Holy Cow – the nutritional, ecological and ethical case for better meat
June 29, 2021
Diana Rodgers at Heifer International wants you to know that red meat consumption is good for you and, if raised well, is good for the environment.
“Cattle have been unjustly scapegoated for our poor health and the warming climate,” Rodgers said. “Eliminating farm animals from our food system could do more harm than good.”
Rodgers is the producer and director of Sacred Cow, a documentary now streamed on iTunes, Amazon and Vudu based on her book of the same name. She is also a registered nutritionist whose professional opinion is that animal foods are essential for optimal health and that beef is one of the most nutritious and widely available types of meat.
“The global dialogue about the future of our food and how to feed people in an environmentally friendly way focuses on the consumption of vegan, vegetarian or certainly less meat,” she said. “I challenged it from a nutritional and ecological point of view.”
In the book Sacred Cow, Rodgers and co-author Robb Wolf use scientific data to show how foods of animal origin contribute to healthy eating and a healthy planet. The lessons in the book form the basis for the film, which covers topics such as the rise of industrialized agriculture and processed foods, the food pyramid, and school menus to show how beef was unjustly stigmatized. Butchers, professors, former vegans and, above all, farmers are at the forefront to support cattle breeding.
“The film is real [teaching] Teaching about regenerative agriculture by producers, ”Rodgers said. As explained in the film, regenerative agriculture is “a practice that uses a diverse mix of animals and plants to mimic rather than dominate nature,” while repairing soil and increasing productivity on farms around the world.
As an illustration, the film highlights ranchers who use such methods to raise cattle that regenerate more than a million acres of the Chihuahuan Desert without seed into grasslands. When cows are frequently grazed to resemble wild ruminant herds, their effects on manure, saliva, urine and hooves encourage plant regrowth and prevent overgrazing.
According to Rodgers, if managed properly, cattle help mitigate climate change by storing carbon, which leads to improved water cycles. Of course, most of the world’s beef is not produced using regenerative agriculture, and one of the main criticisms of the beef industry is that it contributes to global warming. While Rodgers acknowledges factory farming issues in terms of animal welfare and bad environmental practices, the claim that eating less beef would help slow climate change is exaggerated.
“We don’t have more ruminants in North America today than we did in the 17th century, before we nearly eliminated the bison,” she said. “They’re different ruminants, but we don’t have any more methane producing bodies out there.”
Sacred Cow also claims that the notion that the cattle industry produces more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry is incorrect. Rodgers points to data from the Environmental Protection Agency showing that livestock is responsible for 3.9% of methane emissions in the US, with beef responsible for about half. Transport and power generation together make up almost 57%. Raising livestock accounts for 5% of direct greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, compared to 14% for transportation, according to Rodgers.
In addition, the carbon cycles for livestock are different from those of fossil fuels. “It’s part of a natural cycle,” Rodgers said. “After 10 years, methane turns into water and carbon dioxide, which then enters the water cycle and is taken up again by plants. Part of it can be tied in the ground. It’s like a balanced equation. “
From a nutritional point of view, Rodgers argues that foods of animal origin are essential because they contain a higher nutrient density and humans are better able to break down and utilize these nutrients compared to plant foods. Some vitamins and minerals – like B12 and iron, which are responsible for two of the biggest nutritional deficiencies in the world – are much easier to get from animals. This is especially important for growing children and low-income families.
“If we are to feed people who are hungry or malnourished, the most nutritious foods are animal-based,” Rodgers said. “In developing countries, you can’t just get your B12 supplement from a CVS pharmacy, can you? Most of the world can’t. They need animals for their livelihood and nutrition. “
Sacred Cow also addresses the notion that red meat consumption is the cause of serious health problems in the United States such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
“If we look nutritionally in a country where 70% of the people are either overweight or obese, our beef intake is actually pretty low,” Rodgers said. “It’s been going down since 1970. The average American only eats about two ounces of beef per person per day.”
With both iterations of Sacred Cow, Rodgers aims to show that meat is not the problem, but part of the solution. “I hope to do some politics with the film and to promote regenerative agriculture on a larger scale,” she said. “Now is the perfect time with COVID,” Rodgers said. “We are really seeing the disruption in industrial meat supply chains and the value people place on more regional food systems and better food in general.”
Check out the Sacred Cow Q&A with Diana Rodgers on YouTube.
Here you can support Heifer International with a donation.
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