Bob Neal: The Countryman: Have your meat and eat it, too


Bob Neal

Most of us will never eat in a Michelin three-star restaurant. But almost all of us can appreciate how hard and long a chef must work to earn those three stars.

So why would a chef risk the three stars earned from the world’s leading restaurant-rating organization? Beats me.

But that’s just what Daniel Humm, chef at Eleven Madison Park in New York City, did Monday when he announced that his restaurant would stop serving meat and seafood. No more suckling pig, sea urchin or lavender-glazed duck. Milk and honey stay, though.

His action lines up with a push from futurists about eating less meat and a predictable mossback pushback that twists a report by the University of Michigan. The Mail Online and Larry Kudlow of Fox “News” falsely said that President Biden would limit us to one burger a month. Neither Biden nor the study said any such thing

The Michigan folks did the math. Cutting beef consumption by 90% and other meats by 50% would keep 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas out of the sky between now and 2030.

The thing is, the study and the conclusions of its detractors all miss the point.

We can eat as much beef as we want and help the environment at the same time. It’s all about how we raise the beef.

The issue is that cows produce methane. Lots of it. They fart. A lot. They belch. Even more. And, boy, do they poop. Methane is an environmental no-no. It hangs out there in the sky, holding heat too close to the earth and causing protective ice shelves to calve. As ice calves, ocean water rises. Some of Miami Beach is already under water.

Cows needn’t gas up the works. Cows by nature eat grass. To make cows grow fatter faster, ranchers pack them into feedlots. They toss in tons of grain (corn and soy), making them ready to kill at 14 to 18 months. On grass, they are ready to kill at 18 to 24 months.

Ranchers and agriculture colleges say cows living 14 months make less methane than cows living 24 months. Hard to argue that. But cows in 14 months still leave lots of poop. A feedlot of 3,500 cows produces as much poop, 40,000 tons a year, as a city of 57,000.

A feedlot owner in Kansas said on public radio in Nebraska that two of his eight hands work full time disposing of poop. Many feedlot owners use federal grants (your money) to manage poop. You may have read about feedlot cows going down and being trampled to death, the carcasses lying there until the lot is bulldozed to make room for new cows. Bulldozed poop has to be put somewhere. Mostly huge lagoons for storage.

Since cows don’t naturally eat grain, ranchers use antibiotics to keep them from getting sick on their diet. Animal farming uses 8 million tons of antibiotics a year. No one seems to know how much of the 8 million comes through the food to us. But some does.

The alternative? Grass-feeding farmers just let it lie. The carbon from grass-fed cow poop goes into the ground to fertilize a new crop of hay for a new crop of cows. No one has to write grant applications for money to keep the slosh out of soil, rivers and lakes.

Grass-fed cows can graze land unsuitable for other agriculture. Driving through West Virginia, I’ve seen hundreds of cows munching grass on hillsides steep enough to ski. You can’t grow corn on a ski slope. The farmer who used to own my farm grazed cows in the woods. My chainsaw has found bits of his barbed fence embedded in trees. I’ve seen dairy cows grazing on a knoll in Jay that couldn’t be plowed and seeded every year.

So, what’s in it for you? Your grass-fed steak contains far less monounsaturated fat. It contains five times more omega-3s. It contains twice more conjugated linoleic acid — I had to look it up, and it cuts bad cholesterol and boosts heart health — than feedlot beef.

A pound of feedlot T-bone has 1,120 calories, while grass-fed T-bone has 920. Some grass-fed T-bones go as low as 680 calories. Feedlot ground beef has about 1,500 calories a pound. Grass-fed can run as low as 520. Usually, it’s about 1,100 calories a pound.

A few calories here, a few calories there, pretty soon we’re talking obese.

To keep methane out of the air, to keep critters healthy and to keep myself, well, less porcine, I eat only grass-fed beef. At the Skowhegan farmers market, I buy grass-fed beef from any of three farmers. I pay more. Usually about $6 a pound for ground beef, $8 a pound for roasts and $12 for the lower steak cuts. I saw an ad this week for feedlot ground beef at $4, so I’m paying about 50% more.

To afford it on a fixed income, I grow my own veggies and use the saved money to buy better meat. And I eat a bit less meat than I used to. But it tastes better, and I don’t have to worry about side effects such as poop getting into the river or antibiotics getting into me.

Bob Neal figures people who can pay $335 for a meal at Eleven Madison Park may get used to meals without meat. He’ll keep on eating grass-fed beef, thank you. Neal can be reached at [email protected]


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