rice, plus makes the water safer.

  2. Micheal says:

    Quote:

    “1. First and foremost, given a world-wide food crisis, and a rapidly increasing number of starving people in the world, all animal products we consume should come from animals that are not or are minimally competing with human beings for food – that is the primary food source of our meat, egg and milk producing animals should be plant materials that humans can’t eat in perennial pasturage that preserves soil – not grain.

    This, I think is the most central point – if we are going to eat animal products, our animal products should [not] put us in competition with starving people who eat grain as their primary food source as little as humanly possible. If at all possible, this should go double for your pets.”

    ………………………………………………………………………

    It is virtually impossible to raise animals that are not competing with humans for food. Pasture dedicated to animal forage is land that could be used to grow food for humans. All the other investments in rearing animals are investments that could instead be made in growing food for humans.

    The primary premise is violated nearly unavoidably. There is no ethical justification for eating animal flesh. But then, the premise that there must be an ethical basis for eating animal flesh is equally in error.

    I agree that there is very little logic in eating animal products but then, there is very little logic in the distribution of any resource among the peoples across the globe. It would seem to make sense that some forms of raising animals for human nutrition are more equitable than other forms but virtually no form of consuming animals is non-competitive with growing vegetable matter for human consumption. Discussions of ethics muddy rather than clarify issues.

  3. Sharon says:

    Michael, actually, I don’t think it is true that animal husbandry is always in competition with human food – although it might be true that it is always in competition with wildlife. Grassland prairies and savannahs generally can’t support cultivation at all – you get severe erosion and soil loss, and eventually, the dust bowl. Many of them don’t have enough rainfall to support grain – but they can support animals at fairly low densities (and do). Many deserts can’t support vegetable or grain production, but can support some reasonably density of migratory, herded animals. In other cases, the animal production is actually reciprocal – for example, frogs and ducks raised with rice produce more food value per hectare than rice raised alone. In other cases, you could technically produce vegetable food there, but it would be difficult to justify – that is, we could terrace all the steep hillsides in the Northeast, and invest our lives in building up the thin, rocky soil in the Adirondacks to vegetable growing capacity, but realistically, raising animals is a better use of energy and allows the land to support more wildlife and sequester more carbon.

    Then there’s another factor I left off – time in the transition to sustainable agriculture. Animals allow small farmers to produce more food in less time. For example, at the peak of our CSA I farmed 2 acres without powered equipment, and with family help. This is just about the maximum that could possibly be done by a healthy young family. But I can also farm 1 1/2 acres of vegetables and pasture 20 acres of grassland, producing far more food in total for my neighbors than my 2 acres of vegetables. Eventually, it might make sense for any of that land that is tillable to be used to grow vegetables, with more people living on it, but for now, with less than 2% of the US farming, and with just my family, I’m making the best possible use of the land. Not to mention the fact that farmers don’t exist if they can’t support themselves, and that animal products generally pay better. But those last two I left out because they are less practical than ethical. As I note in re:hunting, what is ethical will not always be static here.

    Dewey, I agree with you – this could play out several ways. Dumping is a real danger, and a collapsed price of grain could prevent poorer nations from doing what they need to. But there are two factors, I think, that are likely to prevent that in the long term. First, there’s the decline in fossil fuel availability, and what I think is, over the next decade, probably inevitable rising transport costs – my guess is that for importing nations without wealth, there’s an ugly squeeze coming, and US supplies will be genuinely needed on the market. And in the long term, if climate predictions are correct, we’re probably going to stop exporting grain altogether. I agree that the issues you raise are completely valid and that this could go several bad ways. At the same time, however, I still think that the balance of benefits comes from dropping grain prices and reducing competition.

    Sharon

  4. Jerry says:

    Your post is really right on the problem of animal agriculture. It is hard as a farmer to make a go of it on only 80 acres of tillable land. Right now I have a fall freshening herd of Holsteins because I have found them much easier to rebreed when it’s colder. I have been giving serious consideration to switching to Jerseys because they are better at grazing when it’s hot and their genetics makes them easier to get safe in calf when it’s hot. I do think I will start of gradually replacing my black and whites.
    The most important resource that animal ag leaves is the manure that can really help with the sustainability issues I see confronting how we grow our food. Plants thrive on the slow release of nitrogen and it doesn’t all leach away in the first heavy rainfall as commercial fertilizer does.
    BGH use in our neck of the woods took a nosedive when Garelick Farms offered a premium to discontinue its use. I always said to farmers using it that the only person making money with its use was Monsanto. Dairy cows are stressed enough without giving them steroids.
    I have been grazing my cows since the spring of 96 and I’m pleased with the results in both animal performance and health. Cows were really meant to eat grass.
    One more comment on the slaughter of bull calves. I did start 6 steers this past fall after receiving 16 dollars for the first three calves that went to the auction. Nobody wanted to raise animals with the price of grain so high. I also use sexed semen on virgin heifers. The results were four bred heifers that had four female calves.

  5. dewey says:

    I’d also observe to Micheal that there are hardly any thriving ethnic groups who live voluntarily as vegans. We evolved as omnivores, so it’s very difficult for humans in nature to meet all their nutritional needs without some animal products. That can mean meat or it can mean seafood, eggs, insects, or in relatively recent times dairy, but sooner or later almost everyone seeks out some kind of animal protein, because we are biologically adapted to do so and naturally desire it. (If you are a vegan, Micheal, I presume you take some kind of supplements, but there were no health food stores on the Pleistocene Serengeti, nor are there in most of the world today.)

    To me, a philosophy that defined meeting one’s biological needs (in ordinary circumstances) as unethical would be unsupportable. If it is not unethical for a cat to kill a mouse for food, it can’t be unethical for me to kill a rabbit for food. Since humans have more ability and leisure to engage in deep thought about these things, I would make a point of minimizing the animal’s pain and fear, which might make me “more ethical” than a predatory animal.

  6. KF says:

    We moved from suburbia to a rural area in a different state last year and have some fenced pasture and a barn on our new property. This land was a dairy farm over 100 years ago, and where we are, we get plenty of snow/rain, but the soils are too acidic for growing many grains or vegetables without significant (expensive) and ongoing amendments of lime and other alkalines. Pasture grows well, however. We have been researching having animals, but are somewhat dismayed to find that many of the resources for learning about this stuff (4H, the Storey publications, county extension offices, and the like) are off-shoots of industrial production that don’t talk much about regionally-adapted breeds, ones more adapted to pasture-only production, etc. There is barely information about ones that are cold-hardy for our zone 5 area. It is one of the tragedies of industrial agriculture that the generation that had that knowledge has now been dead for 2 generations so that we must start from scratch to learn it all (We don’t have Amish or Mennonite folk to learn from in our part of the country). Does anybody have suggestions on where to find that kind of information?

  7. Abbie says:

    Thank you so much for this very important post. My husband’s family raises pigs and is adding turkeys this year. We know the animals are treated well, fed healthy diets, and will be slaughtered humanely (because we will do it).

    I do my best not to waste anything, and will make stock as well. I would encourage people to try different cuts, and also try to use the whole thing. For example, I could make 4 boneless skinless chicken breasts to feed 4 people, OR I could make a whole chicken, which we could use for many days, and then make stock out of the bones. 4 breasts means at least 2 chickens died for one meal. One chicken for many meals is therefore the route I prefer to go.

  8. Nettle says:

    For the premise Michael proposed, that raising animals for food always competes for resources with food crops and is therefore always unethical, I have to wonder: how are those crops fertilized in a livestock-free world? Do the proponents of such a model have a plan for this? I’m genuinely curious about this and do not intend this as a snarky question at all – I’m just wondering if this is something that has really been thought all the way through, and if anyone has ever tried some form of totally vegan farming that uses no animal products (you would need bugs, I guess, but as wild volunteers I suppose those would be seen as ethical in a way that milk cows would not be.) Humanure, maybe?

  9. graycat says:

    kf
    to find the info you need, try your local or a regional library. Look at old newspapers (farm stories, county fairs, livestock ads and sales). Look for historical documents from your area: farm diaries are great. Find some old ex-farmers in nursing homes. Put an ad in the paper or an agriculture publication,asking for information. I think you’ll be surprised at the help you can get. Good luck.

    And thank you for this essay,Sharon. I don’t really think about the seasonality of animal protein, but I’ll certainly incorporate it into my diet now.

  10. Excellent post Sharon!

    Jerry, check out the Stockman Grass Farmer, last month the cover story detailed a seasonal, grass-based dairy using Kerry cattle, while on more than 80 acres, he employed rotational grazing, let the calves nurse, giving him a meat product, and still enough milk for cheese making. With the whey by-product he raised pigs, and he was netting 6 figures. He had to market his products, but has more demand than he can keep up with.
    http://www.cowsoutside.com/
    And you may want to read up on A1 and A2 milk and make your switch to Jerseys!
    http://thebovine.wordpress.com/2009/03/20/the-devil-in-the-milk-dr-thomas-cowan-on-how-a2-milk-is-the-answer-to-the-mystery-of-why-even-raw-milk-sometimes-does-not-seem-to-be-enough-of-an-improvement-over-store-bought/

    Nettle, that is a good point, many organic farms here practice “vegetarian” farming practices by bringing in mined soil amendments and using cover crops. They do produce well, but they are not sustainable in any way, still being heavily dependent on oil to truck in supplies and for the equipment to work in the cover crops.

    Salatin’s Polyface farm has relied on rotational grazing and applying composted manure and been able to heal their land with animals – land that was formerly used to grow grains and was worn out.

    For our farm, in a marginal farming area, rotationally based cattle and one milk cow, supply our fertility needs for the pastures and our gardens. To crop our land and bring in inputs would be cost prohibitive and foolish. At this point we are trying to find the balance of cattle that can support themselves, through grazing and what hay we can raise here to take them through the winter. Smaller grazing animals are out, since our main predators are cougars.

    And one other addition, to the meat eating thing, we generally will eat one of our “cull” cows, (cull meaning – old, no calf etc., NOT sick) if the animal is in good health, and is not stressed at slaughter time the meat is just as tender as a young animal. Steaks around here are reserved for special occasions too, so even though I have cows, I am not eating steak everyday.

  11. NM says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful points, Sharon.
    I don’t choose to eat meat, apart from a rare bit of fish, and the use we make of livestock does bother me, but human beings are omnivores, as dewey noted, and there is a long a tradition of providing the best possible care for the animals (with some unfortunate exceptions). Plus, I have 2 cats and 3 dogs, so it’s not like I’m avoiding the whole meat issue by not eating it personally.
    Then, too, raising our own meat animals, milk and eggs, as well as vegetables, on a little 5-acre farm enabled my parents to raise 3 children on a salary that would otherwise have had us receiving food stamps. Easier, maybe, to do that in the 1970s …
    (I don’t mean that food stamps are a bad thing — but we were able to leave that resource for others, and have very high quality food to eat.)
    A lot of the choices we can make as vegetarians in this country — the soy creamer I enjoy in tea (lactose intolerance), my favorite (locally made) vegan sausages — are luxuries made possible by the current, unsustainable American system. One could certainly make do without them, but it would be less, well, luxurious. Trouble is, it’s easy to forget they Are luxuries.
    None of that makes me inclined to add meat to my diet, but they are points I think we vegetarians need to keep in mind.

  12. Shira says:

    Great essay. For those who are interested, the Full Moon Feast by Jessica Prentice has an in depth approach for seasonal eating, including Blood Moon, by which she means slaughtering time.

    I like happy food. We get a quarter beef in November, neatly cut, wrapped up in butcher’s paper and frozen solid. It’s a system somewhere between peasant agriculture and modern industrial food. We know the farmer, and she raises happy pastured beef. When we run out of steak and pot roast, it’s hamburger and soup bones until the next beef. One year when I had a small beef and a larger family, we ran out of beef by June and I was too stubborn to buy more. Of course the system only works if the power stays on at my house, but so far we have not had extended outages.

    Poultry has been all over the place. Some years I’ve been able to get chickens and turkey from local farmers. I’ve done chicken deals in parking lots and a dead drop at the tech school that reminded my middle aged hippie friends of long-ago drug deals (The chickens will be in a cooler in the back seat, leave the money in the glove compartment…)

    The professional farmers I’ve dealt with never stay on small scale pastured poultry for long. I guess the numbers don’t scale. The niche is wide open for nano-farming. I’m going to try to contract with a twelve year old 4-H participant to raise a dozen broilers for me this year. We can avoid all the regulatory hoops if she sells me live birds and I have a chicken day, slaughtering, scalding, plucking and freezing.

    We can get really good local eggs and milk. I afford them in the usual way, by not buying processed food. I visited a local dairy, in fact the guy who’s milk I usually buy at the store. He feeds grass, his own hay, and a little grain as a mineral delivery system to his 52 Jerseys. His recounting of the hoops that he went through to get a small scale dairy operational was quite the story. This is the real problem, the regulatory framework is designed for industrial operations. The backyard chicken rancher or diversified farmer with a couple of cows has an unworkable overhead of regulations to comply with.

    Shira in Bellingham, WA

  13. Sarah says:

    What an unexpectedly timely post — we just put in an order for a local farm’s monthly meat delivery :-) I’m trying to get over my weirded-out-ness about odd animal bits, and so my boyfriend has promised me Indonesian oxtail soup.

  14. Laura says:

    It’s not a good or practical idea to keep bringing more mouths to feed into the world. Not only is more food and water needed, but more of the earth’s resources are put to the test. Human society as a whole can either willingly work to reduce its population aiming for a softer landing–or it will be done for us very viciously by mother nature.

  15. jerusha says:

    thank you for recognizing the differing protein needs of diabetics. i have learned the hard way that vegetarianism/veganism is a much more complex endeavour for a type 1 diabetic.

  16. KF, you might want to do some research into heritage breeds that ‘come from’ places with climates similar to where you live.

    Here in cold Alberta, for instance, Icelandic sheep do really well – Iceland is cold and snowy, and they grow no grain there, so Icelandic sheep are built for long cold winters and eating pasture only. I also have some Down breed sheep (from England, historically) and they don’t do nearly as well with the deep cold of winter, especially for lambing time – “spring” in England is more like a damp summer morning in Alberta, and they just aren’t bred for it. We’re moving more towards Icelandics as a result.

    Heritage breeders in your area might also be a good resource – often they are interested in the ‘old way’ of doing things. Not always, but often. You might also check out the ‘grass-fed’ websites to get an idea of what breeds do well on pasture only.

    Anyone interested in making a smallholding might also want to check out a book by Carol Ekarius called “Small Scale Livestock Farming” (I believe – it’s blue and softcover) … excellent and very non-industrial book that gives you lots of ways to assess what might work in your particular part of the world on your particular little patch of land – with lots of emphasis on figuring out what the natural cycles are where you live, and how to fit your livestock production into that cycle to maximize the benefits.

    And Sharon, thanks for a wonderful and very clear post. Living in the cold north, being vegetarian just won’t work on a local diet … I can’t live on snow all winter (snow generally covers the ground from November to some time in April or May) and there’s no way I could grow enough to sustain me all winter in our short growing season. Our land is great pasture though – so we have chickens, sheep, and a Dexter cow … manure for the garden, milk and eggs, and lots of lamb and a bit of beef. So far, it’s working for us … but we are still living with ‘one foot in each world’ and it takes a lot out of a person to do that. Still, we invest the money we make in our ‘current-world life’ in building up our little tiny farm for what we figure the world is likely to become, figuring that it’s better to practice now, while we can go to Safeway if we mess up, rather than suddenly find ourselves having to rely on things we know little about. Learn to do by doing, as they say in 4-H.

    Six years ago, I never would have dreamed I’d spend my evenings researching sheep management practices, or reading up on chicken butchering techniques, or that I’d be getting up at six in the morning to milk a cow … but it’s a good feeling. I highly recommend small scale farming to anyone who can give it a go. :)

  17. Lori Scott says:

    We don’t have the problems associated with cold winters here is Australia. But some of our experience might help you.

    We integrate within the garden, plants which are suitable for livestock supplement feeding. These are primarily pumpkins (which store over winter), chokos and arrowroot. We also grow small areas of grains in summer and winter and have a small amount of sugar cane which is particularly good for milking animals.

    All of these things are cooked for the animals. We have found that they prefer softer forage where the food is readily available to them. We might boil up some pumpkin, skins and all with some grain to soften and thicken it. At the end, we stir in some pollard which is a by product of flour making and therefore cheap and ethical.

    They lay well and milk well on boiled and combined foods.

    We are also experimenting on sprouted grains for poultry. We have been sprouting wheat grass just in the kitchen and supplementing their feed with this. So this is something that could be done in some volume over the winter if you had a warm spot in the house.

    Also, don’t go past supplementing them with molasses if you can get it cheaply. This has lots of minerals and (I think) B group vitamins that are very good for milking stock. Don’t forget if you milk, the excess is perfect for feeding poultry and pigs. The poultry prize the calcium for their egg shells.

    Eventually, you will develop a system to reduce your inputs into the animals and that is what will make it so worthwhile financially and ethically to produce your protein food.

  18. Steph says:

    Apple Jack Creek- Eliot Coleman’s “4 Season Harvest” is worth owning- he’s from mid Maine & gets long cold winters

    About Culls: We have purposefully chosen to use culls for our meat needs wherever possible. Rather than ordering 100 Jumbo Cornish Cross for $108 I ordered 100 Heavy Layer cockerels for $31.80. I expect that they will pasture and forage better so keeping them to feed out the extra few weeks isn’t a big deal.

    We plan to buy dairy culls to raise for beef on our ‘pasture’ from April to November. Yes, they will be a little smaller than commercially slaughtered beeves but I can buy an animal (cheap) that would otherwise be someone’s problem critter, raise it with kindness, feed it with the grass in my yard that my husband would otherwise be running over with the petro powered lawn tractor, water it mostly with what comes off the roof, and slaughter it as quickly and painlessly as possible. I also get the benefit of lots of manure to improve my soil and help me extend my growing season. I’m just not seeing what my little home operation has to do with anyone in Zimbabwe or India or the ‘carrying capacity’ of anywhere but my own little acreage. One person’s cull is another person’s dinner.

  19. Brad K. says:

    Sharon – great post. I think your stand on grain is extreme in today’s world – doing the right thing isn’t likely to be noticed, isn’t likely to be effective either locally or internationally, and imposes hardships on those that follow your reasoning.

    Big seed companies, especially since the laws to protect patented seed have restricted what grains can be used for seed, control almost all the commercial grain production. Which produces the bulk of grain available for food, for export, and for ethanol. By controlling seed availability, they essentially control grain markets.

    Which means an individual producer’s choice about how to balance grains and pasture won’t have much effect locally, nationally, or internationally. Except, to artificially sacrifice income potential.

    Laura, from Biblical times through today’s world, an act of birth is an act of war.

    The people having babies today, and teaching them the culture and beliefs of the parents will have the security advantage tomorrow. If we don’t raise enough children to field tomorrow’s army, those that can will over-run us and eat our lunch.

    While overpopulation threatens everyone, most people are staring necessity in the face from too close a range – and find that zero population growth is an unacceptable risk.

  20. Sharon says:

    KF, you might also want to look at the American Livestock Breed Conservancy (you don’t meantion whether you are in the US or not, but your country may have a similar group, if not) and get in touch with them and start receiving their publications. http://www.albc-usa.org/

    Sharon

  21. dewey says:

    Brad, that was true back when Bantu farmers forced African hunter-gatherers off the good land. War today depends at least as much upon access to technology and training as upon numbers. People who have bred themselves into poverty will have trouble maintaining a proportionately large top-notch military force. The poor and poorly armed can mount successful resistance to wealthy aggressors (as we are noticing today) but for them to conquer wealthy nations would be an impossible task.

    Anyway, in the long term, the argument that “if XXX outgroup is outbreeding their resources, so must we” only leads to mass extinction. Talk about an unacceptable risk! I’d much rather be replaced by nonwhite humans than by a lifeless desert.

    And further, your description of “an act of birth” as an act of war sounds much like the old patriarchal approach of treating “our” women as factories for cannon fodder and “their” women as targets. A sustainable society must be one that values women’s perspectives and allows them to control their own fertility.

  22. suburbanfarmgirl says:

    I am fortunate to get most of my milk from a Jersey cow that actually does not like grain!

    While this idiosyncrasy makes it difficult to bribe her into doing things she doesn’t want to do, it does demonstrate that it’s possible to maintain a family milk cow on good quality pasture and hay. Her production wouldn’t win awards, but she’s healthy and gives more than enough milk for a calf and a few humans.

    (When the cow is dry, a goat contibutes the milk supply).

  23. j.c. says:

    KF – you might want to check out Tillers International for information on heritage breeds. They are nearby to me and do wonderful work. We are also in zone 5.

    http://www.tillersinternational.org

  24. janette says:

    As a Brit living in America, who also lived for 10 years in Tuscany, I’m bemused (and disappointed) by my inability here to find kidneys, liver, heart, oxtail, etc. They are cheap, delicious, and full of flavor, not to mention nutrients. (As a still menstruating woman, I need extra iron, and organs are ideal for that. I miss a good, comforting steak and kidney pie…). Plus the fats – why can I not find real lard? Also dripping – the fat and jelly that come off when roasting meat – butchers in England and Germany sell this in little pots – excellent for eating on toast, or incorporating in gravy for richness. The jelly is also very good when you are sick and can’t face eating anything else… I like to make my own, but the joints sold here are so lean that they don’t produce real dripping. What do they do with the excess fat? I have tried asking the men behind the meat counter, but generally they just receive their meat prewrapped, and have no clue as to the other bits.

    I wasted many weeks when I first came here, asking people here where the butcher was. There are some supermarkets who have butchers in the meat section, but I have lived in, or visited, all over Europe, and never expected to come across a town that does not have at least one butcher’s shop, not to mention a greengrocer’s, baker’s (that wasn’t part of a coffee shop/internet cafe), or fish shop. I am also staggered by the restaurant portions, and the waste…

    Ah well – why I am really writing is to share my experience of living in a Tuscan village where everybody grew sweetcorn – from large fields to backgardens, depending on availability. This was not to eat, but to shuck – every patio and front yard had a tarp spread out, with the kernels drying under the sun, being turned every so often. Some of this was ground down and stored to later make polenta (usually to eat with wild boar that the hunter(s) of the family had killed), but mostly these dried kernels were fed directly to the chickens and the pigs. The cobs, incidentally, were also dried and used in the woodstoves.

    In England, on the other hand, cows, sheep, pigs, etc, are grazed in fields, with hay given in the winter. Haystacks abound – I have never yet seen a haystack in Iowa or in Minnesota, where I now live. (I am talking about small to medium sized farms – I have no idea about the larger operations). I could not believe my ears when people told me that grain was being fed to animals here in the States. I am also horrified, from living in Iowa, at how many field have been turned over to growing corn for fuel – I find this shocking in a world where people are starving to death every day…

    I am not writing in order to criticise the USA, so please don’t flame me – just adding another perspective… I should like an explanation of some of these mysteries, if anyone is kind enough to take the time.

  25. Peggy says:

    janette:

    In Southeastern Pennsylvania when I was growing up, every dairy farm grew corn for silage. The corn stover (stalks and leaves of the corn plant) was cut green and put into a silo to ferment and was fed to the dairy cows over the winter.

    When my husband was in high school, he worked for a farmer who had about 70 cows. A herd of 70 cows needed a farm of about 80-100 acres to grow the corn for silage and alfalfa for making hay. The land was rotated between pasture and fallow.

    At any one time half the cows were wet, and silage was used to supplement their diet over the winter. The cows that were dry weren’t given silage, even if they were pregnant, but hay was taken to the grazing animals in the winter when it snowed.

    But this was 40 years ago. Most of those farms are housing developments now.

  26. vera says:

    Awesome post. Janette, some parts of America are better for getting the organ meats, NYC for example was the last time I could get sweetbreads. Here is Colorado, the stores no longer even package their meats, it’s all done in Denver, and the choices are the most pathetic I have ever seen. I can’t even find tongue anymore. Time to start buying direct from farmers. Oh, and if you do find a butcher, you can ask for pork fat and render your own lard along with marvelous cracklings.

    Problem with veganism that is rarely addressed is that grain agriculture tends to ruin the soil. Tim Flannery (Oz biologist) says that it takes there 7 kg soil lost to put a 1 kg loaf of bread on the table. Personally, I find that completely ethically unacceptable. I eat light on grains myself (it’s starch that makes people fat, not fat…) as I tend to suffer from gluten intolerance. Animal farming that is done well and humanely is what makes the most ethical sense to me. We all serve life in death.

  27. young snowbird says:

    I’ve been investigating vegetarianism and veganism as an approach to eating for a few years. Not quite 100% there, but inching up on it. I grew up in Minnesota eating meat and potatoes, lots of dairy and eggs. Over the years I have developed health problems that slowly required that I edit out dairy, most meats and now many grains. I understand the ethical arguments, they just aren’t why I eat the way I do. Our food industry is in a sorry state now, for sure. I think of it as being over-sanitized and polished for the appearance of”wealth at all costs.” Just like our housing development strategy and our healthcare strategy.

    Janette: Of those items you’ve been searching for here in the states – locate a grocery that caters to an hispanic or asian population. Or one that is located in an ethnically concentrated neighborhood. The chances are much higher that you will be then able to buy cow’s tongue, oxtails, lard, etc. The smaller groceries will carry what their customers want to buy. We have several grocery chains in Phoenix (where I live) that sell all of these things and they cater to hispanic shoppers. Although the Walmart in my area also carries lard in a 2lb can, in the ethnic foods section. I can even get LouAnn coconut oil, what do you know!

  28. Joanna says:

    KF, you’ve already had lots of great suggestions on where to find landrace animals (animals suited through old-fashioned breeding to particular climes), but I’d add one more. We’ve found a lot of great starting points for research through Hobby Farm magazine. It tends to be a bit on the glitzy side for my tastes, but we have encountered a sizable number of excellent articles on heritage breeds.

    Our northeastern climate has dictated that we seek out hardy animals that can handle cold. Because we are a small homestead with limited resources and time, we also seek animals that take minimal input and can largely care for themselves. A good bit of our land is not useful for any sort of gardening, but makes a great place for hardy goats, sheep and other livestock we’ve not gotten to yet. The chickens eat some supplemental pellets in winter, but mostly forage and the scraps the local preschoolers prefer to dump in the compost ;) The goats help keep the land clear for the sheep who produce both fiber, and meat from culls. The rabbits eat scraps, forage, and pellets over the winter months (we’re working on ways to get away from this). When we do finally get our family cow, I fully anticipate it being grass-fed – both for financial and health reasons, both ours and the cows. I have to add that our garden would be awful without all the manure input we get from our animals, so we’d likely not eveh have veggies if we didn’t have the livestock!

  29. Nita says:

    Excellent post Sharon! There are ethical ways to incorporate meat and dairy products into our diets, and if people buy from ethical farmers, the supply will increase.

    Jerry, check out the Stockman Grass Farmer, last month the cover story detailed a seasonal, grass-based dairy using Kerry cattle, while on more than 80 acres, he employed rotational grazing, let the calves nurse, giving him a meat product, and still enough milk for cheese making. With the whey by-product he raised pigs, and he was netting 6 figures. He had to market his products, but has more demand than he can keep up with.

    And you may want to read up on A1 and A2 milk and make your switch to Jerseys!

    Nettle, that is a good point, many organic farms here practice “vegetarian” farming practices by bringing in mined soil amendments and using cover crops. They do produce well, but they are not sustainable in any way, still being heavily dependent on oil to truck in supplies and for the equipment to work in the cover crops.

    Salatin’s Polyface farm has relied on rotational grazing and applying composted manure and been able to heal their land with animals – land that was formerly used to grow grains and was worn out.

    For our farm, in a marginal farming area, rotationally based cattle and one milk cow, supply our fertility needs for the pastures and our gardens. To crop our land and bring in inputs would be cost prohibitive and foolish. At this point we are trying to find the balance of cattle that can support themselves, through grazing and what hay we can raise here to take them through the winter. Smaller grazing animals are out, since our main predators are cougars.

    And one other addition, to the meat eating thing, we generally will eat one of our “cull” cows, (cull meaning – old, no calf etc., NOT sick) if the animal is in good health, and is not stressed at slaughter time the meat is just as tender as a young animal. Steaks around here are reserved for special occasions too, so even though I have cows, I am not eating steak everyday.

  30. BoysMom says:

    Jannette, I can help you with the lard. Buy a whole live hog, order it butchered, and have a chat with the butcher. You will probably have to repeat several times that yes, you really do want the lard. And the feet. And all the other parts. And no, you don’t want them to do the hams for you. (At least our butcher said they had to inject them with stuff before smoking, they couldn’t just smoke. Blamed a law.) You can get oxtails and such the same way, when you buy a beef. In my area (west) I haven’t had trouble getting liver and kidneys in the grocery store.

    Michael, I’ve lived in a place that got an average of nine inches of percipitation per year, with an average of 28 days frost free. It is ranch country, cattle everywhere, though thinly. Can you come up with a crop for human consumption that would tolerate those conditions? This is, by the way, a location in the continental US, not some extreme reach of the artic.

  31. Steph: Thanks for that book recommendation, I have heard of it before and now I think I’d better add it to my list!

    Jeannette: Look for your local abbatoir (check the yellow pages). If you can find a local slaughterhouse (there are about four within an hour to an hour and a half of where I live, but I’m in the middle of Alberta Beef Country), they will be the place to buy organ meats, and obtain fat (trimmings) and all the other bits and pieces. The biggest one near me has an actual store front shop, but even the small ones will have customers who ‘leave behind’ bits they don’t want, and then the butcher will sell those.

    Alternatively, find your local 4-H club and go to their end of the year auction and buy a cow (or sheep, or goat). You’ll be supporting a kid’s 4-H project, and (well, if it is done the same there as here, it might not be) they will have butchers that they send the livestock to, and you can give the butcher your instructions directly … including ‘please save me all the bits’. It’d be somewhere to start if you don’t have local farmers advertising that they do direct sales.

    I get bones, fat, blood and all trimmings back when I have animals slaughtered – I cook the bones for stock (or feed them raw to the puppy who is teething) and I rendered 2 kilos of tallow from the lamb trimmings I got, and fed the non-fat bits of that slurry to the dogs. I’m gonna make soap as soon as I get my hands on some lye. :) I can’t quite imagine putting he drippings on toast … that’s gotta be a British thing that didn’t percolate down into Canadian culture. :)

  32. Ali says:

    What a great piece. Thank you!

    Ali

  33. This is really a fantastic essay. I have done a lot of research on meat on my own, and what I discovered is very much in line with your rules. This should be very do-able for most people. However, the second I bring Kashrut into the picture, it becomes asymptotically impossible to find local, organic, grass-finished meat. I stumbled across one grass-finished kosher meat supplier in the area, but they won’t have anything for at least another month and a half, and even then, the drive to pick up meat will be at least 35 minutes. Obviously, that is not ideal. And I can’t raise meat myself either…I have neither the time nor the space.
    What solutions have you found you found for Jewish meat eaters?

  34. Anonymous says:

    90=00=

  35. Will says:

    I think the value of manure may be a bit overstated, as farmers and communities are just as able to use yard waste and community compost to accomplish those goals independent of poop from animal ag.

    While I always welcome a critical approach to animal ag, the veg* position is well researched and a bit too easily dismissed here. While the solutions listed here can be scaled sustainably, will they work in the coming world of 7-10 billion people? Or will ‘local, grass-fed’ beef remain (as it is currently packaged) an american yuppie fad?

    Sustainability requires a change in consciousness and lifestyle, we can’t keep eating what we’ve always eaten and still survive – we are going to have to give some things up (not just change the method by which they are produced) to meet the challenge of seeing ourselves as codependent on nature.

    The other question here is about the land ‘too rocky, steep, etc’ for vegetable agriculture. When we start introducing grazing livestock to these lands, what effect do they have on the biological community there? and how many of these marginal lands are not already polluted or claimed by resource extraction companies? Much of the environmental problems in the american west can be traced back in origin to mining or cattle ranching on lands deemed marginal, but actually held a pivotal role in regional biodiversity.

    All of your points are valuable and insightful, my concern mostly comes out of the danger I perceive in telling people that there are ways to still obtain their ‘traditional’ animal foods in a way they can not feel ‘guilty’ about. While many of the sustainable animal agriculture initiatives going on are impressive and overdue to be thought upon, they seem to originate from the very populations that were raised upon the privilege of having dairy/eggs/meat in their regular diet. The developing world, who currently survive on predominantly grain (and are rapidly growing in population), may not be able to emulate the luxuries of the western, animal-product heavy diet and accommodate larger population growth. The future is going to be a different place, we are going to have to eat differently than we do now (or for that matter, how our ancestors ate). While improving animal agriculture is a great way of acting locally, I think it may sometimes require a more global perspective.

    good luck in your research!

  36. Will says:

    really, I can’t stress enough how much I like that you are doing this research!

    I am a vegan (5yrs, I feel pretty healthy and don’t buy any ‘specialty’ products), but we agree on ‘eat less meat’. This is key for whatever approach we take in the future.

    I thought I’d share this link:
    http://news.mongabay.com/2008/0602-ucsc_liaw_food_miles.html

    this is especially relevant for those living away from local/organic food resources looking for ways to eat more sustainably.

    thanks again!

  37. [...] a different, but extremely thoughtful, perspective on all this, see this piece from Sharon Astyk on “Eating Animal Products Ethically.” Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)My beef with “My Beef with [...]

  38. Sharon says:

    Asparagus soup, the solutions I’ve found are these. 1. Contract with a local grass fed farmer, maybe getting together with other concerned Jews to make it worth their while to raise your meat. 2. Raise it yourself. 3. Go vegetarian. Honestly, I don’t think there are a any other options. We’ve gone veg or raised our own when we couldn’t find a good source.

    Will, I think you are overstating the capacity of yard waste to meet agricultural compost needs. I agree with most of your other points, particularly the one about the emphasis on rich world ability to continue eating meat, but we do differ. Humanure may eventually be able to take up the slack in animal manures, but yard composting simply can’t – if you’ve ever farmed you’ll know just how huge a volume of plant material you need in agriculture even on the smallest scale to make sufficient compost.

    Sharon

  39. hkki says:

    interesting post, also the comments :)

  40. [...] However, knowledge is one thing and hands-on action is something else. One can start easily by cutting down on food mileage (counters are available online), finding local organic producers or farmers markets, and by foregoing meat a few days a week (or at least learning to eat it ethically). [...]

  41. [...] しかしながら知識は知識でしかなく、実践とは異なるのだ。フードマイレージ(インターネットに計数機がある)を抑えることから始め、地元のオーガニック生産者や直販店を探し、週に数日は肉を控えること(少なくとも倫理的な食事を心がけること)は、誰にでもできることだ。 [...]

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