Step 4: Eat Less Meat, Eat More Grass


“I knew it”, you’re thinking,” She’s finally cracked.  Now this crazy hippie want us to go out to the front lawn like rabbits and eat grass.”

Never fear, friends, I mean eat grass (and sunlight!) through the meat and dairy products you consume.  Meaning, make sure those animals ate grass, not corn and other industrial by-products.  If you’re eating meat from the grocery store, there’s a high chance that the meat you eat comes from animals who spent their life crammed together in knee-high manure, eating corn and other by-products (such as ground-up animal parts – this is where Mad Cow comes from folks, eating the brains of the same animal), not to mention all the hormones and antibiotics, which are contributing to a) early-onset puberty in children and b) more anitbiotic-resistant strains of bacteria.  Many of you know this, some of you may not.  See the books list at the bottom of the post if you want to learn more!

Basically, cows (and sheep and goats and horses) are all ruminants, and their digestive systems are meant to digest grass.  So why do industrial factory farms feed them corn?  The short answer is – because it’s cheap.  Corn grows in abundance in the Midwest, subsidized by cheap chemical fertilizers and fuel.  (Great explanation of how this came to be in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma).  Corn is cheap, and land (which you need a lot of in order to graze cattle on grass) is generally not cheap.  So even though feeding cows corn makes them so sick that it’s necessary to give them all these antibiotics, it still comes out cheaper to pack them into tiny lots and give them corn.  It doesn’t take a huge leap to imagine how healthy it can be for us to eat the flesh of an animal raised in such an unnatural way.

coledinnerCole enjoying his dinner off of Molly’s back (our animals are 100% grass fed, if you’re wondering)

photo by Jeanine Dargis

On the other end of the spectrum, farmers such as the increasingly famous Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm in Virginia do graze their animals in a  traditional rotation.  Salatin actually considers himself to primarily be a grass farmer.  (By the way, Salatin will be giving the Keynote Address at the NOFA winter conference, where Ben will be giving a grain workshop – check it out!)  In our fair Valley, wonderful farms such as Wheelview Farm, Austin Brothers Farm, Mapleline Farm, Misty Brook Farm, Chase Hill Farm, and our beloved Chestnut Farms are all part of this return to grass fed meat and dairy farming.  And can I tell you a secret?

It tastes awesome.

If you’ve ever had wild venison or other wild game, then you have an idea of what meat is supposed to taste like.  Meat has flavor.  One amazing thing about eating meat with flavor, is that you don’t have such a need to consume massive quantities of it.  Americans eat a staggering amount of meat – some of us eat it three meals a day, most days of the week.  That adds up quick, when you understand how much feed goes into those animals (especially if the animals are grain-fed), and how much methane they produce (which is even more destructive to the atmosphere than carbon).   As I said in the original ten steps post, E! Magazine said recently that “livestock is a major player in climate change, accounting for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions . . . more than the entire transportation system.”  In other words, how much meat we eat could have even more impact than how much we drive our cars.  Eating meat one less day a week reduces 1,000 miles of driving worth of CO2.

I’m a believer in robust, diverse farm systems that include animal husbandry.  But I think we currently have an excessive emphasis on meat production.  Of course we like how meat tastes – it’s potent, condensed energy, and for most of our history, we didn’t get a lot of it (just like sweets), so we crave it.  There’s a lot of indication that an excess of meat in our diets is not only unhealthy for the planet, it’s also unhealthy for us.  (For instance, read the meat chapter in Diet for a Dead Planet – very interesting data from countries where they had war-time rations and many modern health problems pretty much disappeared.)


In our household, here’s how this goes down.  I could be a pretty happy vegetarian, eating cheese and some rare treats of bacon and fish.  But Ben loves meat.  Loves it.  Our compromise is the Chestnut Farms Meat CSA.  We get 10 lbs of meat a month, and that’s what we eat.  We occasionally supplement with bacon from another local farm.  Meat usually isn’t the main feature of our meals, it’s a component.  So we’ll eat meat in a stew for example, or small lamb chops with hearty vegetable sides.  Several meals a week are vegetarian.  One thing I love about the csa is that there’s a clear limit to what we’ll consume.  When purchasing from a grocery store, it’s so easy to get more.  And then more next time.  And then some more.  It’s much easier to only have to use your willpower to make the decision once, than it is to make the decision every time (more on this in future posts). We have definitely found that, just like with eating more whole grains, eating less meat has a noticeably positive effect on our digestive systems.  When we eat meat several days in a row, we feel sick.

Also, I personally don’t eat meat when we eat out, unless it’s from a local, grass-fed source (this is nearly impossible to find, except at Wheatberry of course).  This can be hard to do, but I really don’t want to give my money to supporting a system that I think is gross and dangerous on so many levels. So, good luck to you, and come find out how delicious real meat can be!

Book Resources:

Diet for a Dead Planet: Big Business and the Coming Food Crisis by Christopher Cook – Ok, scary title, but this is the BEST explanation of our current system in my i.  More in-depth and broad than Pollan.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan – Very good, a little too philosophical for my taste, but many folks loved this.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, by Barbara Kingsolver

Diet for a Small Planet, by Francis Moore Lappe

Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck


The Future of Food – Very good look at GMOs

Food Inc – Great, features Joel Salatin among others!

King Corn

4 Responses to “Step 4: Eat Less Meat, Eat More Grass”

  1. 1

    I am SO excited about starting the Chestnut Farms CSA share! Meanwhile we’re making do with local grass-fed meat from the co-op. You are so not kidding about the taste. Still working on the whole restaurant thing– I think we are going to need to wean ourselves away from our usual haunts.

  2. 2

    Jen, So glad you’ve joined Chestnut Farms – I know you’ll love it. And rumor has it that they may be using Wheatberry as their Amherst drop-off location soon . . . :)

  3. 3

    I am really enjoying this series of posts. (I know they take a lot of time and thought to write–thank you for doing so.) Though we have a vegetarian house, I respect the choices you make–it seems like the most humane way to eat meat. Thoughtful food in moderation: that’s what we strive for.

  4. 4

    Thank you for this – these posts do take a surprising amount of time. Also, it means a lot to hear this respect, coming from a vegetarian!

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