Three Things Every Ethical Eater Needs to Know Now

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Misconception #3. It’s more environmentally responsible to be a vegetarian.

Some people deny themselves the pleasure of animal protein because they have the impression that eating meat will breed antibiotic–resistant superbugs, warm the planet, and starve their fellow earthlings. If you measure conventional, grain–fed livestock production against plant production, those are generally valid points. But depending on the context and the agricultural methods used, a giant monocrop of soybeans can be more environmentally destructive and resource–intensive than a herd of grass–fed beef. So, eating a responsibly raised burger could be more ethical than eating a block of tofu. Ask your beef producer if he or she practices rotational grazing, a method that improves pastures and reduces greenhouse gas emissions while producing beef with a healthy fat profile.

The ethics of farming and eating is a wildly complicated subject, and I’ve just barely scratched the surface with these three examples. If you are interested in learning more, there are plenty of resources to dig into. The wise grandfather of the small, local ag movement is Wendell Berry, and his many books of essays give a lyrical, farmer’s–eye view of small–farm systems. The Gift of Good Land is a fine place to start. For a better understanding of what organic really means, go directly to the source: The USDA National Organic Program Web site. To get a grasp of rotational grazing, check out Pastures for Profit: A Guide to Rotational Grazing or the archives of the premier grazier’s rag, The Stockman Grass Farmer.

Kristin Kimball is the author of The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love (Scribner 2010). She tweets from the field @k_kimball.

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