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Grass Fed Meat vs Vegan Foods (Are vegans harming the environment MORE than grass-fed meat eaters?)

Today’s blog is republished from Drew French, you can find the original article here.  In this article below, Drew makes a very thoughtful case as to why choosing grass-fed meats may actually be MORE responsible from an environmental perspective, and even a moral perspective.  It’s a VERY good read, and please share this page on social media or email with any of your friends and family that might be interested in reading this topic…

“Probably the most ‘vegan’ item you can buy in the supermarket is a pound of grass-fed beef.”

I was thinking that heretical thought as I drove through my neighboring countryside, scanning empty cornfields for signs of life, and wondering at the hubris of mankind. When did we decide that we can stake our claim to all of the lands on the Earth, and use every square inch of it for our own purposes and needs?

About 10,000 years ago, actually, when we invented the idea of agriculture.

Sadly, in the practice of agriculture as it exists now, it is impossible to refrain from causing endless suffering to many living creatures. One could argue that the most suffering of all is caused by the practice of annual agriculture, which is the cultivation of vegetables, including grains, beans, and rice, that only take one year to grow from seed to food. We displace countless wild animals from their homes and landscapes when we cultivate annual crops. Not only that, we also kill thousands of creatures when we till the soil and pull our harvests from its depths.

A perennial agriculture, on the other hand, based on trees, shrubs, grasses, and livestock, allows nature to thrive without annual destruction. If the craft of agriculture can embrace the long-term advantages of the perennial plant over the short term ones provided by the yearly abundance of grains and beans, than we may be able to invest the significant wealth of today, including our fossil fuel resources, onto the accumulative returns of tomorrow.

But the short-sightedness of man is limitless, and so those who understand what is truly at stake must stand up and speak clearly and proudly.

I meditated on the empty corn fields for hours on end. Ultimately, what it represents is a graveyard for all wildlife, from the invertebrate worm to the feathery bird. The entire wild ecosystem is completely interrupted by our incessant and constant tillage and badgering of all arable land.

About 392 million acres in the US alone is used to grow crops, which is about 17% of all US land. https://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/pub-details/?pubid=84879

This use of arable land provides ample food for all humans, but it takes away the daily meals of billions of wild animals such as rabbits, bees, rodents, turkeys, earthworms, and endless insects, and it destroys their habitat, family structure, hunting grounds, and nectaries. Not to mention the terrible slave-like conditions that many farm workers in the field are subjected to. Humans are animals as well, you see.

See, I don’t believe in any way that a vegan diet actually causes less suffering in the long run than any other diet. All annual agriculture provides fertile ground for the casual extermination of hundreds of species of animals on a yearly basis. If I include in my analysis all of the animals harmed in the grand scale of agriculture, including the invertebrates and not just the large mammals, I have to conclude that cultivating the cornfield is the most murderous of all activities.

That is why, in truth, a pound of grass-fed beef accounts for less suffering per capita than a pound of corn.

We are all looking at the problem of food morality through the wrong lens.

We think “I need a moral framework on which to hang my hat and proudly proclaim myself this or that in order to feel like I am not a bad person.” Instead of clustering around a moral high ground, I would like to encourage us all to accept the fact that life feeds on life, and to examine the real and important differences between regenerative agriculture and the chemical and GMO-based agriculture that now dominates the landscape, with unclouded eyes. We need to begin the healing process on the land by adopting regenerative practices, cultivating the spirit of respect, by acknowledging the life energy that resides in everything that we eat.

We should respect the life energy (in breath, blood, sap, and cell) in everything that we consume, from the tree that we use for firewood to the petroleum that we use to fuel our car, both the accumulated energy of ancient sunlight captured by perennial plants.

We exploit life energy endlessly, day after day, in various and sundry ways, including driving our cars on tarred roads and turning on our plastic phones to surf the internet, all of which is powered by the dark black blood of dead trees, crushed under the weight of millennia only to power our new way of life.

Veganism is a laudable idea, but for some it provides a framework for moral superiority. Cultivating a savior complex is a natural result of following any ideological cause, and life is then seen through a frame that excludes anything that doesn’t fit into its limited ideology. And the reality is that we all consume life energy, endlessly, in order to live our daily lives.

The least harmful foods to eat come from perennial plants, and the animals that eat those perennial plants. The synergy of cows and grass can hardly be bested as an ideal system.

If the primary goal of veganism is to reduce suffering, then many of us are vegan, and a diet composed of primarily grass-fed beef and dairy, as well as free-range chicken eggs and perennial plant products, is the most vegan diet that I can think of. A diet based on grass that is never tilled, with no worm disturbed, no gopher sliced in half, allows nature to grow and flourish without our annual agricultural blades, machines, and chemicals.

We need to examine our relationship to land and the life energy it contains. In the early 1900s farmers knew that to keep the land in good tilth, which meant healthy and productive, they needed to let their fields go fallow. The idea that a piece of land is worthless if it is wild and free is prevalent in our society, and the idea that land should be allowed to go fallow is anathema.

In our modern society we feel that all things should at all times be as productive as possible. This exhausts us, the land, the wildlife, our seas, and our air.

But the funny part of the term fallow is that it doesn’t mean that land is actually resting, doing nothing. No, what it means is that the farmer is not coercing the land into productivity with a blade, engine, or chemical. When allowed to fall back into fallowness, the land itself bursts forth with wild life and energy beyond what is possible with an annual agriculture. The life stories of a million creatures play out and contribute to the regeneration of a piece of fallow land, a wild acre, a small part of planet Earth.

Much like that exhilaration that we feel when we quit that toxic job, so does the land, the wildlife, the sea, and our air feel when we stop exploiting the natural resources of the world for our endless hungers. In a fallow state we all begin to regenerate.

Our current framing of the food production problem is this: Farmers need to utilize annual agriculture as heavily as possible in order to feed the population. Most farmers mode is “boom or bust”. They don’t think they can spend 10 years to consciously design a perennial animal-based agriculture, because they need cash right now.

So what is really anti-vegan, what really harms animals, is this idea — that we need to produce annual crops on every square inch of land, creating a wildlife graveyard on 17% of America’s land in order to feed our endless hunger.

When we get right down to brass tacks, I don’t think that the majority of the people on the planet really understand what it takes to grow our own food. And this disconnection plays out across urban centers all around the globe, where people make a thousand choices trying to do the best they can with the panoply of annual agriculture products available, but think little of the variety of perennial based whole foods that pepper the outer shelves of the supermarket.

Cheap food is killing our connection to the landscape.

More people on the planet means more resources being extracted from the earth, regardless of whether or not we are vegan. Avocado producing countries are feeling the avocado squeeze because of American’s high demand for guacamole. Acres of rainforest are being bulldozed to plant more avocado trees. Demand is so high that Mexico, which produces about half of the world’s supply, is thinking about importing avocados,while an average Mexican can’t even afford to buy them to eat.

Farmers in Mexico are cutting down pine forests in order to grow the lucrative crop and may threaten the habitat of Monarch butterflies.

All this to say, having your vegan raw food avocado chocolate cake isn’t as harmless as you may think.

If we really do take a true audit of the death and destruction our lifestyles wreak upon the natural world, we would all be surprised. We all leave a trail of devastation as we go through each day, because all life consumes life in order to thrive- -this is the natural way of things, as far as I know. Is your plastic fleece hoodie so innocent, and is your root vegetable lunch so kind to the earth?

All root vegetables have to be planted in tilled land — how many deaths occurred when the land was tilled? Weeded? Cultivated? And finally, all root vegetables have to be dug up and the land prepared for next years crop.

When you wash your fleece in your washing machine, microbeads of plastic flow into your waste stream, and ultimately down into rivers and out into the sea, causing serious health problems for marine life.

What is important right now is to focus on gaining perspective on the larger, overarching issue that have as a society: We do not respect the life force.

Modern man just doesn’t respect the life that resides in all things, and is consciously and with much deliberation consuming all the useful energy until nature, the planet, is completely out of balance.

The planet will recover one way or another. But Earth’s healing process may not include us if we do not choose to live more consciously.

And I certainly don’t think that means going vegan.

What it means is cultivating a real relationship with your food, for one thing. Eating locally will always trump any dietary morality play. When we eat locally, we create a relationship with the food that we put in our mouths every day. This relationship is like any other relationship, it needs work and care.

As Michael Pollan advocates, skip all the bullshit foods in the middle of the supermarket, all the packaged nonsense that is 90% corn-based. Corn-based foods are the least vegan foods you can purchase. They contain the most externalized suffering of any food group that I can imagine other than sugar, the other main ingredient on most of that packaged-foods garbage.

Instead of any packaged garbage, stock up on meats, vegetables, dairy, eggs, and all other whole foods. Just start there. Then search out your local farmers and purchase whole foods directly. Cultivate real relationships, in one way or another.

That is the only way to begin the real healing process.

We can reduce suffering on the planet by consciously entering into a relationship with the land, the people that live on the land, and the plants and animals that we consume.

—-
Thanks to Drew French for a very thoughtful article.  I agree fully with a lot of his points.  In my debates with vegans, I often give dozens of examples of agriculture that vegans typically support that actually HARMS our environment, degrades soils and water supplies, and still kills lots of life.

On the other hand, one of the few types of agriculture that actually IMPROVES our environment and ecosystems is the raising of truly pasture-raised animals in a regenerative agriculture fashion.  My friend Diana Rodgers does a brilliant job at explaining in this article why supporting grass-fed meats raised correctly is actually BETTER than supporting veganism.

On the topic of health aspects related to veganism, here’s another article not to miss:

3 reasons why vegans and vegetarians AGE faster

Please support regenerative agriculture that protects our soils and water supplies by choosing grass-fed and grass-finished meats.  You do a LOT more to protect our environment by doing that than by eating vegan or vegetarian, all while being healthier at the same time, since eating vegan is destroying people’s health.

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About The Watchdog

Mike Geary has been a Certified Nutrition Specialist and Certified Personal Trainer for over 15 years now. He has been studying nutrition and exercise for almost 25 years, ever since being a young teenager. Mike is originally from Pennsylvania, but has fallen in love with mountain life and now resides in the picturesque mountains of Utah. Mike is an avid adventurist and when he’s not spending his time skiing, mountain biking, hiking, or paddleboarding on the lake, he has enjoyed skydiving, whitewater rafting, piloting an Italian fighter plane (seriously), scuba diving, heli-skiing, and traveling all around the world, enjoying learning about different cultures. At the age of 40, Mike now feels healthier, stronger, and more energetic than when he was 20... All because of a healthy lifestyle and great nutrition!

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14 comments

  1. Love your article. Hoping more awaken to this truth. I am a meat eater and I’ve tried to cut meat intake and just eat more veggies but it actually made my overall health issues worse, so consuming quality, humanely raised meat sources is a must for me personally. I see way too many friends and loved ones that are vegan or vegetarian, is it evolution, psychosis induced by malnutrition or just ignorance? Politics and agendas seem to be the norms to influence diets and they need to be dismantled.

  2. Your point and comments are duly noted! Everything comes at a price! The bottom line is we are always influenced into believing whatever is said. Too many mouths to feed and making a profit outweighs anything else.

  3. A large amount of our agricultural land is used to grow crops to feed animals raised for food consumption

    • You are correct. But if we can educate farmers and ranchers into rotating livestock pastures with food crops we’d be ahead of the game. My grandparents owned three town ships and they raised hundreds of head of cattle. They rotated half the land annually and grew cow grass on part and food crops on the other. . There lands were and still are teaming with life. I am an elder now but perhaps you could think about helping to educate proper land management. It can be done. Just not to many people understand the whys and hows..

  4. When land is cleared in Brazil for cows. Isn’t that destructive? What if you are plant based and don’t eat processed products and stuff made from corn more than a meat eater?

    What if I know plenty of plant based people and even raw who are healthy as they know what to eat? My brother is pretty much plant based for nearly 20 years.
    I can not recall when he stopped eating fish and I’m heading that way. People say he looks young. Something 6 thought he was my son – and people often think I’m 10 years younger.

    What you say is biased and short sighted. You don’t need meat if you know what to eat. Growth hormones and all the chemicals such as antibiotics and pesticides from the feed are concentrated in the animal. Most people can’t afford organic grassfed so how can that cheap meat be good.

    Maybe you should first spend time writing about making better clothes industry and a more healthy meat industry then what you say might be viable for more people. I’m not trying to be plant based as I live animals more than people as some vegans- its almost a religion. Its for health.

    Its more energy efficient to get our nutrients from non processed plants and veg than flesh which has no fibre and taxes your vital forces si much more in the digestion process

    • I must disagree. I was a vegan for five years and a vegetarian for ten. My husband was a strict vegetarian and had been for 20 years. He was well educated in how to eat a “well balanced” vegetarian diet. I developed panic attack after 2 years on the vegan diet but I continued on due to it being part of my religion. Then I began loosing bone, hair began to fall out and my skin started aging when I was in my forties. Then in my fifties I got got SLE lupus and a year later cancer. When your looking death in the eye you will doing anything to survive. I began to research functional nutrition. I could not deny what I was reading but I wanted to. I met a lady at the lab where I was going in for my routine test. We started talking. She told she was in for her annual check up. She had beat cancer but of course her doctor didn’t believe her. I asked her how she did it. She said she switch to a paleo diet. I decided to try it. That was eight years ago, Ive been free of all illnesses and I have more vitality in my upper sixties then I’d had for twenty years. So I happy if being a vegan is making you healthy and vibrant. I am Just not one of those people. And neither was my best friend. She also got cancer while she was a vegan.

  5. I have relatives who are heavily into the vegan movement….their primary (if not only) reason for veganism is the not killing helpless animals and the treatment they (the animals) get in production farms.

    I don’t think anything would ever change their minds as to whether they’d start eating meat again as their abstinence is mainly fueled by emotion…but the article was informative and makes sense.

  6. Constance Maldonado

    Hi Mike,
    Thank you, for your articles. I enjoy reading them.
    I have to say that we all have to go back to our dear Lord, Jesus Christ who made us all. I was having some health issues and I started looking into eating healthier and actually seeing all the chemicals and trash that was going in our food. All for an agenda of course! Like you say now I try to only eat grass fed and natural growing plants without all the GMO, chemicals etc.
    Not to mention our air and water being polluted constantly.
    We have to rethink everything we’ve been taut . I’m a reborn Christian and I say to go with eating what only God gave us to eat , and that is plant and animal. In moderation, of course. Eat to live, not live to eat! It’s unfortunate that MAN are killing themselves with chemicals and thinking they have control of the the world, when our Lord made everything to work perfect . So maybe this is the beginning of the famine that the Bible teaches us……
    Yes, grocery stores are peppered with naturally grown food. I can only go to 2 different stores we’re I live that have these kinds of food , and it’s selective seeing I don’t live in the country which now I wished I did. I thank the Lord everyday for what I can find…..:)

  7. Disappointing half truths I fear. I agree however that annual agriculture can be destructive, particularly GMO soy which is mostly used to feed livestock for animal products. There is a middle way with perennial agroforestry and vegan permaculture. Concentrating on perennial plant foods is more sustainable. I doubt if there is sufficient grazing land to feed all on grass fed beef anyway let’s face it grass is generally yet another artificial fertiliser fed monoculture. Do your research carefully rather than accept random statements.

    • thank you for your comment and reading the article! There is plenty of evidence to show that we could all have the meat we enjoy on grazed lands – the grazed lands wouldn’t have to be treated as a common yard, it’s quite different to see properly raised and grazed animals than what you’re implying. Veganism is not a sustainable way to both protect our land and feed our people. Just look at how much water it takes to grow almonds (and turn who knows how many almonds into almond “milk”)…it’s not sustainable and damaging to our environment. Not to mention all the unhealthy and damaging soybean oil that’s added to processed foods, which fit the “plant based” mantra

  8. I enjoyed this artile but it caused me to question some of the key points. The biggest stumbling was to do away with annual agriculture. I can not think of diet that did not include annual vegetables. Any suggestions?

    • Hi, good point! I’ve tried everything from raw foods, vegetarian, pescetarian, vegan, low-carb, low-starch, keto, and now carnivore.

      But I still believe that we will all go vegan or at least vegetarian some day, just because it is difficult to kill an animal. And because it does take a lot of grass land/pasture and water to raise that animal.

      The solution in my mind, and according to the books “The Ringing Cedars of Russia” are pine nuts and mushrooms.

      If most of today’s vegetables have anti-nutrients in them, if most of our vegetables come from 10,000 years of slavery (just look at who harvests our foods, not to mention our slave-like jobs in order to buy these foods), if even organic local vegetables are not sustainable to the soil (unless grown with permaculture methods), then something must be missing in our diet and culture!

      Pine nuts and mushrooms. That’s my theory.

      Read the RCS books. You will find the answers and be able to think logically and solve all the problems over time.

      Good luck,

      Colin

  9. You need to check your facts and look at the nature, how predators live and reproduce and what are they numbers compared to pray. Humans can never ever eat meat and animal produce in any sustainable way as their main food source. The argicultural damage that serves only top 20% of greedy obese western world is insane. Grass fed animal produce is only sustainable in certain areas and on very low consumption bases. If people used meat and animal produce only sourced locally and from as good as wild animals then every person could at most have aroudn 10% of their diet on average come from animals, and this is perfectly fine and healthy but does not produce ‘healthy but so sick’ economy. Eating any animal produce is at this point terrible for all environment and actually not great for human health ether. You may feel great for a while eating some PALEO fad diet, but you are actually not eating that, as we changed all by depleting soils, polluting everything and breeding and cultivating. There is very different world now and if you honestly do your research and check how studies are perfromed and evaluated you may notice that we would benefit from being ‘gardeners of earth’ eating fruit herb and seeds and nurturing our neighbour – and I am definitelly not a religious person, simply I am worried that telling people that vegans damage planet is crazy shortsighted and dangerous. Vegan is actually often a philosophical stance rather than a healthy eating individual, you can drink coke and eat crisps all day and be vegan. Eating whole plant food and encouraging organic agricutulture; removing highly processed foods is good for planet and for our health, but not for fat cats that tell us all how to live and what to do to be even fatter cats. I know you are trying to educate people but you really need to check your sources and stop making dangerous claims.

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