The answer is yes…if you’re a propagandist for vegetables or a shill for big-Agriculture. The answer is no if you have functioning brain cells and live on planet Earth. I know, this is a big ask for “anti-meaters”.
This is a short, punchy chapter that really debunks the idea that you have to put far more into cattle to get the meat out. Our authors first deal with this claim, and it really is a claim not an argument, that “it takes twelve to twenty pounds of feed to produce a pound of beef.” I’d guess the average vegan knows as much about cattle husbandry as the average person; that’s to say very little. They probably imagine feed-lot cattle gorging on grain that could have been made into bread for Little Johnny. The cows are taking bread from Little Johnny’s mouth. Oh, won’t somebody think about the children?
It’s all bunk. Cattle can’t handle a lot of grain. Even feed-lot cattle get most of their food (pasture, hay, cornstalks, crop residues) from things humans cannot eat. It’s not the same for chickens and pigs by the way. They do eat mostly grain; at least the industrially reared versions do. Ultimately, ruminants get only 10-13 percent of their food from grain. And what we must remember is that a lot of those cattle in North America are reared on feedlots. What would happen to that 10-13 percent number if all cattle farming was converted to sustainable pasture systems?
Returning to the meat-deniers’ “argument,” Rodgers and Wolf conclude “Cattle convert grass and other nutrient-poor food into nutrient-dense food for humans. This is something ruminants are really good at doing. They’re upcycling nutrients! One study found that “cattle need only 0.6kg of protein from edible feed to produce 1kg of protein in milk and meat. Cattle thus contribute directly to global food security.”
The chapter changes gears in the final pages noting that cattle don’t just produce meat, “A whopping 44 percent of the animal is turned into other products.” The obvious ones are offal and leather, but did you know that cattle are used to make plywood, shampoo, medicines, linoleum, crayons and plaster? There are dozens and dozens of other uses. Moreover, the authors point out that if the vegans had their way and cattle were taken out of the human diet, that would mean a lot of these products would need to be made out of synthetics from, wait for it, fossil fuels.
In the final analysis, when considering energy inputs and outputs, Rodgers and Wolf prove that grass-fed cattle is pretty much a “free lunch.” They are not an ecological catastrophe. In contrast, they note that Beyond Burger’s main ingredients are pea protein isolate and canola. Our authors’ ask “Do you think that chemically sprayed monocropped peas and canola fields are causing less harm than a field of grass-fed cattle on land we can’t crop, increasing biodiversity and soil health?” To ask the question, is to answer it.
This was another good chapter. I had no idea that so many products came from cattle. Here are some more: perfume, fireworks, cement and tennis racket strings. More importantly the chapter destroys this myth about food inputs. I knew this was nonsense based on where I live in England. The cattle are out in the fields for most of the year. When they’re not, they’re eating silage which is essentially grass harvested in the autumn. However, I wasn’t aware that feedlot cattle ate so little grain too.
If I had one major criticism about this chapter, and the book more generally, it’s the fact that our authors are far too polite or are simply naïve when it comes to meat’s enemies. This is how they open the chapter, “Those who argue that eliminating animals from our food system is the only way to a sustainable future have good intensions.” Maybe some of these people do. However, a lot of them do not. Their intensions are not about sustainability. Their intension is to control other humans. There is a reason why most “Greens” are hard-leftists. It’s because they use their environmentalism as a cloak for their totalitarianism. Do you remember the quotation from Christiana Figueres in chapter one? She is the former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. She want’s to abolish meat eating. This is what she said “how about restaurants in 10-15 years start treating carnivores the same way that smokers are treated? If they want to eat meat, they can do it outside the restaurant.” Does this sound like someone with good intensions for the environment or someone who revels in the idea of lording over other humans?
I suppose another minor quibble is that Rodgers and Wolf could be more resolute in their arguments. “While we’re not necessarily advocating for feedlot beef” is just one example where they could be more forceful. As I say to my students, don’t be wishy-washy. You don’t advocate for feedlot beef dear authors. Come out and say so.