Monday, February 25, 2019

So You're Thinking of Buying a Cow?

This brochure from the University of Wyoming gives
some basics you’ll need to know.

Here’s a few basics that stand out to me.

You buy the cow in November and it weighs 700
pounds.You then feed the cow until June and it
weighs 1100 pounds. After butchering the cow you
end up with 450 pounds of beef.

For that 450 pounds of beef you’ll feed the cow 3000
pounds of hay and 1350 pounds of grain.

Your total expenditures for raising that cow are
$1,845.86. If you skip buying and raising a cow
you can go to the grocery store and buy your
450 pounds of beef for $2,081.25. Cow growers,
like all farmers, operate on very small margins.


Actually the thing that really stands out to me is
that you will feed a cow 4,350 pounds of food to
get 450 pounds of food you can eat. Why not just
cut out the middleman(cow) and eat the hay and
grain yourself? Alfalfa hay is high in protein.

If your a human, with only one stomach and a weak
set of chompers, eating hay is not a good
choice for feeding yourself. We grow alfalfa
to feed cows not people - silly.

What if instead of alfalfa we used that land to grow
peas, lentils or soybeans? That means we’d miss
the smell of fresh cut alfalfa (if you’ve never smelled
it that’s a pity) but the upsides when it comes to
saving our planet probably outweigh the downsides.


I’m not going to bore you and myself with a lot of
facts and figures to make a point of why not eating,
or cutting back on eating, beef is good for the
environment. Just think about it...we use petroleum
powered machines to grow and transport crops to
use as food for cows. If instead of growing and
transporting cow food, we grow and transport
human food, it reduces the amount of CO2 we are
putting into atmosphere. Right?

How much CO2 you ask? I don’t know and neither do
you - partly because we live in a society where cows
are sacred. Not Hindu sacred but McDonald’s
sacred. Talking about the negative impact of beef on
health or the environment is a bit of a taboo in the
good old US of A.

I kept reading interesting stories in the Guardian
(an independent non-US newspaper) about how
cutting back on beef consumption reduces our
carbon footprint and is an important element in
combating climate change, but wasn’t
seeing much of anything like that coverage in
the New York Times or Washington Post.

If you would like to confirm for yourself that there
is some bias when it comes to beef and climate
change - search The Guardian, New York Times
and Washington Post using the search term
“beef climate change”.

Here I did it for you…

The Guardian
The New York Times
Washington Post

See what I’m talking about?

The Post has some relevant articles relegated to
the food or wonkblog section, the Times not much
and The Guardian puts articles on the front page.


Yes for sure it’s complicated - lots of people are
employed in raising, selling, transporting and
cooking cows. If we all turn into Tofu heads what
are all the people employed by Burger King,
McDonalds, Wendy’s, Carl Juniors going to do?
Good question but they’ll be replaced by robots
soon enough anyway so not exactly a convincing
argument for continuing to eat dead cows.


Here’s a small science lesson about the carbon cycle
before I go.

Plants absorb sunlight and carbon dioxide to grow.
In that growth cycle they output oxygen. Plants
absorb carbon. Petroleum is a super-concentrated
form of plant matter. There’s a lot of dead plants
(carbon) in that gallon of gas. When the gas
combusts in our internal combustion engines
we release a whole bunch of carbon dioxide,
a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

Scientists have known for over a hundred years that
one way to warm up a planet is to create
greenhouse gases like CO2. James Hansen testified
before Congress over thirty years ago how humans
use of fossil fuels was causing the climate to change.
Ronald Reagan pulled the solar panels off the White
House roof, installed by Jimmy Carter, and
for good measure rolled back the EPA CAFE
standards. Money talked then as now, and people
wanted to believe in myths provided to them by a
Hollywood actor, so they did, but I'm not really
interested in assigning blame - we are all culpable.
I can't help but think we all want future generations
to live in a world that includes the Monarch butterfly.

Did you know water vapor is a potent greenhouse

It is indeed which leads us to one of the vexing
challenges of studying our climate and how it’s
changing. Changes to the climate are non-linear.
There are feedback loops all over the place that
we don’t understand completely because we can’t
model them accurately. Here’s what I mean -

As the oceans, rivers and lakes warm - more
water evaporates which means we have more
of that strong greenhouse gas, water vapor,
in the atmosphere. This warmer air is able to hold
more water vapor than colder air which only
exacerbates the problem.
See how this works?

Water evaporates, causing higher temperatures,
causing more water to evaporate causing even
higher temperatures. That’s what’s known as a
positive feedback loop in control theory.

Enough for now - whatever food you choose to use
to power your body, be good to each other.