In praise of Scotch Beef

The Herald - The Herald Magazine - - Contents - JOANNA BLYTHMAN

IT’S A sick­ener for Scots. Red meat, the food our coun­try is best at pro­duc­ing, is framed as en­vi­ron­men­tally destruc­tive and un­healthy. We’ve been en­cour­aged to turn our backs on our num­ber one agri­cul­tural cat­e­gory – beef and lamb – on both hu­man health and en­vi­ron­men­tal grounds.

Even though sheep and cows have grazed our land for cen­turies, peo­ple who ap­pear to know bet­ter have told us that we must elim­i­nate them from our land­scape in the name of the com­mon good.

Pub­lic health bod­ies have ac­tively steered us away from red meat to­wards chicken, even though poul­try has never been a strong card in our agri­cul­tural suit. Con­sump­tion of chicken, usu­ally of the fac­tory farmed sort that has never seen a blade of grass in its life, has soared ac­cord­ingly.

In­de­pen­dent thought sur­vives though. Many don’t be­lieve that Mother Na­ture is a psy­chopath. Why would she cre­ate a food that short­ens the life ex­pectancy of the pop­u­la­tion and the planet?

This sen­ti­ment runs deep in our na­tional psy­che, and it ex­pressed it­self quite dra­mat­i­cally dur­ing lock­down. Meat sales soared UK-wide. Over­all they climbed 26.9 per­cent on 2019; a par­tic­u­larly spec­tac­u­lar 49% rise in high street butcher shops.

Now a new book from the US, Sa­cred Cow, pro­vides us with the ev­i­dence we’ve needed to show us that in a coun­try like Scot­land, eat­ing red meat reg­u­larly is a per­fectly rea­son­able, eth­i­cal, and nat­u­ral thing to do. This book is the brain­child of Diana Rodgers, a nu­tri­tion­ist on a Mas­sachusetts farm, who be­came so frus­trated de­fend­ing pas­ture-reared beef against re­duc­tive anti-meat pro­pa­gan­dists, she had to state the case for how well-raised meat is good for both peo­ple and the planet.

With Robb Wolf, a for­mer re­search bio­chemist, she has given us much needed chap­ter and verse on why beef in par­tic­u­lar, and red meat in gen­eral, have been vil­i­fied in a crude, generic way that fails to dis­tin­guish rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent farm­ing sys­tems.

Rodgers and Wolf pick apart the weak epi­demi­o­log­i­cal science prop­ping up the no­tion, am­pli­fied by Hol­ly­wood stars, tech moguls like Bill Gates, ide­o­log­i­cal groups, and op­por­tunist food com­pa­nies, that meat eat­ing causes chronic disease. They ar­gue per­sua­sively that hu­mans evolved to eat meat.

Our an­ces­tors were “nu­tri­vores”: they un­der­stood that meat was one of the most sa­ti­at­ing, and eas­ily di­gestible foods they could lay their hands on. Meat pro­vides us with mi­cronu­tri­ents – vi­ta­min B12, key amino acids – that can’t be found in plants, and pro­tein that we can ab­sorb more eas­ily than from plants.

Per­haps the lock­down up­swing in meat sales is an ex­pres­sion of our la­tent “nu­tri­vore-ism”?

The grotesque eco­log­i­cal and an­i­mal wel­fare ex­cesses of the US’s in­dus­trial cat­tle “feed­lot” sys­tem should not be used to char­ac­terise Scot­land, where beef pro­duc­tion is grass-based, and where cat­tle are typ­i­cally fin­ished on feed­stuff that are ined­i­ble for us hu­mans.

Hap­pily, our farm­ers are us­ing, or at least quite close to us­ing tra­di­tional “re­gen­er­a­tive” farm­ing meth­ods, which look like be­ing one of our best tools for mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate change. Many beef farm­ers in Scot­land al­ready man­age their cat­tle graz­ing in a way that im­proves the lo­cal ecosys­tem, by stim­u­lat­ing mi­cro­bial di­ver­sity in the soil, in­creas­ing rain­fall ab­sorp­tion, en­cour­ag­ing wildlife habi­tat, and lock­ing car­bon in our soil. Per­haps you’d still rather eat the “plant­based” prod­ucts mar­keted as a panacea for our en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems?

If so, com­pare prices. Weight for weight, an ul­tra-pro­cessed plant burger, us­ing all the dark arts of the man­u­fac­turer to fake a meat-like ef­fect, and fail­ing mis­er­ably, often costs more than grass-fed meat.

Ex­cuse the pun, but plant-based meat sur­ro­gates are seen by big food as a lu­cra­tive gravy train. And they’re mainly made from pro­tein ex­tracted from soy and peas, both crops grown in chem­i­cal fer­tiliser and pes­ti­cide-de­pen­dent mono­cul­tures that cre­ate many en­vi­ron­men­tal harms, such as water run-off from com­pacted soil, and de­pleted wildlife.

Sim­plis­tic memes and sound­bites have got in the way of the com­plex, nu­anced

dis­cus­sion we need to have about meat, but the au­thors of Sa­cred Cow move us for­ward.

“We don’t need peo­ple to quit eat­ing meat. We need them to start ask­ing ques­tions about how their food was grown no mat­ter what they may be eat­ing.” Amen to that!

Gary and Angela Christie, with their son Adam, from Mid­town of Glass near Huntly who reached the fi­nals of the Beef Farm of the Year com­pe­ti­tion in 2018

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.