The Future of Slow Meat

by Marisha Zeffer

This talk was led by Greg Applegate. 

Participating in #MeatlessMondays will not necessarily lead to systemic change. Rather, we need to eat meat that fits our values. Systemic change sometimes seems impossible when considering the way the rallying cries of vegetarians are often silenced by the sheer amount of meat Americans consume.  

Pitting vegetarians/vegans and meat-consumers against one another is not the answer. However, meat consumption is on the rise, pounds per person increasing at a rate in the United States that the earth physically cannot support. 

The symbiotic relationship between plants and animals has led to the rise in popularity of the latest ag buzz word: regenerative agriculture. This term is in contrast to monoculture, and it emphasizes a diversified farming that gives to the earth more than it takes. When maintaining biodiversity and supporting independent family farms, regenerative agriculture can be the next step toward rebuilding topsoil and showing us the future of slow meat. 

A preliminary case study by the University of Vermont demonstrated the benefits of regenerative agriculture. The team monitored 400 acres and reflected how a new model of soil change allowed 2 million gallons of water absorption per year as well as significant sequestration of carbon. Small, local farms benefit not only the soil but also the communities in which they exist – research shows that their profits are spent in their local community 7 times more often than big business. 

To incentivize local farms, Nori gives subsidies for carbon removal, rewarding good practices rather encouraging farmers not to raise meat at all. Some of these good practices include managing grazing to help sequester carbon and raising beef cattle for a longer time. These subsidization efforts help independent farmers stay afloat; whereas the USDA offers little to independent farmers, many – chicken farmers in particular – live below the poverty line and lack a local slaughterhouse that would lower expenses.

Two of the ranches of discussion were Applegate, owned by Hormel, and Niman Ranch, owned by Purdue. Applegate produces a million pounds of meat per year, showing the need for  regionalized supply chain versus massive centralization. In 1979 and 2012 there were the same amount of cows. The difference between then and today? Now there are 90% less farmers.

Farmers have the potential to become the new rock stars like chefs. The terroir of meat is comparable to that of wine. The question is how to get consumers to treat it as a product that deserves just as much heed.

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