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Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

Publish date:
November 24, 2014
Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production

For decades it has been nearly universal dogma among environmentalists and health advocates that cattle and beef are public enemy number one.

But is the matter really so clear cut? Hardly, argues environmental lawyer turned rancher Nicolette Hahn Niman in her new book, Defending Beef.

The public has long been led to believe that livestock, especially cattle, erode soils, pollute air and water, damage riparian areas, and decimate wildlife populations.

In Defending Beef, Hahn Niman argues that cattle are not inherently bad for either the Earth or our own nutritional health. In fact, properly managed livestock play an essential role in maintaining grassland ecosystems by functioning as surrogates for herds of wild ruminants that once covered the globe. Hahn Niman argues that dispersed, grass-fed, small-scale farms can and should become the basis for American food production, replacing the factory farms that harm animals and the environment.

The author―a longtime vegetarian―goes on to dispel popular myths about how eating beef is bad for our bodies. She methodically evaluates health claims made against beef, demonstrating that such claims have proven false.  She shows how foods from cattle―milk and meat, particularly when raised entirely on grass―are healthful, extremely nutritious, and an irreplaceable part of the world’s food system.

Grounded in empirical scientific data and with living examples from around the world, Defending Beefbuilds a comprehensive argument that cattle can help to build carbon-sequestering soils to mitigate climate change, enhance biodiversity, help prevent desertification, and provide invaluable nutrition.

Defending Beef is simultaneously a book about big ideas and the author’s own personal tale―she starts out as a skeptical vegetarian and eventually becomes an enthusiastic participant in environmentally sustainable ranching.

While no single book can definitively answer the thorny question of how to feed the Earth’s growing population, Defending Beef makes the case that, whatever the world’s future food system looks like, cattle and beef can and must be part of the solution.

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Nicolette Hahn Niman
Livestock refers to domesticated animals that are raised for various purposes, primarily for food production, but also for their labor, fiber, or other products. Livestock includes animals such as cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, poultry (chickens, turkeys, ducks), and horses, among others.
Regenerative Agriculture
Vegetarian Myth
Grain-Fed Beef
Grain-fed beef refers to cattle that are raised on a diet primarily composed of grains, such as corn or soybeans, instead of their natural diet of grass. This type of feeding regimen is commonly practiced in industrialized or intensive farming operations. The purpose of grain feeding is to promote rapid weight gain in cattle, resulting in larger and more marbled cuts of meat. The grains provide a concentrated source of energy, enabling the animals to put on weight quickly. This method of feeding can significantly shorten the time it takes for cattle to reach market weight compared to grass-fed cattle. Grain-fed beef is known for its tenderness and a richer flavor due to the higher fat content. The increased marbling, or intramuscular fat, contributes to the juiciness and flavor profile of the meat. The fat content also affects the cooking process, making it easier to achieve desired levels of doneness. However, it's important to note that grain feeding also has some criticisms. Some argue that grain-fed beef may have a less favorable fatty acid profile compared to grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef tends to have a higher proportion of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids and a more balanced omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. Additionally, there are concerns about the environmental impact of intensive grain feeding, including land use, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions associated with grain production.
Grass-Fed Beef
Grass-fed beef refers to meat derived from cattle that have been raised primarily on a diet of grass or forage throughout their lives. The term "grass-fed" typically implies that the cattle have been allowed to graze on pasture for most of their lives, as opposed to being fed a diet primarily composed of grains or other supplements.
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