Well, probably. Sortakinda done. At 1:30 this afternoon, I made my final staggering plunge through the muck and mire to the finish line, having untangled various tangles and discovered yet more typos. I’d been up until 2:30 am Friday morning (NOT, mutter mutter, going out to photograph peak bluebonnets and plains nipple cactus, mutter mutter) and was back up before 8, unwillingly settling in to work again. Yesterday was gorgeous, clear and just cool enough. Today was mostly cloudy, so less temptation to go out, but a lot of stiffness and temptation to go back to bed. Which I did after coming to the end for the umpteenth time.

For those who think they’d really like to see all the drafts, especially the stuff thrown out…no, you really wouldn’t. OK, some of you, the kind who would be glad to be handed the kitchen waste cans after dinner so you could decide if the chef cut off a millimeter too much or too little of the fat on the rack of lamb, and whether the nubs of the carrots looked fresh…you might enjoy it. But most of us are far better off not knowing, so the story itself can come onstage, twirl about, do some high kicks and leaps, and disappear again without being encumbered by the “mistakes and accidents of surgery” (book type, at least.) (And yes, I have a real book titled Mistakes and Accidents of Surgery, written by a surgeon for the education of medical students, so they can avoid being in the next edition.)

I’ve had a nap. I’m going to eat supper–leisurely. I am not staying up late to work on the book, which is what I’ve been doing night after night until after midnight. Tomorrow, if it’s not pouring rain, I’ll be out in the field with binoculars and camera. If it’s pouring rain, I’ll be knitting and cooking. And another nap will be taken.

So now, what bits of science-y stuff can I add to your end-of-week reading? Well, there’s the report in this week’s NATURE that Daylight Savings Time isn’t good for most people, that we are neurologically wired to _not_ adjust to the twice-yearly demands to change our circadian rhythms. I’ve been saying that for years. It gets harder every year to recover from the process. Someday when I’m old and crankier, I’m going to quit paying attention to it at all. (Who cares when an 80 year old gets up, eats breakfast, etc? As long as you stay out of a medical facility, which I have every intention of doing.

There’s a fairly stupid (my term) gleeful commentary by one Adam Briggs, who not only favors the “sugar tax” now being imposed in some countries, but thinks the next target should be red meat, because red meat has a big carbon footprint. As a grassland ecology citizen scientist doing prairie restoration, this is taking an H-bomb to a mosquito. There are people who tout a vegetarian, if not vegan, diet for all as being the solution to feeding a global population. Those people are not ecologists. In terms of red meat, those people are not grassland ecologists.   (As it turns out the “cut” function doesn’t work as well in this theme as it did in my earlier themes, you’re stuck with the rest of the rant…but I will put in a visual barrier, though it’s not an actual cut: TO AVOID THE REST OF THE LONG BUT INFORMATIVE RANT, STOP READING HERE. )

Grassland is a valuable biome for many, many reasons: it’s sustainable with minimal fossil fuel use in management, it is excellent at erosion prevention and control, it transports rainwater into groundwater better than other soils, providing well-filtered springwater and thus cleaner streams, and it sustains its herbivores at levels that provide quality protein for human use. Converting natural grassland to cropping risks increasing soil erosion, nutrient dumping into water courses, removal of groundwater for irrigation, and desertification with encroachment of shrub species as a transition before full desertification. This happened in the United States, leading to the Dust Bowl. This has happened in Africa and Asia; the disappearance of the valuable mid-continental surface waters in Asia (Caspian and Aral seas) is due to the conversion of native grassland to agriculture using irrigation. Converting natural grassland to heavily populated cities, suburbs, industrial parks, etc. destroys all the ecosystem benefits that the natural grassland provides (lawn grass requires supplemental water and does not move rainwater into the groundwater.)

Natural grasslands–especially mid and short-grass–should be maintained for their many region-wide ecological services, and to do that…you need grazers. Grazers fertilize the grassland at a healthy level (low intensity, infrequent in a well-managed grassland.) Grassland needs to be grazed at a sustainable level to keep it grass land. You can attempt to mimic the effect with mowing, but mowing requires the use of fossil fuels, which contributes to global warming, and leaves more plant debris on the ground, rather than converted into fertilizer. Grazers need their population managed to prevent overgrazing (which is injurious)…which means either a size range of predators (some for the mice, some for the large herbivores) or human intervention. Hence: grass-fed grazers, which provide quality protein for humans as well as wolves, foxes, various wild cats. Whether wild or domestic, these animals can be managed for the health of the grassland ecosystem and their innate reproductive rate means that harvesting meat is both necessary and sustainable.

Taxing red meat to drive up the price will make it harder for low-income people to get the good complete protein they and their children need, while putting more pressure on owners of existing permanent pasture to convert them to cropland or sell to developers.

Yes, there’s a lot wrong with how meat is produced: cutting down rainforest is a bad idea. Feeding cattle corn and soybeans instead of grass is a bad idea, both ecologically and for the animals and those who eat them. Soybeans and corn both use more water than native grass (as well as needing the use of fossil fuels during their cultivation for livestock feed.) And eating grain and beans instead of grass and forbs mixed produces meat with a different protein/fat composition, as well as non-natural gut flora that is more dangerous to humans. Cheap mass-produced meat from cattle fed unnatural feeds and crowded so they require antibiotics and hormones…a bad idea. But damning red meat because of how it’s currently produced is stupid, and risks losing more of the planet’s important grassland biome.

Instead, sustainable production on natural, existing grasslands should be promoted, from farmers in Cumbria and Wales in the UK feeding out lambs to ranchers in the US West selling beef direct off the prairie.   Production close to consumption is a better goal–and will lessen the carbon footprint more– than eliminating an entire category of food (and its supporting ecosystem.)   Two principles top the list: water resource management as the foundation of maintaining a health grassland ecosystem, and ensuring adequate food for the lowest income citizens first.


6 thoughts on “Done

  1. Although I am sure there are many health benefits to be had from eating far less meat than most of us currently do, if we were all vegetarian, and still more so if we were all vegan, we would no longer have cattle to feed in our meadows (here in the UK we don’t have the wide open spaces you do in the USA, but it is nevertheless very beautiful!) or the lambs, which at this time of year are still pretty much in the bouncing around stage…. or pigs or hens come to that. And if nobody ate honey, would anybody keep bees, and if they didn’t, would there be enough bees to keep this world going?

  2. Meat consumption per capita has dropped over the past hundred years (rising again after WWII rationing, for instance, but never reaching the levels of consumption seen earlier) and even the wealthiest do not habitually consume pounds of meat a day. Our obesity problems are not from eating too much meat–but from eating too many calories (and the insistence on low-fat diets actually increased obesity in the US and some other developed countries) and perhaps eating meat from animals fed non-natural (for them) foods. In my own experience, beef from straight-off-the-range cattle is more satisfying with less meat than beef conventionally fattened in feedlots (supermarket beef), which in some cases (prime grade in particular) tastes of the corn used to fatten it, not beef. The advertising that’s convinced too many people (and chefs) that “the flavor is in the fat,” and to rank meat by its tenderness and not its flavor or nutritional density is definitely part of the problem. Side issue: it’s crazy that people want other foods ‘al dente’ (beans, pasta, and sometimes so hard inside that they’re still dry and floury, etc.) but want their meat “fork tender” and “melts in your mouth.” Meat should have some bite, some mouth feel, to it. Healthy meat comes from healthy animals that are out walking around looking for their natural food, not standing in a box being stuffed full.

    Sustainable farming, in the end, comes down to mixed farming–animals and plants, with the circulation of nitrogen and carbon (and others, but those in particular) between the plant and animal groups, with close attention to maintaining both soil and water resources. The water quality coming off the low end should be at least as high as water coming into the farm at the high end.

    We need to look at those areas where agriculture was carried on successfully for 1000 years or more (and may still be) and learn from those traditional farming cultures how they did it, instead of being so quick to “improve” them. The very fertile area in which I grew up wore out the soil in less than a century with irrigation and abundant use of fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides. Where I live now, once a prairie biome that had existed since the last ice age, soil levels have dropped by feet (both water and wind erosion) and conventional agriculture (row-cropping) has failed because of climate (lack of consistent rain and soil degradation); permanent pasture still supports cattle if managed well, but herds must be tightly controlled (selling off quickly at start of a drought, before the soil suffers) which limits income. My tiny herd (just large enough to give us one critter a year to eat, and one or two to pay pasture rent) is gone now.

  3. When I lived in upstate New York I was able to get grass fed beef.
    It was infinitely better then the beef I now (occasionally) but from the supermarket. At least grass fed bison is now available. And very tasty it is.

    1. Another thing about “grass-fed” is “grass” isn’t all grass. Range beef from S.Texas when I grew up (in the ’50s drought) was flavored with mesquite beans and cactus with the spines burned off and any weed they could get hold of. Range beef from over at Rancherfriend’s here was on a mix of native and “improved” pasture, but with plenty of forbs as well, and exceptionally tasty. I would love to have range beef off all-native pastures. The complexity of flavor…yeah. Now there are places that feed on Coastal Bermuda in the South, or bluegrass or timothy or other grasses in other areas. So beef need not be a factory product, but as regional as oranges or apples or chocolate.

  4. I agree about extensively reared cattle and sheep being important to maintain not just the grasslands you are talking about but various ecologies. In the UK as well as the meadows Annabel mentions our uplands would be entirely different without the cttle and sheep especially that graze them. Yes people should eat meat, and if they are going to drink milk or eat dairy products that should include rosy veal too.
    You are also quite right that extensivey reared meat tastes far better, I sometimes wonder if all the recipes I see for rubs and marinades and so forth are simply to disguise the fact that the meat so many people use is pretty tasteless. I do gussy up our meat at times, but something like a good lamb chop doesn’t need a sauce, it tastes fantatic as it is.

  5. Rubs and marinades can also be used to help tenderize the really tough stuff. Some meat (when the animal has been feeding on certain forbs, for instance) can have an unpleasantly “gamy” taste (like the milk from a cow that’s been eating cabbage, for one). My mother used to put venison in a red-wine/onion/garlic marinade. I’ve done that, too. But yes, they’re a help on relatively tasteless meat. Spices were also used to make spoiled meat (not just aged, but over-aged to the point of spoilage) palatable. A friend of my grandfather’s, once forced to eat spoiled beef while a prisoner, said it wasn’t bad with enough hot chili peppers on it.

    Chili was originally made of tough, range-fed beef that was hung until you needed that chunk of it–no refrigeration–and the chili peppers and long cooking made it safer to eat and also more tasty.

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