There are many people who, for various reasons, do not eat meat. Being a vegetarian in our culture is a very deliberate and often thoughtful act. I applaud those who do this and encourage all to be as deliberate and thoughtful in life-decisions. And certainly, what we eat is a life-decision, not just for ourselves but for the whole planet. I hope that I have been as equally deliberate in the decision to eat meat. This has to do with looking to nature with a sense of how we fit in. This is a holistic approach; not just a systems, but a bio-systems, approach. All too often green building gets caught in the reductionist approach of building science. This is not to disparage building science which provides many powerful and important insights. The goal here is to provide an example of stepping back and looking at how we fit into natural processes without returning to the cave. How and what we eat has, at times, been revolutionary. It was not just tea that was cast overboard by our marry pranking revolutionary founders. They sought food independence as a path to freedom. They knew that their subsistence could not be dependent on markets controlled by the British; so they sought a local diet. Jefferson said, “The greatest service which can be rendered any country is to add a useful plant to its culture.”
Today the revolution through diet is stronger than ever, as common people are responding to the toxic practices, not of the British, but of agribusiness. Eating organic and locally is revolutionary. Rather than buying food drenched in hormones, drugs, pesticides and herbicides, many are choosing to shop at their local farmers market and with local merchants.
How, you may be wondering, in the face of huge polluting, water wasting factory farms, can you support eating meat? I do not, in any way, support eating that meat. I support eating locally raised, organic, grass fed and finished herbivores. though I am not opposed to a bit of pork or chicken, which are omnivores. But it is the herbivores that are key.
This has to do with carbon cycles and, some would say, biomimicry. Traditionally, before the European invasion and even before any human inhabitants, our country was inhabited by large herds of herbivores. These large animals, first mastodon and mammoth then elk and buffalo, consumed huge quantities of grass which they quickly delivered back to the soil and helped plow it into the ground with their large bodies. This kept the soil rich and the inhabitants well fed.
During this time the Post Oak Savannah was much more savanna than oak forest. Not only did the herbivores help keep things mowed, also huge periodic fires started by lightning would clear the land. Few trees could withstand these fires, leaving plenty of space for deep rooted grasses that could come back after the fires and withstand grazing from large bodied animals.
Native Americans also changed the bio-dynamics of where they lived but, for the most part, they lived within the rhythms of natural systems. Their populations fluctuated with the availability of food and water which connected them to natural cycles.
All of that changed dramatically with the European invasion. Gone were the large herds of herbivores that tilled carbon back into the soil. The fires that maintained the grasslands and forests began to be controlled. But the most dramatic change has come in the last 75 years. We have altered the slowly crafted symbiotic processes of nature with farming methods that do not put bio-matter back into the ground and instead pump intense quantities of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium into the ground, thus altering the structure of the soil that is now blowing and washing away.
We now fatten cattle on grains that are alien to them and cause them to become sick. To keep them alive we pump them full of antibiotics and other drugs. These drugs are ingested by humans causing increasingly virulent strains of harmful and disease causing bacteria. And the hormones that we are pumping into farm animals to increase their rate of gain are also causing deleterious health issues.
Most meat today is raise in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO.) In addition to creating cruel conditions for the animals, feeding them food that makes them sick and keeping them alive on massive quantities of antibiotics – 80% of all US antibiotics go to agriculture – They also collect waste in massive manure lagoons. This stockpiling of animal waste allows carbon, in the form of methane, which should go back into the earth, to escape into the air and contribute to atmospheric destruction. This practice is also fouling aquifers and waterways, carrying with it toxic amounts of nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium, antibiotics as well as hormones, pesticides and herbicides.
Biomimicry is the study of natural processes as a means of perfecting human endeavors. I prefer bioassimilation, which is an effort to return, as much as possible, to the cycles of nature. In a very real sense this is a return to the garden. For me eating responsibly raised meat is a part of that.
Like our diet, the design of our dwellings and how we organize our communities provides ample opportunity to step back, look at our bio-system and make health choices. The key is being thoughtful and deliberate. What ideas do you have for your home that will bring you into closer alignment with your natural surroundings?