Government of Canada photo

“Eat less red meat,” you say

Columnist David Zirnhelt says the health of people and the health of the land go together

Perhaps excesses of the past have driven the recent authors of the New Canada Food Guide to recommend less red meat in the diet of Canadians.

I feel compelled to respond because much of the potential and reality of protein production is associated with extensive areas of relatively poor soil type.

If only the researchers and policy makers would separate “extensive” and “intensive agriculture” when they do their research and make their policy recommendations, we would have more balanced advice for the citizens of the world.

I know the Canada Food guide is looking at health of people, not the health of the land.

But the two go together.

We know that raging diabetes in modern and traditional cultures can be a result of not enough traditional foods in the diet.

We know that diabetes in West Coast First Nations can be addressed by a major return to the seafood diet (salmon and shellfish). Similarly, for Northern people used to eating game meat and local fish.

The Japanese, we know, have had better health outcomes than countries consuming the Western diet and this has been attributed to a large amount of seafood in their diet. This is changing, as they have recently been consuming more red meat.

This hit on the red meat may be a case of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

One cannot grow soy beans or most of the plant-based protein foods on the grasslands and rangelands of the world.

Some of the top plant-based protein foods are: soy, lentils, chickpeas, peanuts, almonds, quinoa, mycoprotein, spirulina (algae), chia, hemp, beans with rice, potatoes, protein rich vegetables, seitan (wheat gluten and spices) and Ezekiel bread (barley, wheat, lentils, millet and spelt).

You can see from this list that most of these take good crop-growing lands, and the sustainability challenge is equal if not greater than sustainable management of the unplowed, untilled rangelands of the world.

Converting natural rangelands to growing high-protein cultivated crops such as those mentioned above may well result in degrading the already fragile soils suited to rather light grazing by meat producing animals.

Major environmental writers underline this finding.

But for everything, moderation may be the watchword. Moderate, well-managed use of the range and development of our richer high producing soils should be the overall strategy.

Take “Management Intensive Grazing” as a real method of management. The emphasis is on management, not intensive. It is the management that needs to be intensive and carefully done, so as not to overgraze, but rather to graze so as to enhance the resource.

There are enough hungry people in our country and the world that we have to find ways of getting local food, much of it grown by the people themselves, to adequately nourish the increasing population.

In this process, many have said that there is a real contribution to be made by red meat and many other foods. My caution is look around at the environmental sustainability of our food sources and guard the factors that allow and encourage the producers of this food to thrive.

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