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Garden to table: From the pasture to the plate

In her latest column, Laura Marie Neubert tackles the divisive topic of eating meat

As someone who dives deep into growing and preparing food as medicine, I’ve considered a vast range of learned and unlearned opinions about eating meat — beef, to be specific.

If conflicting diet and health advice is perplexing to me, I can only imagine how confusing such must be for young people, busy people, and the uninitiated.

While one cannot defend the evidence against industrialized cattle farming, and there is no doubt that mass deforestation to accommodate cheap beef for fast food is devastating for the planet and everything on it, there is a strong body of peer-reviewed evidence to suggest that eating meat and dairy from 100% grass-fed and “finished” cows, is far less detrimental to our health, than eating meat and dairy from grain-fed feedlot cows.

There may in fact, be benefits.

We should not then, in my opinion, demonize cows. We might instead question the system. We could also learn to trust our intuition. The first rule of permaculture is “observe and interact”, that is, watch and listen to nature, natural cycles, and the food web, then adjust our thinking and actions accordingly.

It took me a bit to understand just what this means, but as time goes by, I have more and more occasion to put the principle into practice.

Shortly after taking the decision to cut meat of all kinds from my diet, I started thinking more and more about my late Grandpa Jim.

He was a true grit cowboy if ever there was one, and I spent countless happy hours with him in paddocks and barns, assisting with the management of range cattle, working horses, and the web of country life.

Grandpa ate porridge with cream and maple syrup, pastured chicken eggs, and bacon every morning.

His Stanley lunch box contained a monster apple and meat sandwiches on homemade bread slathered with sweet butter, and he washed it all down with percolator coffee so strong you could stand a spoon up in it.

He ate range beef, fresh vegetables and potatoes for dinner most nights, and he smoked hand-rolled virgin tobacco cigarettes. No pesticides, glyphosate, high-fructose corn syrup, or artificial anything. Grandpa wasn’t much different from other cowboys of his time, who lived very long and happy lives without suffering from chronic “dis-ease”.

I do not pretend to understand the health risks of virgin tobacco, but I suspect that they are considerably less noxious than those caused by the 69 known cancer-causing chemicals contained in modern cigarette smoke, and likely far less damaging than most Frankenfood.

Until such time as regulators put people and planet before profit, we can rely on our own good sense — lean hard on intuition, become informed about everything that goes into our bodies, observe how we look and feel, and adjust accordingly.

My overarching rule is easy to follow: if nature made the food I eat, I don’t worry too much, but if humans altered its natural state, I pause or pass.

Cows evolved to eat grass, not grain, and they do not graze pharmaceuticals or antibiotics.

Industrialized cattle are fed grain to fatten them up quickly for market. They are given antibiotics to counter diseases suffered as a result of living very sad lives in too-close proximity to each other while eating unnatural food that they cannot metabolize because antibiotics have killed their gut biome.

It makes sense then, that fat found in meat and dairy from industrialized and grain-fed cows differs notably from fat found in pasture-raised 100% grass-fed and finished beef and dairy.

I have added ethically-raised, regeneratively grown 100% grass fed and finished beef, and pasture-raised poultry back into our diets — admittedly, in moderation.

Learning that we eat “what we eat eats”, taught me to eat less, but better quality animal protein. We must, for the planet to heal. Eating cleaner costs more up front and may take longer to prepare, but intuition tells me that we will recoup over time by staying healthy for longer.

Ironically, I can barely remember conversations with Grandpa Jim. He was a man of few words. I learned everything I need to know from him then, even now, through observation.

Laura Marie Neubert is a West Vancouver-based urban permaculture designer. Follow her on Instagram @upfrontandbeautiful, learn more about permaculture by visiting her Upfront & Beautiful website or email your questions to her here.

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