Nina Planck
Author, "Real Food"

How Meat Can Be Green

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While industrial meat production is environmentally destructive and socially unjust, raising animals for meat on in grass pastures actually enhances the environment.

Nina Planck

Author and food activist Nina Planck was raised on a family farm in Virginia, where she learned to appreciate "real," traditional foods. She worked as a reporter for TIME Magazine and wrote speeches for the U.S. ambassador to London before opening the first farmers’ markets in London. Today her company, London Farmers’ Markets, runs fourteen markets. She is the author of two books: "Real Food: What to Eat and Why," and "Real Food for Mother and Baby: The Fertility Diet, Eating for Two, and Baby's First Foods."

Planck is a Big Think Delphi Fellow. 


Question: Is eating "real food" environmentally responsible?

Nina Planck:  Eating real food is absolutely environmentally responsible, if by real food we look to foods of animal origin – that is meat, dairy and eggs – to traditional methods of production. So the argument which was most forcefully made by Francis Moore Lappe in "Diet for a Small Planet" that meat production is environmentally destructive and even socially unjust was sound insofar as it went because it was a critique of industrial meat production.  If we look to traditional methods of production, which we call grass farming in a very simple definition that is raising animals for meat on grass and raising…  Those are beef, dairy, cattle and lamb and raising chicken and pigs on pasture, but with supplemental feed because they’re omnivores too.  If we look to those methods we find that those are not only environmentally sound, but enhance the environment.  They make use of un-farmable land.  They can even enhance riparian areas.  Those are wetlands.  And certainly there are no unpleasant and costly byproducts from raising animals that way and I’ll just cite one example, cattle manure is a major environmental waste product.  It is housed in what are called manure lagoons.  They’re basically huge cesspools near industrial cattle and hog operations.  There are so-called environmental grants in order to create impermeable pools.  That is cement floors for these pools to keep this waste product from leaching into groundwater.  This is what passes for environmental legislation, right?  We give you a grant to keep a waste product out of the groundwater.  Much simpler to let the cattle walk around on grass and feed themselves rather than put them in a feedlot and stuff them on grain where you have to remove the manure because in this way the spread the manure around themselves on grass and pasture that needs it.  Wendell Barry described – you know our great agronomy philosopher – described industrial cattle and hog operations as neatly dividing one solution into two problems, so the solution would be let the animals feed themselves on grass and spread their manure themselves with their own four hooves, rather than pooling their manure so that we then have two problems.  One, ground that needs nitrogen fertilizer and two, a manure cesspool that needs… that becomes a toxic waste dump.