Ah yes, the cow. I was familiar with these creatures at an early age. I spent childhood weekends and summers at a cottage my parents owned by a lake. Across the gravel road was a field, and in that field there were always cows. They belonged to the nearby Hutterite colony. I remember waking up in the morning, hearing them moo. One such time, I peeked out my window from my bunk bed, and saw cows everywhere. Some were walking down the gravel road, some were standing there staring. They had escaped.
All my life I have eaten beef, and enjoyed it. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I actually craved steak. When I am out at a restaurant, I often order steak as a treat. I have fond memories of eating homemade hamburgers barbequed at my parent’s cottage, under the canopy of trees and in view of the beautiful lake. My Dad would also barbeque steak, carefully purchased and lovingly prepared, for us all to enjoy.
But since then, I have learned more about the source of all this good food. Apparently cows fart, like, way too much. Their farts contain methane, which is a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than CO2. They also eat massive amounts of grain and corn. It takes about 15 pounds of feed to raise one pound of beef. Much of this feed is grown as mono-crops which reduces biodiversity and depletes the soil. Corn especially, is quite damaging. It creates a tremendous amount of organic waste (think of corn stalks) and when left in fields to rot, more carbon is released into the sky. Even more worrisome, the heavy use of fertilizers in corn fields is causing run off problems in the Gulf of Mexico, creating a huge dead zone in the water, devoid of life.
But cows are not meant to eat corn or grains, they are meant to feed on grass. Feeding them what they are not really meant to eat makes them more prone to disease, and as a result they need to be constantly fed antibiotics. I also don’t like hearing feedlot stories, how some cows are fed parts of other cows, and how the large amount of excrement concentrated in a such a small area creates so much pollution (it is different when they poop all spread out on a large field as it acts like compost). I also don’t like that they are given hormones. What is in all this beef we are eating anyway?
I do love the taste of it though, and the protein punch it delivers. I have happy memories eating it with friends and family. But it is just not good for emissions or the environment. Who knew that livestock was responsible for an estimated 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions? It is shocking really.
So, because my love for the world and humanity goes deeper than my love for a great barbequed steak, I will refrain from personally purchasing beef from now on. I will no longer order it at restaurants. If someone else cooks it for me at a gathering, I will eat it and be grateful for it and enjoy it. Otherwise, no beef for me!
There is a vendor at my neighbourhood farmer’s market that raises and sells bison. Bison is native to where I live, hundreds of thousands of them used to roam here and feed on the wild grasses. This local farmer lets them do the same, and has little to no contact with them until the very end. They are not finished on grains, they do not eat corn. They are not pumped full of hormones. They live outside in the winter, just as they have done for thousands of years. So I have decided that I will buy bison from time to time, as a treat, to replace beef. It is local, lean, and natural. In fact, I made my classic chilli recipe with it last month and nobody even noticed the difference.