Monday, April 26, 2010

Meatful Monday

Mr. Optimistic frequently says I have the guilt of four catholics. I'd say it's more like five.

There is however one guilt trip I'm not taking. Lately, I've seen several articles that suggest eating meat is bad for the environment and touting Meatless Mondays. A good friend of mine (and very talented photographer) even found this display at the popular Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.

And yes, that's a cow in a gas mask encouraging you to lay off beef and dairy products (center right). Seriously.

My friend even overheard a mother say, "See, that is why you are helping the environment by becoming a vegan!" The little girl didn't look so convinced. But many adults are.

Most of the meatless claims center around a 2006 research report by the United Nations titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." The report claims that livestock production accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, this information continues to be recycled.

The problem is that it is a global estimate for all of agriculture, not just livestock. Agriculture across the globe is quite varied. In addition, the study included transportation of livestock products...something you'd also have to do for vegetables unless you live in a greenhouse.

A 2008 U.S. EPA report says, methane from livestock accounts for only 2.4% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. That's relatively small considering transportation accounts for 26%.

What's more, many Americans are actually not meeting the food guide pyramids requirements for lean protein. Beef is the number one food source of zinc (essential for your immune system), as well as an excellent source of iron and protein that will help meet the pyramid's guide. More great news - there are 29 lean cuts to choose from.

Farmers and ranchers work hard to maintain our earth's natural resources everyday. It's our livelihood. So feel guilty about eating too much triple chocolate layer cake (or not calling your mom), but don't feel bad about eating beef.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mo vs. Mo in Food Inc.

As an agriculturalist, I have never criticized Food Inc. In fact I didn’t even have my pitchfork sharpened last night when I flew (figuratively) through the door at 8:45 p.m. after a meeting and turned on PBS. I did not see the first 45 minutes but I spent the next hour asking….can that be?

I’ve heard a lot about Food Inc, if not through the beef industry then via the Academy Awards list of Best Documentary Nominees. But I have been slow to criticize, because I simply had not seen it for myself.

One thing really surprised me. Although I’ve been in production agriculture all my life and spent several summers testing grain at the Co-op, I had no idea what a bunch of "jerks" worked at Monsanto. Wait a minute…my brother (who I find quite likable) works there. The portion of the movie that I watched (which was technically part two), didn’t spare any expense at providing Monsanto a one-sided fight. Especially, when all of the talking is done by those "poor farmers.” I couldn’t wait to hear what my brother had to say when I texted him while watching. Fortunately, this email arrived from him this morning:

"How dare Monsanto patent the seed that they put billions of dollars of research into? Why shouldn’t farmers get the technology for free?

To give you an idea it is estimated that Monsanto spends $2.6 million a DAY on seed research.

What they fail to tell you is that Monsanto isn’t out to destroy poor innocent farmers by taking them for all they are worth. Rather they are out to protect the patents of their products that they have worked to develop. One thing they also forgot to mention in the movie is Monsanto doesn’t collect a dime from the lawsuits. Anything that is awarded to Monsanto either through lawsuit or settlement is immediately donated back to youth scholarships and agriculture education groups within the area that the farmer is from. Click here for their side of the story.

As far as poor Maurice (Mo) Parr the seed cleaner from Indiana. No one stated he had to quit cleaning seed. He simply has to quit cleaning seed with Monsanto’s genetic traits in it. It was sad how the movie portrayed Monsanto squashing poor Mo. Read Mo here.

Then there is Troy Roush. Never mind the fact that Monsanto should sue him again for confidentiality violations as was determined per his settlement. The guy still buys seed from the company he hates."

I assure you my big brother is not a company spokesman, just someone who offers another side to the story. While he's not unbiased, he did mention he needed a raise. No one's totally satisfied with company policy.

However, while watching the video in my home, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for poor Mo and the gang. I have a real soft spot for elderly men, especially elderly farmers. I’m a prime example of one more person watching this film without all the facts.

Unfortunately, anyone watching this movie was doing it without all the facts. I was saddened and shocked by the blanket statements about dishonest people in the food industry. As a chronic perfectionist I’m open to a discussion about how I can do anything better, including raising food. I’m a firm believer that anything can be done better. But don't attack the hardworking men and women racing to keep up with the challenges of feeding a dramatically increasing population, that is demanding affordable food.

I believe there's a place at our tables for all types of production including organic, grass-fed, and conventional. I do however have a serious problem with one producer disparaging anothers product without true scientific evidence.

What this video misses is that we have the safest, most abundant food supply in the world that is the envy of our neighbors. Daily we walk into clean, brightly lit stores to purchase, affordable, wholesome, and (when prepared properly) safe foods. How lucky we are as a nation to have this much time on our hands to complain about it….it’s probably because we aren’t cleaning our own chickens in the backyard.

My lunch break is over and an hour isn't nearly enough time to dispel all of the myths in this film. Visit Safe Food Inc. to learn more about the films inaccuracies.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

I Fell In To A....

When it comes to jobs at the ranch, I'm generally not too picky. After dwelling in an office most of the day, I'm thankful for anything that doesn't involve heels.

There is however, one job that will make me immediately want to find somewhere else to be: Burning.

I really was never aware of my fear of fire until I went to my first burn with Mr. Optimistic seven years ago. I got clotheslined by an overzealous, hose-wielding college boy while holding a drip torch. Both I and my pride were singed.

After marrying the Flint Hills however, disappearing to the mall during burning season seems a little wrong. So I've learned to adjust, adapt, and of course take pictures.

If you are a stray to the area like me, you may wonder why this is done. For one, good stewards of the land have a saying to "take half and leave half." In other words, when grazing a pasture, one would like to graze until half the grass production for that year is used, and then move the cows to another pasture. What is left behind, though, is lots and lots of mature, dead grass. When pastures are burned at the right time, it gives new nutrient-rich and efficient grass the opportunity to grow. And become the most incredibly beautiful green color imaginable.

Also, burning helps control invasive plant species like cedar trees and different types of brush that can overrun grazing land. Want to get Mr. Optimistic ruffled? Tell him you love cedar trees. Our neighbors love them, and we don't speak to them anymore.

There are many other reasons why rangeland burning is important for the Flint Hills, even including a cow's picky palette. Apparently to her, the grass is greener (and more delectable) on the other side of the hill. Cows will sometimes return to their favorite spot too often, shortening the grass and allowing invasive plants to take hold. I have a similar problem with McDonald's french fries, so I'm not judging.

In short, Mr. Optimistic is not a pyro, but a conservationist seeking to find the best way to efficiently manage and maintain the resources that we have. By keeping our pastures viable, we are able to efficiently feed cattle and a growing human population without increasing the land needed for agriculture. Which I'm sure makes all of our cedar tree loving neighbors very happy.