My Paleo Eating Journal

Eating Meat. Part 2 of 2.

Posted on: June 30, 2011

In my last post I talked about eating meat (vs. not) with respect to the issues of health and ethics. In this post I continue the discussion to include two more important factors: environmental health and sustainability.

With the growth in public awareness regarding the political and environmental costs of our modern food production system a new issue came about to make waves in the vegetarian world: that of sustainable farming. Most veggie substitutes are based in soy products. By now most of us know that soy is grown in vast monocultures, using huge amounts of chemicals, is highly dependent on fossil fuels, involves genetically modified plants, and carries a political cost that has ruined life in many cultures and countries. I’ve seen alternatives popping up in the health food stores and organic markets, but to say that growing soy is any better for the planet than raising chickens or beef is probably not entirely accurate when all things are considered. Of course, perhaps it would be wiser for someone who wishes to be vegetarian to give up beef jerky and thanksgiving turkey altogether rather than settle for tofurkey and tofu jerky. A whole foods diet can be had whether you eat meat or not.

Of course, modern meat production is just as much a nightmare as large-scale monocropping. Certainly the way we (as a society) produce meat does a lot of damage to the environment. But folks like Joel Salatin are showing that with a relatively small amount of land (I believe he has 500 acres, which is small compared to a commercial farm or cattle operation) you can produce a goodly amount of animal meat AND take care of the land while you do it.

People may argue that you cannot produce enough meat to feed the world’s population on a meat-heavy diet like the Paleo diet, but I would argue that’s not necessarily the case – unless we all insist on eating beef and pork. Raising chickens can be done in pretty much any backyard (laws allowing; and they are changing) and if  you are adventurous and get a taste for rabbit it’s probably the cheapest and easiest meat you could ever raise. Add to that the wide variety of meats enjoyed in the Paleo diet AND the fact that they try to use all the organs and parts (not just the tasty bits as most of us do) and maybe it’s not such a crazy idea. If we stopped relying so much on large animals like cattle, and stopped feeding grain-based diets to them, this would also take care of some of the issues around growing feed for these animals. And perhaps we should be moving away from animals that depend on hay in climates where grass can’t be grown during the winter. Certainly we’re not doing such a great job of feeding the planet right now with our subsidized grain markets and grain-based foreign aid policies (see Stuffed and Starved by Raj Patel for a great expose of this system). Bottom line: I’m not convinced there is any difference in environmental impact between modern factory farming (meat) and large-scale, chemical-intensive monocropping of grains.

Which brings me to the other issue, that of sustainability. In this case I’m referring to Self-sustainability. Those of us finding a small acreage and dreaming of a homestead that provides us with a good portion of our food needs soon run into a problem, as we found out last year when we bought our 4 acres of land. As mentioned above, being vegan or vegetarian doesn’t have to mean eating processed crap food made from soy. It’s entirely possible to be vegetarian and grow your own food, though I don’t know how many acres of beans and lentils would be the equivalent in protein of, say, a cow or a pig. I’m quite certain the meat option is far less labour intensive.

Our goal is to grow as much of our food as we can ourselves, so that we are not dependent on outside sources that may fail us due to shortages of fossil fuels, for example. We only have 4 acres and we wanted to make the most of it. The philosophy of permaculture appealed to us enormously as a way to maximize productivity while healing the land and increasing biodiversity, but in permaculture you pretty much cannot run a farm without animals. You just want eggs? – what do you do with the chickens when they are spent? You want dairy? – what do you do with the baby cows and goats? Eating your animals (or selling them to others to eat) makes sense in this kind of productive, intensive, closed-loop system.

As for grains, if they make up a significant part of your diet you are faced with a quandary. To get a decent amount of grain you need a big plot. Too big to effectively manage without machinery. Oh sure, it’s possible, but giving up grains would save you hours and hours of hard manual labour and the land could be allocated to much more productive uses. Our 1/2 acre pasture is raising 4 pigs for us this summer that will feed two families for a year. The pigs require virtually no labour. And the mixed woodland and grass they are on will thrive with the addition of their manure and their rooting (obviously this depends on getting the right ratio of pigs to land otherwise they will do damage). That 1/2 acre wouldn’t produce us nearly enough grain to depend on for a year and it would require machinery we don’t have (and would have to finance to get) that would require maintenance and repairs, not to mention make us totally dependent on fossil fuels for our harvest. You could plant a polyculture of berries, nuts, and perennial plants that would provide far more food than the grain field, and without depleting the soil (in fact, properly planned you’d be improving it). When you’ve only got a few acres, it makes sense to take grains out of your diet.

I don’t have all the answers to the problems of feeding the world. But I do know that eating a diet that includes meat and eschews grains makes it easier for the small homesteader to become largely self-sufficient when it comes to the basic food necessities. Depending on what animals one chooses to consume, it doesn’t have to be an environmental nightmare to be a meat-eater. And it’s not difficult to raise animals that live a good, healthy life. For us as “smallholders” the Paleo diet simply makes good sense.

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3 Responses to "Eating Meat. Part 2 of 2."

I’ve been thinking about these issues (considering posting about them soon too), and I appreciate your thoughtful presentation of your perspective. I always trust that you’ve done your research! Can I ask, are you feeding your meat chickens grain/soy-based feed? I ask because we are going with the organic feed to our soon-to-be-layers, and I’m curious what others are doing with that particular dilemma…

We are feeding them the standard grain-based feed. I don’t actually know what else is in it (it’s at least local, from Top Shelf Feeds). Since this was our first time raising any kind of chicken we wanted to make it easy on ourselves and go the conventional route – the usual breed, the usual feed, the least expensive housing and management options. But the goal, once we’ve got some experience under our belts, is to find a good heritage meat breed and set up our infrastructure so that we can make our own chicken feed. I’ve heard about people growing mealworms, etc for their birds to replace the protein they get from grain, so we’ll be looking into that for sure. As for the pigs, they also get a grain-based feed, though they supplement a great deal by foraging and we give them scraps from the kitchen, whey, etc. I am looking into planting fodder beets as another supplement. In the end, we’d like to reduce our reliance on grains as much as possible.

Thanks Freelearners, I’m glad to hear that there are options to pursue. I did end up doing a post on the grain dilemma, which seems to me to be one of the sticking points when it comes to sustainable meat. But I think I’ve got some more reading to do to test some of my assumptions…

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The Basics

My way of eating is based on a Paleo/Primal diet and is comprised mainly of saturated animal fat (grass-fed meat, pastured eggs, butter), nuts and seeds (almonds, pecans, macadamia nuts, coconut, pumpkin seeds) and their oils (coconut oil, avocado oil) and lots of vegetables and fruit. I eat virtually no sugar (other than that contained naturally in fruit), potatoes or sweet potatoes, beans or legumes, and no grains or grain products.

Weight Loss Tracker

Start date: May 13, 2011
Total weight loss (updated every Sunday): 19.5 lbs

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