I really wanted to get this thing up for Earth Day but I was passed out in a cannabis induced haze. Well, actually, I took part in a Specialty Health presentation on insulin resistance and cancer. Gary Taubes, Dr.’s Peter Attia, Tara Dall and lil-ol me presented on the associations between cancer and insulin resistance. I put a few of those links up recently.
So, here we were feeling just a teensy bit smug. The Paleo/Ancestral Health concept is growing by leaps and bounds, we’ve taken over the iTunes health category, are all over the news, infiltrating the UFC, receiving major academic backing, we have some Randomized Controlled Trials brewing, we are stimulating the shift to grass fed meat and permaculture, and I think perhaps most importantly over the long run, we have a well structured risk assessment program that shows this way of doing business not only saves lives, but also money. That SHOULD be something to be proud of. I should be able to sit down on Earth Day, roll a big reefer-o-rama and just enjoy myself (I’m being metaphorical here folks…I do think drugs should be de-criminalized/legalized, but personally I can’t stand pot…not my cup of opiates).
But, I can’t enjoy myself.
Why? Because given my position in the Paleo Sphere, I am a apparently larger contributor to the End of The World than Beelzebub. To quote Openheimer (who was quoting the Upanishads) “I am Shiva, the destroyer of Worlds.” You see, I’m advocating the consumption of meat, the adoption of biodynamic farming (mixed with smart inputs of technology and even “fossil fuels”…I’ll get to that later) and a shift away from government subsidized grain-centric food production and THAT friends is going to destroy the world, according to our Vegan brothers and sisters. Here is a piece from the NY Times and a similar piece from the Examiner.
I’m going to tackle a few of the points in the NYT piece later, but please read ALL of both those pieces, then please read Joel Salitins response. And this other piece on Joel over at Reason.
So, when we roll out data from long term, paleo/low carb interventions that have been run under metabolic ward standards (they are getting kicked off soon) and this data shows amazing benefit for everything from cancer to cardiovascular disease prevention, it will not matter. Because the riposte from academia, the media, and even the government will be: “This way of eating will drive global warming which will destroy the world.” These folks have argued (and lost) the health argument. So, time to change tactics.
If you argue against this climate change idea in any way, shape or form, you are an un-caring, meat eating bastard (Bitch?). End of story. Not beating the Climate Change drum might be more criminal than arguing against the Patriot Act in the post 911 world…
I’m going to largely ignore tackling whether or not the data supports climate change is an extension of increasing atmospheric CO2 concentrations from burning fossil fuels. I’d really be labeled a wacko if I went down that road, so instead I’m going to look at some details surrounding our food production and what it would mean for the global economy if we followed the recommendations of the Vegans.
Something you need to understand is this sustainability/global warming story will be the “Saturated Fat” of the 2010’s and beyond. The concept is accepted as fact, any information to the contrary will be vigorously attacked. End of story.
I don’t know if y’all notice but when I write for the blog or talk on the podcast I do my best to not paint topics in a black/white fashion. Even on the topic of gluten (which I really do think is bad) I may call it Satans Excrement, but my Greasy Used Car Salesman pitch is remove it for 30 days, reintroduce, see how ya do. The results are typically sufficient to convince people via their own experience that gluten may not be something they want to play with. Well, this situation is a bit different. I can’t ask you to “try out” a global economic and food policy, see how it goes, then make a decision. To some degree this comes down to a matter of “faith” but this faith is built on things like thermodynamics, economics, markets and innovation. The points I’ll make have precedent, follow natural laws and patterns and have been consistently accurate in describing economic growth/change, whereas the predictions of the Malthusian doomsayers have been consistently wrong.
With this in mind I’m going to throw out a few “absolutes” for you to chew on:
1-Global food production can ABSOLUTELY keep pace with population growth over the next 100 years. The next 100 years will likely be a significant hurdle, but if we do not scuttle the global economy we should see an increased standard of living throughout the world, and the inevitable decrease in birth-rate which accompanies this increase in wealth and education. If people are “provided” freedom, markets and education, birth rates drop, societies TEND to stabilize. Projections are that in less than a century most of Africa, Central America, India and China could have a standard of living similar to that of the US in 2006…IF markets and freedom are the norm. This means the vast majority of the human race will be lifted out of poverty, disease and a dodgy future. But this all happens if and only if economic expansion is allowed to run it’s course.
2-Blocking the development necessary to “limit green house gases” as is generally recommended from the Vegan/Al Gore scene will DOOM the developing world to a continued poverty level existence, lack of infrastructure, short lives, despotic rulers and the generally shitty existence these places have experienced post British and Dutch colonialism. I’d argue that a contraction in US colonialism needs to occur for these changes to really take affect, but that’s a topic for another place and another day.
So, from what nether region am I pulling these opinions? Check out this piece from Reason which considers the Malthusian manifesto, the Limits to Growth.
The Limits to Growth (LTG) predicted massive famine as a consequence of resource scarcity and ECONOMIC CONTRACTION*. It just so happens to have been dead wrong. As economies expand people gain freedom, technologies get cleaner, birth rates drop. I’d argue the world generally get’s better, and this from the Paleo guy who does cast a whistful eye to a bygone era.
There are a few key points to take away from this:
1-The doomsayers have been beating the same drum of economic/environmental collapse for over 50 years. Every prediction these people have made with regards to population, resource scarcity and economic contraction have been not petite mal wrong, but Grand Mal. Let me say this another way: These people have been making specific predictions based around computer modeling etc and are consistently wrong. Yet somehow we keep turning to them for advice on financial and economic policy.
2- The Vegans and folks like Al Gore recommend that we MANAGE (ie government run, top down) a PLANNED ECONOMIC CONTRACTION*. They would FORCE a global economic policy to limit growth, thus avoiding the release of green house gases. This, so we do not “destroy” the environment and imperil the millions of people who live near the ocean.
So, on the one hand, a century from now, we have most of humanity lifted out of the grips of poverty, safe housing, consistent medicine AND some climate change (which may or may not have a damn bit to do with what we have been up to) on the other hand, we have MORE of humanity circling the drain as we have manufactured a global economic recession such that industry grinds to a halt and the climate will do what it has always done, eventually, change.
The reason why this is a particularly thorny issue is for many, meat eating is a quasi-religious issue with a misplaced sense of morality winning out over economics. These “discussions” move in an interesting circularity. First the health dangers of meat eating are bandied about, like the Red Meat piece that I commented on recently. Once we put that to rest (ish) we move to climate change and morality. We can easily move our way through this topic if we are willing to put a little skull sweat into considering the scientific implications. Then we run up against the morality issue. You are an evil, dare I say “un-evolved” person if you eat meat. Leire Keith tackled this topic in her book the Vegetarian Myth, I’m not going to devote a significant amount of time to it here as I find questions of morality banal. The topics people typically bicker (or kill each other) over are better addressed by economics than sniper scopes and suicide bombers. In this meat/morality case the Vegan makes an argument something to the effect “eating animals is morally reprehensible…we do not need to do this any longer…” Now this completely ignores the critters killed in the routine farming of grains, legumes etc. It ignores that economic investigations indicate that something which looks remarkably like a paleo diet actually REDUCES the number of animals killed.
Joseph Campbell observed:
“Vegetarianism is the first turning away from life, because life lives on lives.”
This does not mean that we can or should be cruel in how we obtain our food, quite the contrary. But this recognition of the biodynamicism of life is as real and intense as anything in creation. It acknowledges the expiration date we all carry while embracing that we are not above nature, but an inseparable part of it.
It’s not ugly enough
Several years ago, I think it was 2005 or 2006, I was asked to be on a panel talking about the pro’s and con’s of grass fed meat (I cannot for the life of me find the news piece on this, it seems to have disappeared). The topic had arisen as the local Co-op in Chico, Chico Natural Foods, was floundering after the evil corporate giant, Trader Joe’s came to town and appeared to be driving them out of business. CNF had historically been a vegetarian only store and like similar co-ops, had also experienced serious problems remaining financially viable. The #1 complaint of the folks who shopped at the co-op, those silly “owners” of the store due to the communal nature of the business structure, was that they could not do all their shopping at CNF as they did not carry grass fed meat, pastured poultry, or wild caught fish. So, folks were forced to go elsewhere to do their shopping (which interestingly also means more fossil fuels burned, but when you have a moral agenda, some of the details can be overlooked in the name of the Cause). So, CNF was facing economic ruin, one of the primary issues was losing people to other stores as they could do all their shopping at S&S Produce or TJ’s. So, the question was being raised “should CNF offer meat, fish, poultry etc?” Somehow I ended up on a “pro-meat panel” with a couple of other folks. It was a farce, as there was not direct debating allowed, and I and another guy (a vegetarian who oddly was on the pro-meat panel) realized this was just an attempt to let off steam, the decision to carry meat had already been made, this was just an act to try to prevent a peasant uprising within the anti-meat, co-op members. After this whole thing wrapped up I spent some time talking to a few of the hardcore vegans at this event and things were…tense. All the stuff I’ve talked about here were considered: health, sustainability even the morality/least harm topic. What finally emerged when I was pushing the grass fed meat, biodynamic farming thing was really interesting and it is something I’ve heard from other vegans. It makes sense why the NY Times piece was written and why everyone form Monsanto to StarBeam at CNF is concerned about permaculture and grass fed meat: If you change how animals are raised, if you make the system more humane, less ghastly, the vegans will no longer have the shock value that often flips a person towards that way of eating.
If you improve the system you will get fewer vegan converts.
An interesting byline to this story is another natural grocery store in Chico, S&S Produce saw a barely perceptible dip in sales in the first few months after Trader Joe’s came to town. The differences between S&S vs CNF are interesting:
1-Family run instead of Co-op (Evil “profits are the driver)
2-Since it’s inception S&S always had a butcher shop in addition to the produce, supplements etc.
3- S&S was a short walk away from Trader Joes. Chico Natural foods was on the OTHER SIDE OF TOWN. We normally need to live in the Quantum Mechanical world for locality to not influence systems, yet, CNF experienced more economic hardships from TJ’s coming to town, despite being far, far away. Hmmm. Quantum entanglement, or perhaps it was a poorly run business that had ignored some of the primary needs of its constituents and was consequently failing?
Should it all be “Organic?”
The New York Times piece is interesting in that it paints a hopeless picture of even trying to improve the current food system. The ONLY viable option apparently is creating Planet of the Vegans. McWilliams dismisses the notion of permaculture as producers will “cut corners” and we will be right back where we are now. How this same process does not apply the fossil fuel dependent grain production (which he ignores), and how the economics of farm subsidies do not play into this is intriguing. The current system is propped up by taxes which are reallocated to grain production (Farmer Welfare?) in a way that makes grains artificially inexpensive, and grass fed meat and biodynamic farming artificially expensive. Now all that considered, we are NOT going to feed the world, create prosperity etc. without fossil fuel inputs. Windmills in the right place are fine (although rough on the local avian population) but many of the alternative energy sources are a farce when we consider ROI. Silly physics and economics rearing their ugly heads again! If the FED can print money, can’t we just make energy from nothing?
We need to be both selective and smarter about how we tackle these problems. Some “organic” practices are smart. Some conventional intensification approaches are smart. The combination is where optimization occurs. McWilliams lambastes Joel Salitin for using corn for his chickens (Which Joel addresses in his response I linked to above). Used selectively we get better inputs and outputs, better efficiency, less waste…stuff just works better. This inability to understand nuance is a tax on all of us. It’s a “don’t understand physics and economics” tax the same way gambling is a tax on folks who do not understand statistics.
The very topic of “Organic” or natural is backwards and divorced from reality. Economically, environmentally, we benefit from the smart application of intensification (fossil fuel inputs) AND biodynamic practices (keeping nutrients near the production centers). Under current “Organic” practices one may not use nitrogen fertilizer, produced by the combination of methane (natural gas), heat and carbon dioxide (the Haber process) as it is “synthetic.” One can however use FISH which has been caught (no accounting for fossil fuels in this!), processed and instead of being fed to people, is plowed into the ground to enrich the soil! As the Reason piece I linked to makes clear, the US alone has what appears to be hundreds of years of natural gas reserves, but we are hamstrung by various political and environmental policies that makes natural gas development and use as popular as a bean burrito eater in an elevator.
If we step outside the Organics topic and just ask “what can we grow that is most efficient, both nutritionally and calorically”, grains do not win, things like sweet potatoes and cassava do. This piece is interesting in that it looks at corn, cassava and sweet potatoes as bio-ethanol sources. Surprise, surprise, the root vegetables win when it comes to grams of carbohydrate produced per unit of land. I have a series of posts planned looking at the diets of the Okinawans and one of the recurring themes one observes when looking at the long-lived Okinawans, is how much more nutritious the sweet potato is vs the grain crop rice (this appears to be one of the key dietary distinctions between mainland Japanese and Okinawans) but caloric yields are far superior from these tubers relative to rice. Famine was largely unheard of in Okinawa until a shifting away from the sweet potato towards the less nutritious, more resource intensive rice crop. Since I mentioned it I’ll also take a swipe at Bio-ethanol. For our modern world to work we need energy, lots of it. It takes a certain amount of energy to get oil and gas out of the ground, but the net energy-gain is positive…shoot, it looks a lot like Optimal Foraging Strategy!
Here is the nifty thing about bio-ethanol: it REQUIRES more energy than what it produces. It is a net loss. But the hippies, vegans and corn producers love it. The US has spent tons of money subsidizing a failed technology, one that requires more energy than it produces…yet I doubt we will see a piece from McWilliams addressing this buffoonery.
We should be in this together
The Vegans should be happy about permaculture and Paleo. We have accomplished things they never did and they have been around much longer and have been better organized than the Ancestral Health movement. Unfortunately they are hung up on morality in lieu of reality. I don’t like tooting my horn too often but I’ll share a story I’m pretty proud of:
I was in the Whole Foods store here in Reno back in December, about a month after we moved here. I wandered up to the meat counter to do a bit or perusing and the woman behind the counter asked “Are you Robb Wolf?” I was a bit surprised but replied to the affirmative and she proceeded to tell me how important both I and the Paleo movement have been to bringing grass fed meat to Whole Foods. There has been significant internal strife in the stores as the meat dept has expanded in lock step with the increasing demands of the folks wanting grass fed meat. Whole Foods has an unabashed vegan agenda, but they are apparently not so high-minded to bypass making a buck or three off us evil meat eaters. Instead of an either/or us/them agenda we should be working together because the outputs of what we are talking about in this Ancestral Health movement are a hell of a lot better than the current model. To some degree I understand and empathize with the morality piece. I killed a 650lb elk with an atlatl, butchered it and ate some of the liver while it was still warm. You get a reality check from shit like that. It’s intense and you feel for the life you have taken. But life and death are inseparable parts of Living.
When I was a kid I played some pretty rough games, one was Red Rover. Premise: two lines of kids face each other. Each side interlocks arms, and taunts the other side to “send someone over.” A kid on one side takes off running, and tries to crash through the barrier on the other side, slicing through the interlocked arms of two of the opposite team members. If the runner wins, he or she takes a person back with them to their team. If the linked up kids win, they keep the runner. The interesting thing is even though you start off with two teams, you end up with only one. I’d like to link arms with the vegans, ask farm subsidies, and the current model to “come on over” and knock those frackers on their collective asses.
My hand is outstretched and ready to hold onto anyone willing to fight. We’ll see if anyone on the other side can set down their morality and help us ALL to win.
I think we (paleo/low carb community) should work together with the Michael Pollan/locavore/slow food people, the vegans, and whoever else will join in to end the current grain subsidy system in the USA. Heck, even some nutritionists may concur because even CW is starting to say that all the processed food we eat is bad even when it’s low fat. The only reason processed food is cheap is grain subsidies. Take away grain subsidies and there goes HFCS and soda consumption goes down without stupid taxes (Subsidize and then tax!!!! WTF, it almost makes me want to go libertarian.) Take away grain subsidies and all the veggie oils get much more expensive. Take away grain subsidies and grain fed meat and CAFO meat production will have to change. This should be the #1 political priority of all of the above interest groups. Can’t we all work together to achieve this in the face of the enormous moneyed opposition from the industry who have purchased our congresspeople? Can’t we see our common interests against a greater, more dangerous enemy, and use that to make a team of misfits actually accomplish something great, Avengers-style. (sorry for that reference if you haven’t seen the wonderful movie yet due to adorable baby.)
But I’m the idiot who, though pro-choice, would love to see abortions become incredibly rare and thinks that we should be able to work towards that with the pro-life and pro-choice people working together.
Robb Wolf says
Steph! I agree, going after the subsidies is like the need for Welfare Reform in the 90’s. The system is broken and perpetuates broken behavior.
The best way to prevent abortions is to give out free contraceptives (and the education on how to use them). Fewer unplanned pregnancies = fewer abortions.
Perhaps there is a metaphor here for the food fights.
Really enjoyed reading this, Robb. I’m a former Vegan/Vegetarian turned Paleo eater and I can see both sides of the argument… I’ve been preaching a lot of this for years, there’s so much that both groups have in common. It’s too bad people seem so resistant to working together.
Redding Rob says
Wow! You’re getting to be more my hero every day!
Hope all is well with the cub!
Dude, if was young enough to believe in heroes, you might just make the cut. Just sayin.
Robb Wolf says
HA! thanks man. Just a libertarian cavemen trying to do the right thing.
James Phelps says
You are what we cowboys call a hand. I get a newfound respect every time I read your stuff.
I have run some micro economics while out on expenses, my food costs have decreased by 10 -15 $ per day by eating paleo. I could hardly believe it myself so I can see why the vegans have trouble.
Thanks again and if you get to WY look me up for an elk steak.
Nikhil Hogan says
Bravo! I love that you’re trying to build a larger tent and not just burn bridges.
On a separate note, Robb, I think people have less children in developed countries because the cost of living is so high thanks to the inflationary monetary system. I think people still want kids but the cost of raising them scares them off.
Robb Wolf says
I think there are multiple reasons in this:
1-In developing countries kids are your social security. They take care of you when sick or old, this need diminishes somewhat in developed scenes.
2-Access to birth control and changes in mores. It’s pretty controversial to practice ANY type of BC in many traditional cultures…like death sentence in some circumstances!
3-As folks get more affluent they perhaps become a bit “selfish” in that they want some vacation, retirement, vacation etc, and as you alluded, the kids can cut into that.
I think the main take-away is the best thing one can do from the Malthusian doomsday population perspective is create markets and freedom, and the birth rate plummets.
Bravo! I couldn’t agree more. You said it all so well.
Awesome work Robb. I’d love to lock arms with you on the Paleo team!
Just a correction:
Oppenheimer said, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” which is kind of a poor translation of the first part of Chapter 11, Verse 32 of the Bhagavad Gita, NOT the Upanishads. Also it’s said by Krishna (and avatar of Vishnu), not Shiva.
A better translation would be “I am the time that destroys everything; I have arrived here to devour everything.”
Robb Wolf says
Some folks are lumpers (like me!) others splitters:
Danielle Vallee says
Fantastic! THANK YOU for this!
It’s funny how in some ways there is so much in common between the vegan and paleo diets. (Seriously, if you want some innovative ideas on preparing delicious meals and snacks using vegetables, nuts, avocado, coconut, and fruit get yourself an awesome vegan cookbook!)
I prefer to think about these commonalities instead of the baloney that divides us. Unfortunately the things we disagree on are huge! It cannot be wrong to consume that which our bodies were designed to thrive on. It’s not always easy for me to make peace with the love I feel for my cats or even the affection I feel for the chickens clucking in my farmer’s yard while knowing those very same chickens are delicious (and good for me) and I could eat them. I liked that quote you provided from Joseph Campbell:
“Vegetarianism is the first turning away from life, because life lives on lives.”
So glad you’re here. 🙂
Yes, but is it ethical to play Red Rover?
Robb Wolf says
Likely not the way I play!
But infinitely more fun!
I’m glad to have Robb Wolf on my team.
Haha cannabis. Being simply a plant, that’s very paleo right?
Karen P. says
Just a hearty thanks for this.
I’ve just discovered the Dark Mountain Project (http://dark-mountain.net/) and would like to do some writing for them from an evolutionary perspective about diet and such. I was thinking of pitching something along these lines, so thanks for doing all the legwork for me! 😉
I just still can’t understand why anyone would think humans would adopt a habit so integral to their DNA simply for altruistic purposes. NEWSFLASH: We don’t. This is also why I don’t buy the I-shouldn’t-have-children-because-the-world-is-going-to-shit argument. I mean, don’t have kids if you don’t want them, but having children was a part of being human for millions of years. You get one lifetime, and if having a child would bring joy and fulfillment to that limited time on earth, then by all means, have a child.
Same thing with nutrition. This is about living the most optimal life possible with the time we have. And I sure as hell ain’t gonna scrape by overweight, sick, and unhappy while shoveling tofu. The fact that anyone (gov’t, vegetarians/vegans) would suggest I do so is downright criminal.
Karen P. says
Argh…should say “adopt a habit against their DNA…”
I’m always contrary. I was just feeling guilty that my husband and I opted for a vasectomy after 3 sons. I feel I’m doing the world a disservice by limiting our (awesome) offspring. My boys are terribly outnumbered in our community by kids of people that I really wish hadn’t passed on their genes 🙁 I don’t want the permaculture movement to die with us, and my hope us that my kids & yours will (& Robb’s) will grow to be stewards of the land.
What about the whole in our ozone layer? We need that and it’s gradual disappearance seems to me to be a sign that we are killing this planet.
Robb Wolf says
Killing me susie! Different topic entirely:
John Kilbane says
How might one go about affecting change in this matter? I’ve heard you speak of a ground-up movement because certainly a higher-up level change is near impossible as you’ ve shown above. The reason I ask is that I’m about to finish grad-school in Literature. I’ve been following you and this movement for several years now. I know you get this all the time, but where in the ‘System’ might a young person with his career ahead of him aim to affect the most positive change? Certainly science and medicine are great beginnings, but those are sort of out of my wheelhouse. I’ve vacillated on whether or not law might be an avenue through which to change health related policy, but again, the higher-ups seem to put a damper on that type of thing…
This article epitomizes why I love what you do. Keep it up, Robb.
PS congrats on the wolf cubb!
Robb Wolf says
I honestly do not know amigo! Law would be legit. We are going to need lawyers in the futre. Lots of them. There are several vegan backed organisations which purposefully buy up land to make it INACCESSIBLE for grazing AND file constant bogus lawsuits to shut down grazing:
I was going to include this story arc but the epiece was already too long.
I;d recommend doing what you REALLY like man. Work is still work, you gotta like what you do. OR find something tolerable but that pays well so you can have bad ass hobbies!
John Kilbane says
Agreed. I’m always looking for ways to do the lattermost option. The more POVs I get the better. The mind-numbing tedium and bureaucracy is keeping me from going any further in the law direction. THat’s absurb about the vegan land grabbing. Paleo, or whatever this sustainable meat/ healthy food system movement is, REALLY does need to join arms with the vegans. They’re a powerful bunch of coconuts.
Thanks for your time Robb
About the Windmills…I’ve heard the problems with avians is greatly reduced with newer ones using gearing and adjustable pitch. There was a recent study though that showed the area behind a windmill farm has a few degree increase pre-wind farm. Too lazy to link it an look it up..:P
After reading Mr. McWilliam’s article I am always amazed that these people claim that raising livestock puts too much methane gas into the atmosphere. Weren’t there MILLIONS of buffalo roaming North America alone before “civilized” men came here and slaughtered them? Maybe there wasn’t 100 million cattle like he claims we have now but the buffalo didn’t seem to create global warming in the 1800’s. I also can’t understand why he thinks raising animals in feedlots and cages is more humane and better than letting them out into a field. I refuse to buy from anyone but a local producer just because I can’t stand the idea that the chickens live their lives in cages. Doesn’t make sense!
Robb Wolf says
Peak population of bison appears to have been in the 70 million range…I talked a lot fo that stuff here:
bison are a good bit more efficient than cattle…it’d be a smart shift.
All the accounting on methane production is just funny…totally neglects oil inputs, subsides, damage to markets. But like I said, if this ghastly system is overhauled you will reduce the shock factor and thus reduce vegan converts.
The accounting on methane leaves out soybean farts. I worked with a vegan that carried around a pillow that we called “the fart muffler.”
Amy B. says
Wow, Robb…to be honest, I’m a little surprised you’re so worked up about this. I mean, I think the writing’s been on the wall for a while now that this is *not* gonna be a top-down systemic change. It would be great if we could get the entire government on board with this overnight and start subsidizing grassfed meat and organic kale, but we all know that Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. And we probably wouldn’t want it to anyway. Let’s get the govt out of the business of food altogether. If we had a *real* free market, we wouldn’t subsidize anything and we’d let consumer demand drive the curve. But I think it *is.* It’s gonna be a slow haul, but it *is* happening.
This is exactly what you’ve been talking about for a while now — people need to give this way of eating a shot and see how they look and feel afterward. Most people will, of course, have damn good results. But even if someone decides not to stick with Paleo whole-hog after 30 days (no pun intended), their ideas about food quality will probably change enough that they’ll be buying at least *some* of their food differently – farmer’s market, mom & pop health food store, or even the regular superstore but looking for more organic or grassfed/humane. And we have to hope that that kind of demand will force the big guys to start sourcing those kinds of products.
I’m a TOTAL pessimist and cynic, but even my black little heart has been softened by the HUGE uptick in business at farmer’s markets. (I volunteer at one and let me tell you, you’re exactly right – local, sustainable, REAL food with no middlemen is the one thing vegans, vegetarians, and Paleo eaters can agree on.) The tide *is* turning, but it’s not gonna turn quickly.
I’m not educated enough to speak to the environmental aspects, but I’m pretty sure if grassfed ruminant animals were bad for the planet, we’d have been in trouble a looong time ago thanks to the frigging enormous herds of bison that thundered across the American plains. Why do so few people make the distinction between the effects of cows eating grass and cows eating corn and stale pastries?
I will, however, weigh in on the economics. I know you’ve been working on a book about this stuff, and I’d love to get your take on my idea. (Copying from another site I posted on):
Maybe someone will finally admit that what is actually required is a drastic overhaul of how we grow/raise food, distribute it, cook it, and eat it. A wholesale rethinking of our food supply chain, from farm to table. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately. We have millions of people unemployed. We have millions of people going hungry, millions of others who are “overfed but undernourished,” and plenty of amazing land going fallow. We have school lunches that are pre-packaged, canned, or frozen and require little in the way of actual cooking except heating them up. I see a match, people! I know this is pie-in-the-sky thinking and would take years to implement, but I think we could have a massive change if we could get more people farming and cooking. (More people working to grow and raise food, we’d need people to transport it to schools/workplaces/restaurants, people employed in kitchens washing, chopping, prepping and cooking.) I dunno, call me crazy, I see a ton of jobs out there not being done, and lots of people out of work, but it would require a fundamental shift in our entire food economy. (It might also require some people to pare down their idea of what’s essential in terms of consumer goods and entertainment. I do admit that these food supply/service jobs wouldn’t exactly pay 6 figures but that is a whole separate rant, hehheh.) This would also free some people from what seem to be mindless, soul-sucking, cubicle-dwelling jobs (I should know) and get them in the fresh air and daylight doing something they’re physically and psychologically engaged in. (With a substantial pay cut, yes, but lots of people only “need” the big bucks to maintain the very lifestyle that’s driving them crazy!) More and more young people seem to be eschewing the corporate rat race and trying to start small farms, not to mention all the people getting back to home gardens.
Haven’t had a chance to read the Salatin interviews yet, but I’ve been to Polyface and have read/seen a lot of his other stuff. He always makes it clear that we don’t need to be Luddites to make this all work. We don’t have to go back to doing everything by horse, buggy, and candlelight. We can use modern technology and inputs selectively and to our best advantage. It doesn’t have to be (and can’t, really) be all or nothing. Heck, he delivers meat and eggs all over Virginia and DC. I don’t think he’d advocate getting rid of trucks; his business would implode. One thing I LOVE about him is his insistence that no, he will *not* ship all over the country. If you live in Idaho and want good quality food, find a farmer IN IDAHO. Support your local guy. I dig SO MUCH his understanding that it’s really the corporate model of bigger, faster, cheaper and the world be damned, that has to be fundamentally altered. When are profits enough? CEOs are pressured to grow, grow, grow. Expand, expand, expand the market. They’re only as good as the stock price that quarter. It’s MADNESS. When is enough money *enough?* Salatin could be a bajillionaire if he wanted to. He could expand his land holdings and ship all over if he wanted to, but he would rather have you give your money to someone who’s doing things the right way in YOUR area. It’s hard to hear him speak and *not* be flooded with possibility and optimism. (Cynicism too, for sure, because it’s such an uphill battle, but he just makes so damn much *sense.*)
I believe the revolution is happening, Robb. Every day people are waking up and pulling their heads out of the sand. The fact that they had to find a new tactic to “stop the message” of Paleo (environment rather than health) is proof. You’ve got ’em scared. They’re getting desperate.
Robb Wolf says
AmyB I think we have them on the run. We just need to unite on the concepts of freedom and markets…shit works itself out from there.
Matthew Caton says
“If you argue against this climate change idea in any way, shape or form, you are an un-caring, meat eating bastard (Bitch?). End of story. Not beating the Climate Change drum might be more criminal than arguing against the Patriot Act in the post 911 world…”
I love you Robb. Excellent article.
“The current system is propped up by taxes which are reallocated to grain production (Farmer Welfare?) in a way that makes grains artificially inexpensive, and grass fed meat and biodynamic farming artificially expensive.”
Is it just relatively more expensive, or are grain subsidies actually increasing the price?
I think there are some things you should consider here.
One is demand. The Paleo community creates demand for Paleo foods, so, as more people “convert” to Paleo won’t you see a natural increase in the collective “Paleo” food producers? You can’t have this in reverse. No demand, no producers.
Understandably, the transition to your model would be far easier, and demand would be higher, if grass-fed beef, etc. were subsidized vs. grains, making the economic decision less of a factor.
Have you considered working with your house rep/senators to try to introduce legislation to this effect? Grain subsidies obviously will never decrease in our lifetime, but pushing for an increase in subsidies to level the playing field is a possibility.
That being said, there is a clear “anti-Paleo” pro-grain/corn agenda among those in power. These people, and their ill motives, are the biggest factor preventing change here. I think you know that.
What can done about that?
You are right about everything, and I completely agree with you, on every point you made. Best thing I’ve read in a while.
Robb Wolf says
thanks man, very kind. When ever we see subsidies we actually see an inflation in the prices as the Payer is never exposed to REAL market forces. Numerous tales of fields left fallow and farmers paid to do nothing. this is Keynsian economics on par with paying people to move dirt piles around and this would somehow stimulate “growth”. REal story!
I have not doen anything with regards to representatives other than supporting folks like GAry Johnson and Ron Paul. I largely try to keep my head down and build the bandwidth…that combined with thee Specialty Health stuff, some inroads into academia…we have good stuff brewing my friend.
Awesome read. Just finished reading the rational optimist and it didn’t sit well with me how he dismissed organics and permaculture. Especially for such a positive and well written book. This brings it all together nicely!
Robb Wolf says
I think it’s throwing the baby out with the bath water. We can be smarter than that.
I jumped into this article with some enthusiasm as I have only recently had a long argument with a vegan friend on this very issue. However, from the first sentence I was WTF? Robb Wolf passed out in a “cannabis induced haze”? This is a very bad way to start an argument, even if it was in jest.
Then your easy dismissal of global warming. Yes, maybe there is some conspiracy to rule the world by creating a fake global threat. However, anyone claiming that mankind is NOT doing unsustainable damage to the ecosystem (including climate) is living in LA LA land.
Then your support of fossil and dismissal of alternative sustainable energy. Experts are claiming solar power efficiency will pass fossil within 5 to 10 years. In terms of major infrastructure investment, that is an eye blink away. Fossil fuel is a dead horse (actually a dead horse probably tastes better).
I like your idea of moving from cattle to bison. Here in Australia we have the perfect source of meat. Kangaroos are free range, available in huge numbers, and are naturally adapted to this ecology.
I’ll finish with my answer to my vegan friend. “Factory farms, antibiotics, grain fed, selective breeding. It’s pretty bad. But then so is endless fields of monoculture GM wheat, corn and soy swimming in pesticides where once forests grew. The food industry is a mess. That is not a reason not to eat meat though. It is a reason to be selective about what meat you eat, just as you are with veges. The best you can do is vote with your dollar and buy local organic/free range produce and refuse to buy processed food.”
This was a fantastic piece and I couldn’t agree more. Whatever lifestyle you live is your choice, but understanding, accepting, and collaboration are going to be the backbone of sustainability. If one wanted to be vegan, go ahead, but don’t try and thwart the meat eaters. That’s like a room full of 5th grade girls… “I hate her”, “why?”, I just do, ok? And I’m make fun of her”.
No reason, no purpose, no winner.
And any diet that gets people away from eating Pop-Tarts is a step in right direction.
first of all i love meat and eat two pounds a day, however we wont be able to eat it forever and this is due to fossil fuel. you can grow plants, not meat.
this link is a bit off direct topic but the only thing people need to listen to. i dont think we will be able to replace fossil fuels and we are running out quickly, within the next 10 – 30 years we will all be forced to have personal/community gardens to sustain us and many people could die in the process. I suggest robb and others read this link thoroughly and snap back into reality. Im sure this will be ignored as most people ignore the truth, if i were you i would make sure to have a my own house totally reliant on your own solar/wind power, well water, garden and perhaps a bow for hunting. wake up people because this post is pointless.
I usually respect what you write, Robb. It looks like your anti-vegan, (yeah I know you were one once) tirade misses one important point. Cows are responsible for more greenhouse gas than all areas of transportation combined. This is not some pro-vegan propaganda but comes from a UN report in 2007. And the lower the calorie value of the cow’s food the more methane they produce. So grass fed beef are worse polluters than grain fed ones. Yes, vegetables, bean, grains, etc. take fossil fuels to produce but about 7-8 times less than equivalent beef. I eat a little meat and fish, but less and less. I simply can’t try to live a low carbon footprint lifestyle and eat cows.
@micheal – Actually that FAO report was later exposed as using faulty methodology in it’s comparison between livestock production and transportation emissions. Even one of the authors admitted that the comparison was faulty. For livestock production, a full life cycle analysis was used (encompassing everything from clearing land to transporting meat to the supermarket). For transportation emissions, only counted emissions directly produced by petroleum combustion, not the emissions used in producing that petroleum.
See this report for factual numbers instead:
Better than a blog post – a very strong essay synthesizing both truth and pragmatism. Great job, Robb.
Um, wow, you are seriously one smart amazing person! Thank you for this piece, I had no idea about this realm and this has given me a better understanding w/o losing me in the teaching of it. I want to be able to speak & write on this stuff(for my blog & clients, and in a very basic way) but I feel stuck on how to explain this best bc I myself don’t fully feel confident that I can explain it! So I hope you’ll keep posting about grass-feeding and environment stuff bc us teeny folks want to get the word out to the masses of moms, co-workers & friends we influence daily!! Thank you!!
Per Wikholm says
… I am working on Swedish book about this very subject. As You might know the the Swedish LCHF-community (Low Carb High Fat – a mix of Paleo and Low Carb allowing some dairy products) are successful in Scandinavia but we are under attack from vegans/vegetarians on this subject.
When their healht argumets fail they allways turn to the CO2-argument/methane-argument.
Might I bombard You with some questions on this subject for the forthecoming swedish book?
Maj Woockman says
Rob all this information is awesome. I grew up on a small farm, raised the animals ourselves, had a big garden, butchered our animals, and canned our own food. There is one problem with all this though, it is hard work. Not sure how many folks are willing to put in the hours it takes to raise your own food. I agree more small, family owned farms, would be better for the land, people, and animals, but again it is work. There aren’t enough folks willing to farm right now and there is actually a shortage of new farmers, see learn2farm.org. We have to change our leisure loving society a bit and walk away from the instant gratification crack pipe before we are going to change a thing. I am no fan of big government, subsidies, or industrial agriculture, but this is one of those things where change has to start at our level. Folks change their buying patterns and the free market will adapt which in turn will change the lobbyists, and change the government. Thank you for putting all this information out there and changing opinions one person at a time.
Ian Braden says
Red Rover, Red Rover,
Send the vegans over!
Rob Kingston says
Another great Joseph Campbell quote – “Vegetarians are people that can’t hear plants scream.”
Amy Kubal says
A classic case of ‘selective hearing’… 😉
Kathleen @ simplifiedpaleo.com says
This was great — I agree that sometimes people think paleo = CAFO and I haven’t found that to be the case, at all.
I’m delighted by your post here, Robb. As I read, I thought of my own evolution, and I don’t think I’m completely unique…
When I was 20 I was vegan because I care about my health, couldn’t afford much at the time besides yams and bananas, and partly because I don’t like to see animals suffer and I thought veganism was a good statement. (Then my health kinda went south, but that’s not my point here).
At 30 I learned to hunt, and at 34, still the very same person, same values, that doesn’t like to see animals suffer, I shot a 6-point bull elk in the big wild country around Cody, Wyoming. I used my 30.06 rather than an atlatl, but I’d hunted alone on foot for five days and it was fair chase. After I shot I came running up on him as he died and I stood with him until it was over, feeling all kinds of crazy intense things that are hard to describe. What a fine line between life and death.
Now I live in Moab, Utah, and get grass fed beef from this great guy here locally-Ken. I go out to his place to pick up a few packages of liver from time to time, and we stand there and talk about dogs, elk hunting, how to cook brisket, and the market for grass fed meat, which is going crazy. He served hamburgers at our local co-op’s birthday party and joked he’d never seen a more voracious group of meat-eaters than all those vegetarians.
Them is us. Us is them. Ya know?
Paul R says
Robb, I’m a distant fan of yours and this is a great piece, but ultimately wrong. I’m on your side: I’ve grown up with organic farmer parents, I’ve farmed myself, from intensive production to biodynamic in New Zealand, UK, the middle East and Southern Africa. I was paleo before I knew it had a name, and as sad as I am to say it, grass fed meats for the masses is unaffordable and unsustainable.
Personally I wish Joel Salatin’s method was the only allowable farming method, but it would result in environmental devastation. Grassland is a monoculture (effectively) and environmentally speaking that is a very bad thing.
Firstly, Joel’s rebuttal is entirely missing the point. There’s no mileage in arguing all their wrong assumptions, because he still hasn’t shown that his system is ‘sustainable’. Although McWilliams assertion of “1 cow to 10 acres” is ridiculous, it is pointless to argue. Just because someone says your car is a gas guzzler at 10 mpg, arguing it isn’t because it does 15 mpg is pointless. It’s still a gas guzzler. Also, Joe’s put down of ‘Global Warming’ theory which at least has good historical precedent pales into insignificance in the face of his ‘population levelling off as we all get better off’ theory. This has no historical precedent. The US of A has arguably the highest standard of living on the planet, and in history, but still grows on a births and deaths basis by .7% each year -the highest of any industrialised nation. The thing that does slow down population grow is not economic success, it is over crowding (Japan, Germany, UK)and by that stage those nations are not able to feed themselves, even by the most intensive methods.
Here in New Zealand we are blessed with the best grass growing weather and soils in the world. This is why we produce a ridiculous 40% of the worlds dairy export market from only 3.5 million acres, and it’s 99% grass fed and can be exported to europe landing there with a lower carbon footprint than the butter produced in indoor stalls over there.
But, and this is really significant, even on this amazing soil and grass growing weather it takes 2.25 acres to grow a cattle beast to slaughter. That is about .75 acre for the calf growing to 20 months. 1.25 acre for its mother and the next calf. The mother has to be replaced after 8 years, so 1/8th acre for her replacement, and the bull (and his replacement) who will service 50 cows or so for about 10 years need about 1/8 acre too. This is with nitrogen based fertiliser, but few other inputs. As soon as you start to plant, cultivate and harvest grain to feed to these animals the land use area goes up. You see, that acreage that the cattle require is more decided by the lands ability to survive the trampling of the beasts that it is subjected to than it is by it’s capacity to grow grass. Keep a calf it’s life on 1/2 are and you will have no grass. It can’t keep up with the trampling. So, to grow one calf to slaughter requires 1 acre of the best grass growing land in the world. If it’s a cattle ranch in Australia it’s 20-30 acres, and they sure as hell aren’t adding to the environment while they’re roaming out there. Now, even though we have all that great grass land in NZ, not all of our grass is like that, and a lot of that which is is given over to the golden goose of dairy. So New Zealand’s cattle production is run roughly on an average of 1 beast produced per 5 acres. So, taking America’s example of requiring 100 million beasts a year, leaves you needing (with very simple maths and a bit of assumption) 500 million acres of land. Just for your grass feed beef production. This absolutely dwarfs the 110 million acres of prime grassland available in the US. To resolve this issue requires more land…. and an environmental apocalypse. Quite simply, growing grain and feeding it to cattle uses less than 1/20th the acreage to provide the same amount of beef as free range / grass fed. This includes the land required to grow the grain. Massey University has done good total cost / benefit studies on the merits of using grain as a cattle feed.
A side note on your claim that bison are better converters / more efficient than standard cattle. This is heard about lots of ‘alternative’ farm species, but the fact is that bison are better than some breeds of cattle, and worse than others. Their benefit is gained by their larger frame, hence less bone / pound of muscle. They are narrowly beaten by simmental and belgians, but beat some of the leaner breeds like texan longhorn etc. Their advantage is minimal and quickly beaten by modern breeding and genetics. Not to say that bison couldn’t benefit from this in the long run. But it’s not a paradigm shifter.
Decrying global warming is an exercise in futility. The world is warming faster now than at any time in the last 2000 years. This is supported by really good science. The causes of that warming is less clear. What is obvious is that many of our activities add to this process. If the process continues it will lead to a fundamental change in the global environment. I’m not using words like devastation or any such. It’s just gonna change. At a rate that has spelled absolute disaster for all species on the numerous occasions its happened in our planet’s past. If we continue in activities that add to known contributing factors we can only be hastening the process.
In reference to Joel’s process, it is the gold standard for producing quality food. Really, honestly, it’s probably better quality than wild sourced as it has a more reliable food supply. But, if you check the pounds of meat per acre that Joel produces, and the support system (availability of grain suppliers etc,) it becomes immediately apparent that even under the best management and conditions, this would still fall far short of supplying just the current meat needs of the US on the available land supply, and with reference to being able to keep nutrient supply local (some areas you can grow cattle you just can’t grow grain / supporting crops for the other parts of the mechanism and vice versa) the model will fall down.
Joel’s system may be sustainable on an inputs / outputs basis, it may provide less environmental degradation than most large scale farming processes but, and this is the nub, it is not affordable. It requires more land than is available, and so as a land use model, it is unsustainable in the face of current and projected demand.
A fair amount of meat can be produced from crop residues and food wastes from the human food stream. For example, the vines from sweet potatoes are good cattle food, as are carrot tops and the outer leaves and stalks of cabbages. Corn stalks and the cobs left from grain-stripping can be hammermilled and fed along with peanut vines. Millions of tons of peelings and trimmings go to waste at food processing plants every year. Brewers’ grains can be mixed with other wastes from human food production to make valuable feedstuffs. Fish guts and heads could go to good use in feeding pigs and chickens. Lawn mowings and tree prunings are another potential source of cattle feed, if the lawns haven’t been sprayed with toxic chemicals. My school’s campus dumps a lot of lawn mowings. The list is endless! I strongly recommend Morrison’s Feeds and Feeding for insight into how people produced high-quality meats and other animal products before the era of the CAFO and bagged feed. Supermarkets and produce stores dump enormous amounts of sell-by or cosmetically damaged foods that could go into meat production – as shown by Novella Carpenter’s feeding of pigs in Oakland from dumpsters.
Then there are foods like acorns: pigs have been fattened on acorns and beech mast for centuries; analyses of the fat of pigs reared in Italy on acorn diets show very healthy lipid profiles. Black soldier fly larvae can be very cheaply produced in enormous numbers on organic wastes and fed to pigs and chickens. Crickets can even be raised on shredded newspaper.
There are many ways to raise meat. Appropriate numbers of livestock can be integrated into the food production system at every level, as well as harvesting resources through grazing of livestock on lands unsuited to cropping.
The cattle methane question is not particularly a problem, by virtue of the fact that natural pastures can carry far fewer cattle than can be maintained in feedlots. If grainfed cattle produce less methane per beast, this is more than made up for by the sheer numbers of grainfed cattle compared to the higher-gas but much lower numbers of grassfed cattle. Besides, it’s estimated that there were 60-70 million bison in North America, all farting and belching, when the white man arrived.
Atlas Shrugged anyone? We need more Rader type farmers for this to work! A big movement from the bottom up with big money behind it. Once the revelation that money, serious money, can be made then you will get more of a buy in from the government types. Let’s face it, money makes the world go ’round. Right now the money is poured into government officials pockets from the big corporations (don’t forget Rx’s) who produce the grain fed crap and the grains! The only way to get government types out of it is to insure them they will get their cut. Sad, but true.
Steve M says
As a former Vegan turned Paleo eater I was hoping this article would diminish the guilt I feel for switching over. It did not do so.
One of the best points made is the link between poverty and high birth rates. However, slower growth rates still mean growth. Also, as income increases in China, India, etc. we have seen that the amount of meat eaten in those countries has increased as well. More meat = more energy usage, more environmental degradation.
That being said, grass fed is ++. Paleo is kick ass. Let’s find ways to make it better for the planet.
“WTF? Robb Wolf passed out in a “cannabis induced haze”? This is a very bad way to start an argument, even if it was in jest.
You’re so right dude. Effective immediately, Im cancelling my monthly donations to RW. You hear that Mr wolf? Stick it!
“Yes, maybe there is some conspiracy to rule the world by creating a fake global threat”
What? you mean like a Rothschild conspiracy? and that Rothschilds take their orders directly from Satan? please.
Hey, who you gonna believe? Robb or David?
David reminds me of Jesus
Robb reminds me of Stifler
point for david
David is British and has a polished urbane accent
Robb is American and uses words like “gnarly”
point for david
David’s family operates at the highest levels of international finance, and have an illustrious history including a pivotal role in the formation of Israel
Robb’s family has a history of diabetes
point for David
David has a pet dog named Smudge (a Staffordshire bull terrier- a breed notorious for mauling and ripping off children’s faces and hence earning the nickname “devil dog”)
Robb has a cat named Keystone
hmm.. 5 points for Robb!
Keystone saves the day!
Sustainability? Mother earth designed sustainability and it included plants AND animals for millions of years. People thinking plants are sustainable by themselves for feeding the people are deluding themselves. Petroleum is a finite resource. You aren’t going to get those huge crops without commercial fertilizer and that’s made from oil. So are the pesticides they drench them with. Sooner or later times up for billions no matter what. Best stick with the circle of life with animals included.
I’ve been to India and have seen first hand a strong inverse correlation between economic status and family size.
It’s funny how global warming has morphed into climate change and how if you question it you become a “denier”. The assumption being that your position is denying an indisputable fact. The elite use language to frame the debate in their favor. When you have the truth on your side you only need to rely on facts and logical arguments, when you are trying to manipulate and deceive you appeal to emotion, and you distort facts.
Anyways it’s all foretold in revelations. False crises, wars and rumors of such, then world unification, global control by banki g elite,centered in j’salem and finger implants of microchips without which one cannot buy sell or trade. A world currency w the flag of the ruling entity. Which symbol? Why, the one with 6 points 6 sides and 6 triangles of course.
Or so I’ve heard in a drug induced haze
Very excited I finally read your article! I started feeding my family “paleo” before I had ever heard such a term in reference to diet. I’m a Libertarian, and in our quest to become self-sufficient (and spend as little $ as possible) we omitted grains. Taking care of animals and a garden in our (urban) back yard, grains (and making bread, pasta, etc.) are just way too labor intensive and take up too much space. Another influence in our diet change was farmer welfare and hatred of Monsanto. Health benefits came as a bonus. Conversion of monoculture fields to a polyculture, including pasture and tucking food that is actually edible by humans into our landscape would help to heal our raped American soil (& pocketbooks).
I sincerely hope this is the beginnings of your next book. I have been eager for someone to develop this line of thinking in detail. I was not effectively persuaded by your post but would be very interested in reading more from you on this topic.
I’d like to believe you are correct but there are multiple points in your post that are questionable the most glaring being your apparent faith in markets and Ron Paul Libertarianism which is largely based upon the work of bad economists like Hayek. That being said, clearly the government managed economy we have is atrociously bad so I’m at the point where I am open to trying something different. Are you familiar with The Property and Environment Research Center? http://www.perc.org. They might be a useful ally. They seek to solve environmental challenges through the use of markets and private property.
I enjoyed your critique of Vegans and moralism in general. The quote from Joseph Campbell is marvelous.
Thanks for doing the work you do. I enjoy the podcast as well.
Posts like this get me excited!
That Joel Salatin response was great too, “..pulsing of the predator-prey-pruning cycle on perennial prairie polycultures.” say that five times fast 🙂
Ty Fyter says
great article (and don’t worry about blogs being too long, I think the more information, the more comprehensive the better)! I have been wanting you to right some more socio-politic articles for quite a while.
Just a quick question…am I correct in that you are alluding to global warming being false? To clarify: not climate change due to us (as proposed by Al Gore), but rather a natural climate change that would be ongoing with or without us? It’s be cool if you could expand on this; or have I misread??
Awesome post all in all.
When I read some of the Libertarian posts I totally agree with so much of them, but I wind up with so many questions for the other side of the ‘new reality’ that a true free-market would bring. What keeps everything from heading in an oligarch/wall street direction where profits rule above *everything*? Quoting Campbell might be a little glimpse into the spiritual realm that helps center us in a humanistic way.
Sometime Robb I think you are too gregarious and altruistic for your own good! Not everyone is like you. There are parts of ‘markets’ that can cast a pretty dark shadow.
PS thanks for answering my question today! What a great feeling to wake up to. Stoked to look out for some new AI stuff on the horizon (though, of course, I know the right course is to just stay strict and feel great)
Robb Wolf says
it’s complex stuff for sure. here’s the deal: Markets figure out how to distribute goods & services most efficiently. Period. Centralized planning leads to warehouses full of widgets that have no need or purpose. Ideally, the role of the state is to prevent one person or faction from victimizing another person or faction. It’s never perfect, but it’s a damn bit better than the wild west or dark ages when people really lived in fear. Our big problem as i see it is certain sectors of the market, say energy for example (oil?) is both a huge business scene and tightly regulated by the gov… while also frequently being owned by the peeps making decisions (Bush 2 comes to mind in this). So you have stuff like Haleburton and Bectel engineering “nation building” in Iraq. It’s bad business. but when you look around the world you have these bastions of relative freedom in the westernized democracies, then you have either fundamentalist religious leaders, despotic tyrants, or centrally planed govs which have little compunction in exploiting their populace. So, what you are saying (i think) is “the world has bad people in it who do bad things” and that is obviously the case, but turing to some kind of totalitarian gov to “set things right” is not the answer IMO. Create free markets, create govs that are as transparent and honestly only strong enough to do the bare essentials, and now with social media, keep folks accountable in real time. This makes sense to me. It may be a fantasy on my part…but it’s what makes sense.
To clarify, for example: it seems like you see colonialism as a force of the State, whereas to me it seems more likely a force of markets. Exploitation by force etc seems like a natural outgrowth of market expansion. How do you regulate that without government?
Daniel T says
Very nice piece, Robb.
I’m a bit more extreme than libertarians, but I do agree with you on all points. The main thing we need to watch for is not creating anymore laws. Sustainability is doable, but not with government backing. Stripping government down is the only way to allow for economic freedom and well, freedom in general.
It’s a fact(China proves it) that when governement releases restrictions on people, they make money. And money is only made through innovation. We need both freedom and innovation to make money. Screw the governement.
The best way to save all endangered species is to find a way for people to derive an income off of them(humanely, obviously). This worked with elephant farms and it can work with everything else.
Capitalism isn’t the enemy and neither are humans. Sorry, Vegans, you lose. 😉
Boy, did I enjoy this article!! Im a sustainable living “transitionist”, who was a strict vegetarian for 30 years. My brother is an enthusiastic fan of your work, and gifted me your book, along with Joel Salatin’s and Lierre Keith’s. I munch on my paleo lunch as I write this, and send you a spinach-toothed smile of gratitude. The moral veg platform grounded me in a diet that contributed to the chronic back pain that much of my experience of life now revolves around. I wrote an article a few months back: “Is Eating Meat Sustainable?”(http://biocadence.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/is-eating-meat-sustainable/).
I agree with a lot of what was said in this article, but I don’t think you properly acknowledge the issue of peak energy and the eventual scarcity of hydrocarbon energy that is going to face us all into the future. What makes you so certain that we will continue to have the energy we’re used to having to fuel our food system, even if we transition to more local sources? I’m not sure what sources you’re reading to give you the impression that we can continue to grow our global economy indefinitely, since it is so against nature to even legitimize such a concept.
> I agree with a lot of what was said in this article, but I don’t think you
> properly acknowledge the issue of peak energy and the eventual scarcity of
> hydrocarbon energy that is going to face us all into the future.
The correct term here is “peak oil” or “peak hydrocarbon”, and it is
not in sight yet. There are many other sources of energy available
including solar, wind, hydroelectric, tidal, and nuclear. So if we
ever run out of so-called fossil fuels, that does not spell the end
of our technological civilization.
> What makes you so certain that we will continue to have the energy we’re used > to having to fuel our food system, even if we transition to more local
What makes you so sure we are going to lose it?
> I’m not sure what sources you’re reading to give you the impression that we
> can continue to grow our global economy indefinitely, since it is so against
> nature to even legitimize such a concept.
That sentence doesn’t even make sense. You sound like one of those
eco-zombies. Certain leaders use drugs and hypnosis to make people believe
crazy ideas like yours. The whole eco movement is like that. They
slip drugs into your food, and you don’t even know it.
Al Whats-his-name tried to do that to me, but it didn’t work. He
chased me around an Army mess hall with a lemon tart laced with
barbiturates. Fortunately I was allergic to wheat, and I ran away.
Everyone who ate those tarts went out in the jungle on a suicide mission.
Get off of the drugs. Learn some math.
This is one of the craziest articles I’ve ever read. First of all I’m very gung-ho on the caveman diet, and you provide useful info regarding it. But you may want to keep your economic/globalization/global warming/inevitable population growth beliefs to yourself, though, cause they are not helping your credibility. I don’t have the time to deconstruct every point you tried to make, so I’ll just do the most bizarre: The United States represents 4.4% of the global population, yet consumes roughly 25% of the world’s resources to maintain its'”standard of living”. You stated that “in less than a century most of Africa, Central America, India and China could have a standard of living similar to that of the US in 2006”. Africa, C. America, India, and China represent 50% of global population; for them to achieve a similar standard of living as the US, they would require 25(%)/4.4(%)*50(%)=284% of the earth’s resources. Well, the earth only has 100% of the earth’s resources. Did the “projections” you referenced include plans to colonize three more earth-like planets to satisfy these resource requirements?
but would you tell that 20years ago, where America for sure also used 4,sth% of global resources? And despite of that, developed further till today, as China did and east european countries did in these years?
Does it mean we already used up over 100% of earth resources? How would it be possible?
You are plain wrong, because this calculated 4,4% earth resources are not 4,4% of TOTAL available now and in the future resources.
And better you have time to discuss against more points of Robb writing, else we all think you just don’t have your counter arguments. As the only one you mentioned is – as you see – just not valid.
Of course 25% of worlds resources.
Rest remains intact.
Hey Robb, a great post for the most part, Ill leave out my views on AGW though 🙂
In Australia we seem to have a ‘pest’ problem with kangaroos. Even permies can have trouble with them. Farmers have trouble with them. Their population in 2009 was around 27 million for surveyed areas and Australia as you may have noticed is quite big. They could maintain that population if we hunted and killed around 4 million of them. In return we get lots of decent meat and a superior leather to calf, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kangaroo_leather. I love the taste of the meat and have 2 pairs have very comfy shoes. The meat also takes less time to cook. Oh did I say its tasty! You could even have a new fitness/holday/tourism industry where you go hunt them yourself. Can be tricky in the day though which is why most hunters get them when their docile at night.
Oh wait, they take all the semi decent grain land in addition to being our counties mascot even though they are pretty dumb. Hey vegans, I love them too, probably more that you’ll ever know.
Keep up the good work maties.
Vegan here I have no problem with paleo folks. It isn’t for me but, you are right about grain fed animals.
Enrich the soil with fish? Are you crazy? Talk about waste.
Is meat sustainable? Not any animal with four legs and definitely not fish with the rate of seabed habitat destruction.
We need to simply enrich the soil with volcanic dirt so the plants get the proper nutrients to defend themselves. Free the chickens and place them on orchards, so the chickens eat the insects, no pesticides needed. Adding poisonous plants beside the orchards for insects to eat is also a huge natural plus.
Not everyone on this planet that doesn’t eat animal products cares about saving the animals. Some people like myself know actual biochemistry and bacteriology, and possess indisputable evidence on how we humans produce our own Vitamin B12 and what drives our brain evolution. It would surprise a lot of people. After saying this. I believe that an animal deserves the right to at least fight for their own life and those who want to take a life should grow a pair and take a life with their natural equipment instead of depending on the supermarket to feed their meat addiction. I can bet that any animal will fight anyone tooth and nail for their own life.
Ruminant animals can be integrated into the landscape and be used to sink carbon, yes. BUT…!!!
It needs to be organic / free range pastured animals or it ain’t going to be sustainable. We simply have to work within the limits we are given. Iceland for example slashed the amount of sheep grazing over its farmland to a sustainable level.
Feeding cows corn is retarded and causes the omega 3/6 imbalance. Its almost as if logic has left the equation… a healthy animal will produce healthy meat. an unhealthy animal will produce unhealthy meat. kind of obvious now, no?
Our biggest problem is the economy, economies of scale make it unviable to produce organic meat. Why would plain jane/jack buy a $10 piece of grassfed beef over a $4 piece of force fed beef?
too many people, too many problems imo.
Ehlrich equation sums it up nicely.
I = P × A × T
training cats says
A motivating discussion is definitely worth comment.
I think that you need to publish more on this
subject, it might not be a taboo matter but usually people do not talk about such topics.
To the next! Best wishes!!
Study: Livestock reduction key to curbing global warming.
I am a strong advocate of paleo/primal/ancestral living, but I have to disagree with you on some political points. I fear you place too much faith in the power of the markets, and that if you simply give people freedom (your definition of which is unclear) then things will resolve themselves economically. The unfortunate reality is the current situation in the USA: “freedom” means concentration of wealth and power. I was born and raised in Scotland, and I now live in South Africa. Scotland is more left-leaning (socialist) than most, and you may have heard of the progress it is making in ethical agriculture (banning GMOs); I do not believe this would happen if the markets had been left to their own devices, where self-interest tends to prevail. South Africa, on the other hand, although it is historically left-thinking (at least in the parlance of the West – this is not the place to get into the differences between African and European-based ideologies) has taken on a more free market approach without the necessary background, with the resulting concentration of power, not to mention corruption. I find your talk of “freedom” and your rather simplistic view of what it will result in to be very naive. Considering in particular the poverty which abounds under the American economic model, which supposedly has the freedom you mention, I don’t think it should be so loosely bandied about as a solution.
Not everybody thinks the same. To talk of the simplicity of bringing people out of poverty in the way you do is too America-centric. Other countries must find their own solutions to their own unique issues.
Besides that niggle – which is however pretty fundamental – I strongly agree that new approaches need to be found, and that you are on to something in this article. The basis of it must change for different circumstances though, and this must be acknowledged. Cheers!
Robb Wolf says
I really appreciate the input.