We only have one planet so when a major company like WeWork announced last month that they would no longer include meat in the meals they offer because of the environmental impact I was surprised.
As someone who has been living the keto lifestyle for almost 3 years, meat is an important and delicious part of my day. I wanted to know, are we in the keto community destroying the environment?
I dove into the details and found it much more complicated than the 10 second sound bites from mainstream media make it out to be.
On the surface, the data appears very compelling. The latest UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report suggest livestock are responsible for 14.5% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions - the same amount produced by all the world's cars, planes, boats, and trains!
Beef and dairy cattle are particularly singled out for causing an estimated 61% of these emissions. To add even more confusion, the cattle industry claims conventionally grown meat is more eco-friendly than grassfed cattle because the grain-based diet means cows put on weight faster and live shorter lives that reduce methane production by 40%.
When we dive a little deeper into the data these claims don’t add up. Factory farms require several pounds of grain to produce a pound of beef. In the United States, these grains are cheap to feed to cattle because the government funds massive amounts of grain production. Buried in the same FAO report, we find that almost half (45%) of greenhouse gasses attributed to cattle is for feed production.
Today, livestock consumes 7 times more grains that humans do so becoming a vegan would still solve the problem right? From an environmental perspective it is less-bad than factory farming, but still far from good because these industrial grains, soy and corn destroy the soil. Since 1960, the US has lost half of its topsoil, and 90% of our agricultural land is losing topsoil at an unsustainable rate. Agri-corporations use synthetic fertilizers along with powerful herbicides that pollute our air and water to make these crops grow.
Now compare this to a grassfed approach to agriculture. Pastures with animals fed entirely grass are an effective way of combating the “dustbowl” effect in the American Midwest and other drier parts of the world. They replenish the soil and the grass traps carbon too!
Settlers moving across the American Midwest in the 1800s were amazed to discover the enormous herds of buffalo that roamed the prairies and plains all the way from Texas to northern Saskatchewan in Canada. North America was able to naturally support up to 100 million buffalo without damaging the environment.
Right now the there around 94 million cattle in the United States. If these cows were grassfed it would significantly reduce the need for industrial crops that destroy topsoil and eliminate factory farms with crowded, sick and medicated cattle.
How to be a part of the solution
The best way to know where our food comes from is to buy from a local farmer. We can see how the animals are being raised, ask the farmer questions, and support a small local business. As an added benefit, you eliminating the middleman so the meat is more affordable than what you would pay in the grocery store.
There a few great resources online where you can find a local farmer near you that sells ½ or ¼ cow directly like Eat Wild. Keep in mind organic, grassfed and other certifications are expensive for small farmers. Their products may meet the requirements for these programs even if they are not officially certified.
If it doesn’t fit into your lifestyle to buy directly from a local farmer another great way we can be a part of the solution is to understand what the labels on our food really mean, which can be confusing and misleading.
For example, grassfed should mean that the cattle were allowed to forage and graze for their own fresh food. They may be given close substitutes like alfalfa during the winter, but unlike grain-fed animals, the emphasis is still on providing the closest thing to a natural diet as possible. Grains are higher in calories and encourage the cows to grow much faster and cheaper, but grass is much higher in key nutrients like Omega-3s and B vitamins. Grassfed meat is leaner, healthier, and much more flavorful.
The label “grassfed” is regulated by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) but is NOT strictly enforced.
The producer must send documentation to the USDA stating that its animals are raised on an all-grass diet. Auditors verify this claim from papers submitted by the farmer but are not required to actually visit the farm at any time.
Instead, look for the American Grassfed Approved (AGA) label, which is issued by the American Grassfed Association, not the government. Meat with the AGA label must come from animals fed a diet of 100 percent forage, raised on a pasture, and never treated with hormones or antibiotics.
If AGA labeled beef isn’t already available at your grocery store you can request it.
We can be a part of the solution to protect our planet, our health, and enjoy an amazing steak!
Want to know more about why organic isn’t always the best and what all the different labels on your meat really mean? We show you the claims from the major labels you find in the grocery store.