There’s nothing like a good steak. You know, medium rare with just a little pink showing, tender and juicy. I like my steak best with a nice Idaho potato and a fresh, crisp side salad. I’m thinking about this as I sit here on the farm, gazing out the front window at the cows in the pasture. They’re chewing on clumps of grass peeking through the snow. We sold our big cow herd several years ago, but we reinvested in a few cows with the goal to butcher them, and give the meat away to our children and their families. It was a generous gift.
I have friends and relatives though, that want nothing to do with eating meat—for a variety of reasons.
Some have become vegetarian or vegan because of health issues. They’re either concerned about their weight, or their cholesterol, or both. I’ve argued with them that people lose weight a lot of different ways. Why make such a draconian sacrifice as giving up meat? The Paleo, the Keto, and the Atkin’s diets all encourage the consumption of meat and protein over carbs. But one of my friends announced that he’d become a vegan because of the environment.
“What?” I asked him. “Does this mean you’re no longer going to make that wonderful meatloaf recipe with green peppers and onions? All because of cow burbs? Please, tell me it’s not so.” My friend may not be a fancy cook, but he’s a good one. He makes great comfort food.
Occasionally, I’ve ran across news articles on the potential for herding animals like cattle to harm the environment. Apparently cows, through their digestive processes, emit harmful methane gas into the atmosphere. Reading news like this affects MY digestive processes. Herding cattle is a way of life for us, so I’ve generally ignored these kinds of articles. They’re too extreme, I tell myself. Besides, the wide desert expanses in the west, which support only sparse grasses, are perfect for foraging creatures like cows. It’s an efficient use of the land. Also, cows eat highly flammable grasses like cheat, protecting against range fires.
My final word about herding cattle is cultural. The west, after all, is the home of the cowboy. Cattle are a tradition.
But still I was curious. And we all know how curiosity killed the cat (or cow). Being farmers we’ve watched the weather year in and year out, and it’s become increasingly apparent, even without all the scientific alarms: the climate is changing. Exactly, how much does herding livestock have to do with this?
Opening my computer I waded through several articles on climate change and either the Australian fires, or the melting Arctic. Finally, I found information on the environment and livestock. A chart showed that herding animals like cows and sheep did the most damage to the environment. The journal Science reported that avoiding meat and dairy is the “single biggest way” to reduce our environmental impact.
One article said consuming 4 pounds of hamburger is as hard on the environment as flying from New York to London—and most of us eat more than 4 pounds of beef a month.
This was such sobering news I just stared at my computer a minute. I’m still processing it, wondering about our life style and the fast-changing world we live in. Is there some “middle ground” on this issue? I don’t know, but I did come across a bit of good news for meat lovers. Apparently poultry and fish have considerable less impact on the environment. The impossible burger is looking more and more possible–as is the chicken steak.
All image credits: Diana Hooley, Dale and Diana Hooley Farms