Should Meat be on the Menu?
Sample of Should Meat be on the Menu?
The boy in the wheat field
We come from the sky … and we return to the sky
The boy stood at a gate to a wheat field on his uncle’s farm near Brookton, Western Australia. It was that month when the dry summer heat meant it was harvest time. The scene before him was a glorious richness – a vast field of wheat ready for reaping.
There was an air of abundance as the harvest proceeded. It was golden time. As the harvesters transferred their grain to the waiting trucks the boy could smell the grain, and he could taste the fine dust given out by the auger as it heaped the rich pile of wheat into the truck’s waiting bin.
The boy watched the trucks ease their way cautiously down the gently sloping field, draw close, and then, in low gear, drive slowly through the gate. As they reached the gravel road they changed slowly and purposefully up through the gears and gathered speed. Heading off in the direction of the railway silo they left a lazy hot pall of dust in their wake. This fine earthen coloured mist hung motionless in the air for a few moments as if the heat of the day had created some sort of lethargy. Then it slowly dissipated in the mild wind drift. The sound of the trucks became lost in the heat-haze of the horizon.
Watching the dust and seeing the truck drawing away the boy thought, ‘Gee, every load that goes off the place is taking a truck full of something from the ground.’ He had the concept that the wheat came out of the ground – came out of the soil. This seemed intuitively true to him. His reasoning said, ‘It starts when you plant a seed in the ground. The seed germinates and the plant grows up out of the ground. It’s obvious! The plant appears to come out of the ground so it must be formed from substances in the ground.’
The boy even looked at the field and thought the surface of the land must have sunken down slightly after the harvest because of the material extracted by the harvest.
He wondered how far the ground would subside over, say, a ten or twenty year period. He also wondered how long it would be before all the ‘stuff’ that wheat was made of would be completely extracted from the ground, harvested, and sent off the property to the silo.
Driving home with his parents after the summer holiday the boy passed the railway silo and saw the huge dumps of wheat ready to be shifted by train. He thought, ‘It’s not only my uncle who is extracting this stuff from the ground, it’s every farmer in the district. Thousands and thousands of tonnes must be lost from the district every year in this way.’
Because the boy’s father was a ship’s officer in the Western Australian State Shipping Service, he often travelled to Fremantle with his family to see his father’s ship come in. On these occasions he looked across at the ships at the wheat export terminal. ‘They are digging up the whole country and sending it overseas by the shipload!’ he thought with an uneasy sense of alarm. ‘What will we do when the ‘wheat stuff’ in the ground all runs out?’ he wondered.
It wasn’t until years later that the boy, by this time a man in his forties, had one of those light bulb moments. It was one of those moments when all is revealed, one of those moments when you suddenly see things clearly, things that were previously obscured, one of those moments when you realise you have been working with a wrong assumption all your life. It was the same as the moment when, getting in the bath one day, Archimedes suddenly realised how to measure the volume of an irregular object. That’s when, struck with the suddenness of his insight, he is said to have called out ‘Eureka! I have found it!’ It was one of those moments.
The man in his forties was thinking about the environment one day when, for the first time, he really thought through the implications of what he had learnt in school about photosynthesis.
He had learnt that photosynthesis in the leaves of plants converted carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into carbohydrate chains to form wood and other plant material. He learnt that animals consumed the carbohydrate chains in the plants then incorporated the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen into their own bodies and their own life sustaining processes. As a boy he had learnt that photosynthesis combined the carbon from the carbon dioxide molecule with hydrogen from water and released oxygen in the process. The fresh water needed in this equation had once been evaporated from the salty water in the sea. It had been brought to the farmer’s field as water vapour in the air. It had then condensed and fallen as rain. The source of both the carbon dioxide and the water was the air. Everyone has learnt this in school.
The boy had even passed exams where he could describe all these facts about plant growth. He even knew the chemical formulas. And yet, somehow, there was a disjoint between the classroom knowledge he could put on paper and his own intuitive view of the world.
In his light bulb moment he realised for the first time the reality that the wood in the trunk of a tree came out of thin air. It came from gases in the atmosphere. In some ways the wood itself could be thought of as a form of solidified gas. The wood in the trees and plants definitely did NOT come out of the ground. It followed therefore that all the wheat in his uncle’s field also came from thin air, not from the soil. It followed that – given a continued availability of the right nutrients and trace elements in the soil – the wheat harvesting process could go on indefinitely without the surface of the paddock subsiding one little bit.
All the ships in Fremantle Harbour could therefore keep exporting wheat forever if need be. They could do this because they were only exporting the carbon, hydrogen and oxygen that had come from the atmosphere. In the final analysis the ships were actually exporting a ‘solidified’ form of thin air! They were not exporting the soil of Western Australia.
The man in his forties realised that his previous belief that plants are made from ‘stuff’ from the ground was as wrong as the belief that the Earth is flat. It is a belief that was instinctively true but, examined logically, is utterly untenable.
The logical extension of understanding that plants come from gases in the atmosphere is the conclusion that the things that eat the plants come from the atmosphere as well. Thus, a herd of cattle or a flock of sheep come from something in the air, not from something in the soil. They come from the air vicariously via plant photosynthesis. In turn the things that eat the animals that eat the grass come from the air as well – and, folks, that includes us! It includes all the other carnivores and omnivores as well. When animals eat plants and other animals, their bodies burn the food to give energy. This burning process is actually a combustion process, chemically similar to what happens with coal in a power station. This burning process, this combustion process, gives off gases to the atmosphere. When we breathe in, we supply the oxygen for this ‘fire’. When we breathe out, we expel the carbon dioxide that results from the ‘fire’.
We are all linked, as is all the carbon in our food, to a cycle in the atmosphere. It is true that our life processes are also dependant upon nutrients, trace elements and organic processes that originally come from the soil. These things however do not comprise the majority of the substance of our bodies. The nutrients and trace elements are vital but, when compared with the mass in our bodies that comes from gases in the atmosphere, are a minor part of our being.
Many years after that moment of insight, the man still feels an uncanny sense of amazement when he looks at a tree and reflects on the fact that the heavy wood came principally from the atmosphere, not from the ground.
He looks at a telegraph pole – the atmosphere! He looks at his breakfast cereal – the atmosphere! He looks at the vegetables, fruit, meat and bread on his plate – the atmosphere again! He looks at the cattle and sheep in the paddock – the atmosphere! He looks at his children, himself and the people in the street – yet again, the atmosphere, the atmosphere, the atmosphere. The biology that produces all these things depends on gases in the atmosphere.
The digestion and combustion process that occurs in our bodies when we eat completes a cycle in which these gases are released again to the atmosphere. The carbon we have taken in by eating is released to the atmosphere again by various bodily processes. The building materials in the plants and animals, and in our own bodies, have been recycled between the atmosphere and various forms of life for billions of years. Individual carbon atoms in, say, our fingernails, have been carbon atoms in lions and tigers, in wheat fields and forests, in prairie grasses, in insects, turtles, birds, snakes and lizards, dinosaurs and whales, a countless number of times. It’s quite a spooky thought but it is one hundred percent scientifically correct. We do not come from the ground, we come from the sky.
Is it possible to eat meat and save the planet?
This book explores the widely held misconception that sheep, cattle and other grazing animals are responsible for an enormous net production of new global warming gases. The reality is that livestock are part of a closed atmospheric carbon cycle where the carbon they emit is equal to the carbon they take in.
With the information in this book, food lovers who enjoy eating meat, chefs, restaurant owners, catering managers, cooks at home in their own kitchens and the general public, can feel confident that they can put meat on the menu without fear of warming the Earth.
Not only are sheep and cattle neutral with respect to the carbon cycle, they can be the positive agents by which carbon dioxide can be drawn down from the atmosphere and sequestered in farmland soils.
Prominent scientists recognise the role of plants and animals in drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and sequestering it beneath the ground as soil carbon.
Individual farmers and ranchers all over the world are taking action to raise carbon levels in their soils. In doing this they are directly addressing the excess carbon dioxide levels in the air which the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and numerous governments have stated is too high. Read how, far from being villains of global warming, farmers and ranchers, together with their plants and animals, can be the heroes of the environmental movement.
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Through his work as a journalist and writer, David has researched the matter of soil carbon sequestration on farms. He has visited farms where carbon farming is being developed and has a good working relationship with many of the leaders who are developing the techniques to do it. He has written articles on the subject and a book Should meat be on the menu? which advocates the role that farm animals, correctly grazed, can play in drawing down carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it, as carbon, in the soil profile.Find out more