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Why you can have your steak, and eat it too!

For that reason, the remainder of this discussion will focus primarily upon the first topic of interest: must we eliminate red meat – with the primary emphasis on beef – to achieve sustainability and address climate change concerns?

An additional consequence of this proposal, with respect to sustainability, is the necessity of producing more plants for human consumption. We have repeatedly been told the modern method of industrially intensive, extractive agriculture is the only way to feed the world’s burgeoning population. This method of farming involves massive plantings of monocrops; exemplified by the endless fields of corn that one sees driving through the American heartland.

This type of practice decimates the delicate bacterial and mycelial network found in naturally occurring, rich, fertile, and undisturbed topsoil. Such routine disruption leaves the earth depleted of the raw materials necessary to produce healthy plants, hence the ‘extractive’ descriptor. To make up for this deficit, farmers are required to use ever-increasing amounts of toxic fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides just to maintain current yields. Thus the use of the term ‘industrially intensive’.

Additionally, to use such powerfully toxic herbicides and pesticides also requires starting with genetically modified, or GMO, plants. This is the method used to produce over 90% of the corn, cotton, and soybeans grown in the United States. These are the soybeans that are then packaged as environmentally friendly and healthful plant based meat alternatives. Which leads us to our corollary question to the previous: is growing plants in this manner the only way we can reasonably feed the world? We can find answers to both questions by returning once again to Brazil.

The potential remedies for our current conundrums can be found in the practice of regenerative farming being pioneered in Brazil by leaders like Fabio Sakamoto and Pedro Paulo Diniz of Rizoma Agro. Such approaches are also being embraced by brave and concerned farmers in the United States like Kelly and DeAnna Lozensky of Guardian Grains, located in central North Dakota. Similar methods have been adopted in other areas of the world such as Asia where they are referred to as Korean farming or the Japanese one straw method. In Australia, the techniques are recognized by the name permaculture. Wherever the place and whatever the name, the principle is the same. That is to apply a systems wide approach based on natural ecosystems to achieve self-sufficient agriculture and animal husbandry.

To ever be anything more than a blowup fantasy doll for planet lovers, four very practical questions much be answered:

  1. Can it be done?
  2. Is it economically feasible?
  3. Can it feed the world?
  4. Is it sustainable and in accordance with addressing climate change concerns?

Let’s look at each of these questions individually and in greater detail.

Can it be done?

“We learned that it doesn’t make any sense to fight nature by trying to dominate it. On this journey, it became apparent for me that if we can team up with nature and cooperate with it, the results are much better,” so says Pedro Paulo Diniz of Rizoma Agro. Rizoma is a cooperative that offers Regenerative Organic services to help Brazilian farmers, primarily in the Cerrado region, Brazil’s main grain-growing region. Rizoma currently consists of five million partner farmers, with over  51,000 of them owning properties in excess of 1,000 hectares.

They have created agroforestry systems, which mimic nature and tropical forests, producing abundant citrus fruit.  As Diniz describes, it’s

“a food forest that’s very productive with almost zero outside input. For example, if you’re taking a traditional citrus production, a wide range of pesticides is used for pest control. So all of these toxins are actually sterilizing nature, both the good and the bad things. If you can collaborate with nature, it works 24 hours, seven days a week for you. It can work for you for free.”

This is exactly the same observation echoed by Masanobu Fukuoka, originator of the Japanese one straw method, with respect to his own citrus orchard and rice fields in Japan. Within several years of utilizing a regenerative approach, his production was an equivalent to – and sometimes in excess of – the largest and most industrialized rice farms in all of Japan. The Lozenskys report similar findings, “We have seen our soils produce average to above average yields without the use of soil amendments.”

Because the farming methods are based on a natural systems wide approach, these farms often include poultry and grazing animals. As Diniz explains,

“We also prototyped a system for meat, which is interesting since it’s an enormous activity in Brazil. There are ways to do silvopasture that have a fantastic carbon-negative effect while also regenerating the land by rotating the animals’ placement…Biodiversity is also improving since it all starts with healthy soil, working as a “placenta” of the planet, where all life begins.”

In nature, plants exist in an ecosystem that includes animals, bacteria, and fungi.

In large industrially based monocrop systems, the addition of herbicides and pesticides often work indiscriminately, affecting beneficial species as well. The addition of large amounts of chemicals, including fertilizers, into the soil destroys this delicate but fundamentally necessary underground ecosystem. In contrast to the ranges and grasslands that are used to produce meat from grazing animals, the acres and acres of GMO fields are often barren wastelands. In ecological terms, they are “green deserts.” They are a symbol of false fertility, birthing a consumable that is only made possible through artificial fertilization and selective chemical sterilization and eradication of less desirable species. Diniz recounts,

“ It [Conventional agriculture] is very chemical-intense, and it worries me to see a farm of 100,000 hectares in this condition. We visited one farm like this in the Amazon biome and couldn’t see even one bird. It’s disturbing.”

Can it be done? Yes, it can and has been done.

(Continued in Part III)