Feb 062019
 February 6, 2019  Posted by at 2:52 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Salvador Dali Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on Her Shoulder 1933



Ilargi: It’s been quite a while since we last heard from Dr. D. He was probably busy growing stuff. But he’s back now, and with something dear to my heart: the craziness of our food production systems. Answers to which are not always what most people think, to put it mildly.



Dr. D:

Eat less meat to save the planet – report (1)
The new diet that could save the planet (2)
What to eat to save the planet: Report urges ‘radical changes’ to world’s diet – less meat, more veggies (3)


These headlines, likely sourced from a recent article from “The Lancet” (4) are a regular feature of our time, in diet, in environmentalism, and in global warming. They are well-researched, sourced by the world’s experts, and put forward with the highest intentions. However, they are also completely wrong – dangerously, ignorantly wrong.

Like most industries, agriculture and food production is a specialty, with its own language and details. I don’t attempt to tell the Lancet how to perform heart surgery, for to do so would be ridiculous, dangerous, outside of my expertise. I wouldn’t tell a geologist how to interpret the magnetic layers of rock, or how oceanographers should properly interpret sea water samples to guide us on fishing or pollution. Yet this is what they do for farmers.

The primary drive of most such articles is that, with so many people, and so much hunger, we find that it takes “2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce one pound of feedlot beef.” that “64% of US cropland produces livestock feed.” (5) That it takes “20 pounds corn [to make] 1 pound beef.” (6) Or that you can get 15lbs of beef per acre, but 263lbs of soybeans. (7) Also that cattle are the primary reason for deforestation, and a major cause of methane.

From these numbers, it’s simple to see that meat, particularly cattle, is anti-environmental, and even anti-human, and it would be the pinnacle of irresponsibility to encourage or even allow them to be eaten. It is a direct affront to the poor, the hungry, and even other citizens in developed countries like ourselves, even though we may be able to afford such things. Simple. A lock. Slam-dunk. No further research required.

Setting aside that we waste half our food, the food we do have is maldistributed, and that we haven’t tapped a fraction of the land we did in say, WWII Britain, setting aside that the water doesn’t vanish, but returns to the water table to be used again, setting aside that the methane released does not contribute to global warming since it is exclusively carbon captured by the grass earlier that year, setting aside that the argument is the same one Malthus had, 250 years wrong, or that removing cattle would amount to the permanent extinction of more than a thousand breeds of animals with a lineage thousands of years old … even all that aside, their argument shows they don’t know anything about land, food, or the process of creating it.

Some other major concerns of economists and environmentalists are 1) environmental destruction from drilling 2) peak oil, 3) production of toxic waste, 4) plastics packaging, 5) dependence on imported energy, 6) CO2 from cars and transportation, and 7) BTUs per calorie of food eaten, as popularized in Kunstler’s “3,000 mile Caesar salad” (8) and this is where our story starts.


Deck Family Farm


On a farm, one of the major input costs every year is fertilizer, nitrogen, and this is presently produced almost exclusively from a feedstock of natural gas. That is to say, food in the modern agricultural system is literally the eating of unsustainable oil wells. And it’s even worse than that: agriculture is so dependent on synthesized, centralized petroleum fertilizer that it’s no exaggeration to say that without massive, uninterrupted supplies of cheap oil and gas there would be no food. Yields could easily drop by 30%, causing an unprecedented human catastrophe.

What’s more, another of the environmentalists’ grave concerns, topsoil loss and soil depletion would immediately come to the fore, as the only thing keeping today’s depleted fields in production are the artificial inputs directly from oil fields, mostly imported. –And that’s ABOVE the oil needed for the tractors, for the harvesters, for the delivery, for the centralized plant, for the parts, the buildings, food wrapping, for the creation of pesticides, herbicides, the centralized seed production, centralized grain mills…no. For the purposes of this article, we are only talking about cows.

Of course, mankind didn’t start this way, unable to eat a lettuce leaf without a 10,000-mile chain of energy use from foreign, occupied nations and the unwavering support of the worldwide industrial society that supports it. Originally the cows stood on the very grass they ate, eating contentedly, and were butchered and sent to market locally, using not a drop of oil. They did not disturb the fields but indeed enriched them with their foot-traffic and manure. So how did we go from a 0 mile, 0 grain, 0 cost, 0 oil food source to a food that reportedly starves continents and will destroy the world? That is, if cows were good and worked before, maybe the problem lies not with the meat or the cow, but with rabid industrialism?

If petroleum-based fertilizer is our major weakness, the single import that can be shut off to kill billions, surely it’s our duty — a national security emergency even — to close this weakness and find ecological alternatives. And for fertilizer, we have two: one, you can rotate crops to keep fields fallow in rotation, or two, you can replace synthetic fertilizer with animal manure. In fact, synthetic fertilizer is but a poor, harmful replacement for the manure farmers have used for 5,000 years – it has only nitrogen, potassium and potash, and nothing of the thousand other nutrients required of healthy soil.


It has no biosphere, no heat, no water, and no organic matter. The resulting soil depletion is a prime cause of desertification and topsoil loss, to say nothing of constantly lower yields. Its very use destroys the soil in the way steroids destroy health while giving the illusion of strength. They should probably be banned not for environmental reasons, but for long-term efficiency and national security. And there is only one replacement for this toxic, destructive, unreliable, expensive input: animal manure.

Worse, this cannot be chicken, sheep, or pig, adequate as they are. Pig and chicken are too concentrated and toxic and require other petroleum processes to dilute and deliver. Sheep is too mild and not in quantity, for sheep do not favor containment. Home composting could never produce a fraction of the volume needed for the world’s fields without the same massive petroleum inputs in tractors, trucks, chippers, conveyors, and all the factories, railways, and steel mills that create them. That leaves largely one source: cattle.

So in this new ecological world we imagine, we would have to grow cattle simply for the required fertilizer. And these cattle cannot be far! Unlike synthetic fertilizer, manure is wet, heavy, and dilute. It cannot be centralized into today’s poisonous sewage ponds, nor shipped coast to coast: it must be created near the fields that require it. As the world is enormously varied, you must also have breeds attuned to each locality’s weather and needs, perhaps creating a thousand unique varieties.

Tiny Kerry cattle for the bogs of Ireland, bony Longhorns for the deserts of Texas, Alpine Braunvieh for the steep mountains of Switzerland, or a hearty Fjäll for the frozen lands of Sweden. Nor can the farms be concentrated or specialized: without mass inputs of machinery or petroleum, and lacking harmful dry fertilizer, the farms must be small, dispersed, and varied, local in scope, diverse in production, specializing in their region and feeding only people nearby. Once you can’t ship mass quantities virtually for free, from reliable, nearly free energy, there is no other way.


Earth Repair Corps


Now you can’t get that fertilizer for nothing, and we don’t get it for nothing now. You have to have input costs for our fertilizer factory. And for cattle that input is grass; fields and fields of it, probably near 1-2 acres per cow. Is that bad? Irresponsible? How does that compare to drilling in ANWAR, and delivering via the Exxon Valdez? How is the sourcing from Iraq, transported via Syria, or the digging of tar with a payloader in the freshwater swamps of Alberta?

Now you can get 1, 2, even 3 cuttings a year of hay in temperate climates, and the cow is happily producing this valuable fertilizer all the time, without embargoes, financial disruptions, or delivery costs. But nevertheless, 25% of your fields will be put out of service in order to environmentally, sustainably source this necessary input for next year’s grain.

But not to fear! You know what? You can EAT the components of this essential, life sustaining fertilizer production factory! Yes, you can! Even better, you can eat butter, cheese, yogurt and yes, even ice cream! These very things you would NOT have without running this fertilizer mill that you would be forced to run even if they did nothing at all. Even more, you can down-stream the whey from your milk-preservative process to feed pigs! I’m not making this up!

Yes, by the very fact of creating fertilizer you had to produce in any case, you can also eat bacon! And you essentially have to, because otherwise this valuable milk-byproduct will go to waste. Nor can the pigs be far. You must have farms that are small in scale, varied in production, and local to the community. This will, of course, make them especially resilient to every challenge: financial, ecological, or human, be it from global warming or global warring.

The diverse, smaller-scale of these farms unfortunately require smaller business units to run them, such as the millions of local families presently unemployed, and sadly force cattle and other animals to free-range on the fields in the sunshine, as their ancestors did. But we all make sacrifices.


More, this small, diverse, decentralized food production system cannot aggregate mass quantities for mass market. Cows are not all the same, arriving by tens of thousands in the same 100-acre slaughterhouse, but because dissimilarity hampers assembly-line processes, the food would be produced in smaller batches, closer to home, more directly, without the wasting fuel and CO2 to ship them worldwide, and without the 31 flavors of plastics packaging which don’t make economic sense at this scale. –The French market model, as it were, local in the streets of your own town, fresh and unique.

You see, what they didn’t ask and forgot to research is that in order to grow those 263lbs of soybeans, you have no alternative but to have 1:4 of your fields fallow, resting, doing nothing. That’s now 197lbs per acre. Neither can you do that every year without input, so using another field to add this fertilizer, you have 131lbs/acre, really. The fallow land required of a world without oil inputs means 1/2 of the world’s production is offline at any given time, starving people.

What a drag! But you COULD, if you’re very clever, plant a wild, nitrogen-fixing plant on that fallow ground, creating both green manure for next year’s soybeans, AND running your cattle-driven fertilizer factory at no additional cost! Not only do you get the ONE field green-manured, and ANOTHER field cow-manured, but you could, if you’re very smart, get that otherwise useless, fallow field to grow ANOTHER crop of milk and beef, and downstream, chickens and pigs, absolutely FREE! THREE fields for the price of one.

What would you expect to pay for this richness, this agricultural, ecological magic trick? $1 trillion? $5 trillion for our green-energy, planet-saving, CO2-reducing “Green New Deal”? One that’s proven and can actually work because it follows the laws of thermodynamics? Surely it’s worth any cost if it saves the planet and takes a huge chunk off oil drilling, oil wars, and global warming.

Answer is: nothing. What I’ve just described is western agriculture, as developed since the 1500s. Anyone who’s ever looked at a farm, read a wikipedia entry, or took a history class knows this. Every medieval peasant knows this. Every hillbilly farmer from Iowa knows this. Except for all the modern journalists and The Lancet, all of whom all eat these very foods every day without the slightest spark of where they come from.


Night Owl Farm


You see, it doesn’t matter if cows are less efficient than soybeans, they exist in a SYSTEM, and that system has many inputs and many parameters. Reading a statistic doesn’t grow a plant to market any more than my reading about scalpels makes me a surgeon. There are many other possibilities, requirements, inputs: they speak of overgrazing, such as dry lands in Africa, when in fact, rotational OVERgrazing replenishes the soil and INCREASES the yields.

What’s more, a very great deal of the reported “arable” land on earth is not productive. It is too dry, such as Texas; too steep, such as Colorado; too variable cold, like Montana; or too far from market, like Afghanistan. You can’t grow soybeans or corn there even if you wanted, and you couldn’t ship kale from Kabul to London at cost, so their “statistics” about arable land and production mean nothing. …Worse than nothing, as they are so misleading as to be completely wrong.

Wrong in the way that enormous, world-changing decisions, subsidies, and wars are made, wrong in the way Stalin thought to modernize and mechanize agriculture in the Ukraine to get it out of the 1500s, and killed 7 million people in a single year. Wrong because not every square mile of land is equivalent, and only the crop that grows and has enough value to ship can be produced there. That’s why they make whiskey in the Appalachians and cheese in the Alps: the value to market has to be so much higher, high enough to transport, or no food will be produced at all.


That’s why they grow wild pigs in the Dehesa of Spain: because otherwise those forests would feed no one. But scientists and journalists don’t know this, even though it’s on the Food Channel each night.

What’s more, their scientific white-room system is orders of magnitude less efficient than the medieval method. Hundreds of random foods are wasted on the farm. Should they be dropped, as the labor cost/hour is too high to economically recover them? Should we waste the time and petrol to compost them into biogas? No. Farm waste, and waste through every warehouse, rail car, grocer, and restaurant can be eaten by chickens. Then not only do you get the compost anyway, in manure, not only do you also get a lifetime of eggs, for free, YOU GET A CHICKEN. All from the grass, the seeds, the bugs…and the food waste they already abandon.

But this doesn’t come without a cost. Brace yourself for this, people, because in order to achieve this level of bounty and efficiency, you will have to EAT these animals rather than let them die of old age and disease and be eaten by dogs and beetles. You, yes you, if you want an ecological, happy-animal, local-economy, sustainable, anti-CO2, food-producing world, not only CAN eat meat, but you are REQUIRED to. …As did a thousand generations of your ancestors, back to the very first day of man, slashing and clearing a field so the deer would come.

So try to be at least as smart as an illiterate medieval peasant and grow your food the natural way: locally, seasonally, independently, with happy animals in a rich green world of fields, trees and farms enriched with thousands of subvarieties of biodiversity in hedgerows so rich they have yet to be fully cataloged. A far cry from the hardened, drilled, paved, expensive, destructive, unsustainable, dangerous, lethal, impoverished way promoted by the scientific experts and the journalists who cover them.



Home Forums Eat Less Meat and Save the Planet

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    Salvador Dali Portrait of Gala with Two Lamb Chops Balanced on Her Shoulder 1933     Ilargi: It’s been quite a while since we last heard fro
    [See the full post at: Eat Less Meat and Save the Planet]

    John Day

    I’m a vegetarian and I more or less approve of this message.
    Grass fed livestock is not the problem. The problem is the vast corn-fed economy based upon fossil fuels and fossil water, soon to be much less available.
    Let me put in a plug for Kerrygold Irish Butter and Dubliner (Cheddar type) Cheese, from grass fed cows, which have the omega-3 fats we require, and do not get in the American diet.


    Thank you Ilargi for this post from Dr D.!I Ialso run a small diversified farm with pigs, chickens, sheep and Jersey milk cows.Dr D is on target. I have in the past 30 years turned our glacial rocky alluvial soil into productive soil using only manure, I was dismayed at the Lancet article as well and by other voices who say we must end all consumption of meat and dairy. They must be educated. In one sense they are right. The industrial agriculture system as practiced should be abandoned for reasons Dr D gave but he failed to mention the most egregious reason. Huge grain inputs are used for just one purpose:to increase yields of dairy and meat. The important fact is that except in unusual circumstances supplementary grain inputs are not needed and are frequently harmful to the animal. Our livestock can exist solely on grass and weeds and grain straw ALONE. Just like the elk and venison our family consumes. These animals have digestive systems designed solely for grasses and grasses which have no nutrient value to human beings but these animals can take indigestible useless cellulose and turn it into lean meat and milk. Yes yields are less but cows don’t need ANY grain to produce milk or meat. On just grass our jersey cow will make 3-4 gallons a day but if stuffed with corn this could be doubled as is done in industrial dairies. Feeding them only grass these cows can have a useful life of 15 years. Crammed with grain they last only 4 or 5 years before they are discarded, worn out and sick. I consider this practice of grain feeding a crime against not only the animals, but the soil and the entire planet. I wont even get into the crime of raising grain for buiofuels.



    cattle are the primary reason for deforestation, (That is good if you want to farm the land and not spend all your energy fighting the growth of the jungle)

    if cows were good and worked before, maybe the problem lies not with the meat or the cow,

    the manure farmers have used for 5,000 years

    one source: cattle.

    CAN eat meat, but you are REQUIRED to. …As did a thousand generations of your ancestors, back to the very first day of man, slashing and clearing a field so the deer would come.

    (Deer do not eat the same thing as cows. Also, if there are too many predators, wolf, there will not be enough for men to eat)


    And because we feed — in effect, force-feed — grain to cows whose digestive systems are not designed for it, the animals sicken and suffer and develop illnesses. Clever ag & livestock scientists have found that antibiotics will keep the animals alive long enough to get to the abattoirs and turn a profit.

    These antibiotics do not just disappear. They linger in the meat and are a major cause of the rise of antibiotic resistance in the general population. With some bacteria there is no longer any antibiotic that is effective against them. We are squandering our antibiotics, and it may be only a matter of time before an unstoppable epidemic or plague breaks out. But no matter: science and technology will always save us. Business may continue as usual.

    Vaccines and antibiotics have become the standard response to unhealthy animal husbandry practices. I know someone who raises pigs for a living but does so along organic, sustainable lines. At pig expos she discusses techniques with the experts and other producers. A producer may say that his pigs are suffering from such-and-such a condition. “Oh, we’ve got a vaccine for that,” is the usual response.

    Ken Barrows

    I am a vegetarian and agree with John Day’s comments. You are describing a system, though, that cannot support 7.5 billion people. How many? Depends on your locality–what’s your bioregion? In the next world, we eat what we can, we need the calories. In the world where you eat from your bioregion, it will be difficult for people in most regions to be vegetarian, much less vegan.

    To get to your system, don’t be too hard on the vegetarians. The industrial system is making your future cow-based one more difficult by the day. The ultimate human state may be hunter gatherer in bioregions throughout the world if the industrial system doesn’t destroy everything first. And when all is said and done, meat consumption per capita will probably be less for most developed countries’ inhabitants than it is today and there won’t be many vegetarians.

    V. Arnold

    Very interesting and thought provoking article.
    While not a vegetarian, I eat meat (chicken and a little pork) only a few of times a month.
    We grow a good deal of the fruit we eat; manure, compost and legumes (grown around the various fruit trees) for our only fertilizer.
    We western humans have bought a one way ticket to our self generated demise. Whether or not it’s extinction (doubtful) or just a drastic reduction remains to be seen.


    What an excellent piece of work. Thank you Dr D


    Very valuable article. I would add another option for improving soil fertility which we are using in our young permaculture orchard. nitrogen-fixing plants and hardwood shrubs and trees from which young growth is chopped and dropped (it is called ramial wood). Deep rooted plants (such as comfrey) are added to the mix to mine nutrients at greater soil depths. We use a chipper to create most of our ramial wood chips although this could be done manually on a smaller scale.

    Dr. D

    Thank you so much people.

    Sadly I can’t cover everything as I wander too much anyway, but certainly I expect meat use would decline somewhat also as the middle ages, and there are still problems of (unnecessary) deforestation for cattle in zones/soils they are not suited for. –Certainly different production would be astonishing in a 3-crop-per-year tropic though. Can the world feed 7B? They are now under a terrible and inefficient system, so I expect a more efficient and responsible system would be at least as good. Food production can rise 10-fold if you add one human per acre in attention and work. That leads to food distribution issues, as population by now may not be where food production is, but I can’t solve everything. Following 1890 Paris Market Growers (Coleman probably has a book on this) would show how astonishing production can become if intelligence is applied. They basically could supply a city of a million within the 10-mile urban ring, and this was using only horses and window glass — nothing of the deep opportunities we have with central heat, row tunnels, aquaponics, LED lighting and the like.

    Mushrooms, manure, and the secret of French food

    As I sometimes mention, the other, or main point is what we NEED to make those 7B people for “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed.” If they all lived like Japan, or further, like a civilization of Zen monks — or even a civilization of Choctaw — we would not yet have STARTED to tap the resources. You could probably re-forest the whole Northeast. As it is, probably half U.S. oil consumption is spent because we don’t live 5 miles closer to work and exhaust ourselves driving the kids to soccer who only 40 years ago used to walk (safely). That’s a choice, so, so easily undone. That’s an incredible, astonishing liberation of BTU’s that could who knows, terrace North Dakota into year-round production like Machu Picchu or farm the rooftops of Manhattan.

    Any one of these would cut profits, though, and re-route the profits away from Bezos and ADM and to small householders. As they trade with each other and economize without buying, GDP falls, and so does tax revenue. The system cannot tolerate or sustain that. So we must NOT turn off our lights when we leave the room like they did in 1930, we MUST buy a new $15 LED light, and tie it into an always-on, always-connected home surveillance wiretap that has a monthly subscription and can turn our lights on for us when we’re not home (and therefore would never need to). Can we support 7B with a system that insane? Probably, but let’s not. First of all, nobody likes it. We nostalgize and go glamping because we FEEL BETTER in the green, looking at sheep and watching chickens tear into bread crusts we feel good we didn’t have to throw away. It makes us all happy. And when we’re happy, we also tend to stop attacking each other and become safe.

    They’ve gotten so insane, they’re making robotic trees that sequester CO2. They are now so anti-life they will happily tax-subsidize robotic non-trees at 10,000x the cost rather than JUST PLANT A REAL TREE. One that kids and grandchildren will play in, that birds will eat and creates new trees, new soil, new life. Why? Money. GDP. Power. Control. Say no and break them by going out and planting that real tree that will take the power from them by de-centralizing, by feeding 70 years of children, where no money, no taxes, no upkeep, no inputs are involved. Do that everywhere, green the world, and what’s the risk? What could they hold over us then? And that’s precisely WHY they hate life so vehemently: life by nature is bigger than them, it’s beyond their control. And not having absolute, insurmountable, totalitarian control is the one thing they can’t stand.

    Throw out some dandelion seeds and watch. It’s hilarious. When that dies down, cook some up and watch the panic and hilarity begin all over again.


    As an Australian who has enjoyed the easy life’western civilisation’ has provided for 55 years, I see our next major problem being the billions of up and coming Chinese and Indians who would also like our lifestyle. We have feasted on the Earths resources like no humans before and have consumed a large portion of them. As the populations of China and India rapidly grow richer they are going to find we haven’t left anything for them or even our own future generations. This could surely lead to wars as we fight over what’s left. Those that survive will have no choice but to return to a medieval farming model along the lines of Dr D’s ideas in his essay.


    I am a farmer and really appreciate this article Dr. D. I would only add that our modern, industrialized version of agriculture runs not only on fossil fuel, but massive amounts of unpayable debt. I would estimate that 50% of the milk, meat, and grain produced in this country is produced by concerns that are technically insolvent. And, when faced with bankruptcy they follow the old prescription: “When more of the same hasn’t worked, try more of the same.” In other words, borrow more money, put on more fertilizer, and buy more expensive seeds and chemicals from Monsanto. A recipe for disaster.

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