Good Shepherd?

I just read that if we applied “strategic grazing”to 25% of our crop land and grassland, we could eliminate the entire carbon footprint of American agriculture— and presumably still have enough meat. ( I really only care about the latter; I do not see how anybody can live without eating beef , so no don’t imagine I’ve become a climatista.)
But, you dear polymaths, I’m writing to get your perspective, which I know will be well-educated and realistic.
This started with an article I read on Aeon, the title of which is “ Why You Should Eat Meat” (Zangwill) ; it’s not a “Modest Proposal” type satire : the author says, if you love animals it is your moral responsibility to eat them.

You might wanna read it: I suspect it may be taken down soon.

Wow! This on a site where I recently read an article opposing the “farming” of bugs, because, maybe it hurts ‘em ,we don’t know. Zangwill’s point is that when we raise and curate animals, we give them a very good existence: safety from predators, food security…and yes then we kill them, but um, that’s life! Everything that lives, dies. Why concentrate on that and ignore their delightful,existence up to that point? Animals who arent raised for food suffer terribly, and die violently, by the millions every day, every minute, in the wild. Weather, hunger, flight, parasites, poor critters!—human hunters are the very least of it. If you’re a lamb, born to a wild mountain ewe and ram, no way you can outrun a wolf ; a lamb’s only chance of surviving such an attack is the intervention of the proverbial Good Shepherd with his crook and slingshot.
That’s n in fact the central metaphor , the primary icon of Christianity, Jesus as shepherd—and Jesus as lamb. That, and the wheat vs. tares…. But let’s face it, both the lamb and the blessed golden wheat are destined for consumption. They don’t stay on the “fold” nor the “granary” forever: they exist only to feed their human curators: creators, really, since we wouldn’t have wheat in its present edible form if it weren’t for agriculture, and many many lambs are alive who would never have lived at all if it weren’t for the human pastoralists.

And according to all the tropes of our religion: no problem! “We are His people, and the sheep of His pasture”: we are “the harvest”.

However, Zangwill admits he doesn’t like the idea of “factory farms” because in that instance, humans aren’t keeping up our end of the bargain , or “institution” as he calls it: those pigs ‘n’ cows and I reckon chickens do NOT have a good life.

So natcherly, I thought: I get that— but could we raise enough meat for ourselves WITHOUT employing “factory farms”?

By all accounts, we’re raising waaaay too much wheat in the US, f’rinstance. You’d think that’d be good, but apparently we flood world markets with it, hurting local markets, yada yada, plus we’re paying US farmers NOT to grow the stuff. I read somewhere that the entire middle of our country is at present dedicated to growing wheat, soy, hay, corn (a lot of it to feed those imprisoned factory farm animals).

Dear polymaths, here’s what I wanna know:

do you think we could just let the cows loose on that land, Y’know, to graze those fields, let em go back to grass which is what cattle really need—,(with rotation, of course) — eliminate harvesting, transporting, storing, get the nutrients right to the free-ranging animals’ stomachs—

And still have enough to feed Americans on both wheat ‘n’ meat?

I always assumed we couldn’t; that the great accomplishment of our government and other governments in making so many calories available that now—worldwide—obesity is a bigger problem than hunger, was only made possible by factory farming and industrialized agriculture.

If maybe it isn’t true, the future looks better for both us and animals than I’ve always feared.

And, as you note for wheat, both are the product of human action. Every domestic animal farmed/ranched today has been extensively modified by human-directed selective breeding to be more efficient in food consumed per harvest produced and more easily managed than the wild forms. The breeds which are closest to ancestral tend to be not only bonier, less productive of wool/milk/eggs/etc., slower to mature, but also more ornery and difficult to manage. These domesticated animals usually require the care of humans and would not survive well in the wild, so there has been a co-evolution with humans over millennia. From a purely evolutionary standpoint (reproductive success) this has been a boon for their species: there are vastly more cows, chickens, sheep, pigs, rabbits, etc. alive today than there would be if humans did not exploit them. (I do not mean “exploit” in the Marxist sense here, just the economic.)


Yes that’s the point Zangwill is making. (There’s also a lot of philosophical/ethical stuff about the ability to “reason” which I didn’t get into.)
But what I’m asking is whether we could feed our country with meat and bread by just restoring the intimate hooves-on interaction between these animals and the land?
Could we have enough-but-not-too-much wheat, (just forget about corn which isn’t good for ungulates nor humans), not have to bother about fertilizing hay (grass):and keeping birds’n’ insects away from it till we humans can process it anD ship it out to its wretchedly caged consumers, who instead would be cropping it outta the ground and gratefully yielding back manure?

I haven’t read the article or researched “strategic grazing”, but I’m wary of claims that “we’re doing agriculture all wrong” and offering a simple fix which will right our wrongs. There is a great deal of crackpot information and theories about agriculture around, and in the 20th century, they managed (for example, Lysenko) to starve tens of millions of people in the Soviet Union and China.

At the same time, there are successful experiments in sustainable and less energy-intensive farming, for example Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm in Virginia. The question (which Salatin readily acknowledges) is how well such techniques, which tend to be labour intentive, could scale to meet the needs of a large population at prices they could afford.

I expect that within 25 years the overwhelming majority of meat on the market will be produced by tissue culture or other molecular manufacturing techniques rather than raising animals for slaughter. The mature product will be indistinguishable, offer variety not available at affordable prices today, and be less expensive than current prices. Animals will continue to be raised for meat, but for a boutique market with a volume which allows grass-fed ranching.

For the case against factory farming and the realities of alternatives, I recommend Matthew Scully’s Dominion and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.


Travis J. I. Corcoran, who lives on a 56 acre (22.7 hectare) homestead in New Hampshire and is the author of the two volume Escape the City compendium as well as the award-winning Powers of the Earth novels, spends a great deal of time on Twitter deconstructing ignorant utopian agricultural fantasies. For example, here is an epic 70-Tweet rejoinder to a series of suggestions for eliminating industrial farming by mass cultivation and farming of half-acre plots.


So the US produces more food than required to feed its population – and exports that food to the many countries (such as the UK and China) which do not produce enough food to feed themselves.

Let’s just stick to China for a moment. China manufacturers all the stuff without which modern life is impossible – not just electronics but pots & pans and screws & nails. Stuff which the US no longer manufactures. What does the US have to trade with China in exchange, if not foodstuffs?

In the long run, imports have to be balanced by exports. Since our Betters have offshored US manufacturing (Yeah! for “Free Trade”), we have no choice but to continue producing excess foodstuffs for export. If this sounds a little like a Third World country trading low value agricultural products to a First World country which makes all the high-tech gear – well, welcome to the future which we have created for ourselves. And if this is tough on the agricultural animals, the failure to export foodstuffs would be even harder on us human animals.


I wasn’t saying we shouldn’t grow surplus food, just that we DO, apparently. And we “farm” a lot of hay (grass) so why not just let the animals for whom it’s destined roam around and eat it and fertilize it,which we now spend a lot of money and labor doing? IF it’s actually possible, which is what I was wondering.

Really the fact that this article appeared on Aeon may be the harbinger of change…or maybe it’ll just be disappeared, as has happened to a few others which didn’t exactly tow the Leftist line.

But—the intellectual Ouroborous strikes again! On a recent thread of mine wewere discussing the issue of consciousness, of the mind. Zangwill sez: we’ve got it, animals don’t. That’s what makes it ok for us to eat them. “Nor hope nor dread attend/A dying animal;/A man goes to his end/Dreading and hoping all”, wrote Yeats.

So this is what makes animal husbandry different from those plantations in Virginia whose main export was slaves. I fully expect somebody to raise that in the Comments if this piece remains up on Aeon: Those enslaved humans wouldn’t have ever lived, either, if the colonists hadn’t been breeding them! Does that mean it was ok to enslave them then, that they should’ve been grateful for the “bargain” as long as the Masters were relatively kind?

Well IMHO, in the long historical view, yes, but that’s another issue. In terms of the individual lives of those curated Black Americans, no, but only because they WERE conscious, self-aware beings.

Don’t all these ethical debates come down to that, the divine spark or flame sheltered, necessarily temporarily, in the fragile clay vessel? Whether it’s even real, whether it’s unique to humans?
The Felix Peccatum, the fortunate sin: “Apple eaten of that tree/Animal I ceased to be!” Says Eve in Macleish’s poem cycle.
“When I had eaten of that Tree
Fish and hawk, they fled from me!
‘She has a Watcher in her eyes!”
The hawk screamed from steep of skies,
Fish from sea-deep where he lies.”

Who and what is the Watcher? It’s really the only question worth discussing.
(Which is why we so often end up back at it, on this worthy forum! So I thank thee, my masters! )

That is mostly done today. Hay typically is grown for winter feed or if there is a drought to supplement those areas.

Corn is the huge crop for cattle feed in feed lots.

Recently Doug Casey talked to Salatin about regenerative farming.

There is a group that maintains that by using regenerative farm practices, the world can be fed. Their idea is a bunch of small farms. Kinda like everyone having their own garden. It might be true, but it isn’t practical.

Mark Shepard is an advocate of sustainable or regenerative ag. He argues that the North American savanna can provide industrial scale food production by a combination of regeneration of the savanna and using mechanical harvesting of the trees for nuts and fruit and crops between the trees.

He claims that you can get more calories per acre than row crop corn with little work. It isn’t clear how he does the calculation.

As with all advocacy, it sounds good. A checking question is whether they can compete on price. If you can produce more calories with the same or less work, it will be cheaper. If it isn’t cheaper, you are missing something in the calculation. My guess is he doesn’t include any up front costs and sells at higher prices as organic.

There are a few flags that can pop up when I look into these “green” ideas.

One is they are not up front about the cost. Only the benefits are discussed.

The second is when they seem to hate mankind. Saladin doesn’t hate mankind. Shepard seems like he does.

The third is when they will not allow debate.


Yeah and be overrun with God knows what compounds. There will never be a delicious, healthy alternative to natural beef, even that plastic crap they kick out of labs. The biggest proponent of plastic meat is Bill Gates. Gates is also keen on decreasing the global population. I ain’t eating anything developed or supported by people who look at my family as parasites ripe for liquidation. This fake meat movement is very demonic in my view. There is just something creepy about it.


Tissue culture is not “fake meat”. It is simply meat, consisting of the same cells as grow inside an animal, cultured from animal cells, grown outside an animal with the same nutrients supplied externally as the cells receive within an animal. Tissue culture has been demonstrated in the laboratory since 1907 and is now a routine procedure in biomedical research, producing tissues that behave identically to those grown in vivo. The challenge is not producing a product which is identical to that from an animal, but doing so on a large scale at a competitive price.

This is not a new idea. In 1932 Winston Churchill predicted, “Fifty years hence we shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium”. He was a bit too early, but foresaw the possibility and rationale for doing it.

Here is a 2015 paper from the Journal of Food Science and Technology, “In vitro meat production system: why and how?”, which discusses the motivation for developing the technology and pathways and challenges to commercialising it on a large scale. The authors note,

Lastly, the most important factor in deciding the consumer acceptance is the ‘yuck factor’. It is described as a spontaneous feeling towards the idea of eating so-called unnatural meat cultured in a lab. A logically convincing argument against the anticipated resistance of consumers for cultured meat is presented in an article emphasising the fact that (In Vitro Meat News 2014) making people aware of the production process of the livestock meat or the conventional meat would generate an aversion in their minds for it and perhaps usher them to opt in vitro meat over real meat. But in the case of food, the overall sensory appeal overrules the logics. A commodity like food has a psychological and emotional value attached to it implying that the discussions about cultured meat are not always only rational (FST Journal 2013).


Okay. Do you trust that the same people forcing gene altering shots into us is going to create in a lab wholesome nutritious food that keeps us healthy? I’m sorry, if it is grown in a lab it ain’t food. If it’s supported by people who want to see us all eating bugs, I ain’t eating it.

We have a straw in the wind about acceptability of artificially-produced meat – the GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms) contretemps.

Many food suppliers proudly announce their product is “Non GMO”, and charge a premium price for it. Europeans (surprise?) ban the import of some GMO products. Clearly, there would be a lot of consumer resistance to artificial meat – and a large continuing market for real animal meat.

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At least in my part of the world, they say I want a real steak. In the future, this will be closer to true than it is today.

We need a word for it. It isn’t really synthetic and it isn’t fake, but it is not beef as defined as flesh of a steer either.

We purchased 1/2 of a steer from a local rancher this year. My wife dislikes the taste. What they eat, their activity level, age etc. impact the taste. I wonder how they can simulate this in a culture.


This is certainly the case, although people have a curiously selective definition of “artificial" or “factory-made” when it comes to components of food. Around 80% of the nitrogen atoms in the protein molecules in the bodies of humans in developed countries and the food they eat—plant and animal—were fixed from the atmosphere in factories via the Haber-Bosch process, which consumes around 5% of worldwide natural gas production and 1.5% of the world’s energy. This now substantially exceeds the nitrogen fixed naturally (mostly by soil bacteria) which, when I was born, accounted for almost all of the nitrogen used to grow plants. The world’s present population would be completely unsustainable without this factory-fixed, unnatural nitrogen fertiliser as an input to the food chain. Yet nobody seems concerned about it being unnatural or arguing to go back to guano as a source of nitrogen for agriculture.

Also, as the authors of the paper I cited in comment #10 allude to, we haven’t yet seen the results of a marketing campaign mounted by advocates of in vitro meat production which shows the factory farming and mass slaughter processes which underlie those sanitary-wrapped plastic foam trays of meat in the supermarket. That might tilt the perception against “natural” meat in the public mind.


Yes, there is no rationality about “artificial” when it comes to food. Do the Usual Suspects ever wonder about how those delightful seedless grapes manage to reproduce?

Almost everything “natural” we eat or wear is the product of centuries of “Unnatural Selection” by painstaking selective breeding of everything from wheat to apples to cotton plants to sheep … and even grape vines. A back-to-nature approach to food would take us back to a world where humans lived on the brink, with women dying in childbirth and 50%+ child mortality. But a world of plentiful lab-produced meat might have other consequences. What if there are subtle components important for long-term health in real meats that could unintentionally not be produced in the laboratory culture? Great caution and long-term testing would be required.


This is certainly possible, as there are components of meat produced by animals which are not expressed in current tissue culture (for example, myoglobin, which is created as muscles are used, largely against gravity, and accounts for the difference between light and dark meat in poultry). But if there are essential nutrients in animal-produced meat, the absence of which cause health problems in humans, shouldn’t we already see these manifest among vegetarians, who are estimated to account for between 3 and 5% of the world population? We know of a variety of potential deficiencies in a vegetarian diet such as vitamin B12, but isn’t it likely that if something absent in cultured meat caused problems. we’d already see them in people who eat no meat at all?


I think there is a world of difference between cross pollinating various strains of a particular fruit or vegetable to achieve a genetic change and creat a whole new strain and growing bloody meat in a damned petry dish in a lab. One can search for hypocrisy where one wishes but no amount of finger wagging is going to get me to equate a seedless grape with lab grown “meat.” Especially when the proponents of lab grown meat are the same ones who lament that the world is over populated and the “useless eaters” need to be dealt with. You know the same people wanting us to eat lab meat also want us to eat bugs? What’s wrong with just a good old fashioned cow?


Heehee! I wrote about this on UnWoke 7/27/21, “It’s Alive!” Yeah, y’know, Robert I felt the same way you do. Then one day I was reading about how somehow tiny had , inculcated?Fish genes into strawberries so they wouldnt freeze so fast. :nauseated_face::nauseated_face::nauseated_face::nauseated_face:!
But then I thought, well, hey, you eat fish, right? So who cares if you’re getting a bit of the scaly with your fraises?
In general,I think we have to recognize genetically modified foods have been a great boon. As I said, obesity is now a bigger problem worldwide than hunger.
I do think you’re right ,it’s not the same thing as a seedless grape. I mean, the barrier between the plant and animal kingdoms is still a formidable one.

Please don’t miss the point about the seedless grape. Simply, it is something which would not exist in “nature”. It is the product of human modification of a plant. It does not seem like a big deal whether we accomplish that modification indirectly through selective breeding or directly through genetic modification.

Yuh, I got that.