A good method to stir up gatherings lacking edifying conversation is to casually drop the comment that eating beef is a good thing for our environment. Before you utter the words, though, make sure you’ve located the exit. The mob will attack.

I LOVE cattle. And beef. So when I hear people avoiding such glorious protein because it has a negative stigma attached, my heart breaks a little bit. An intelligent response conveying the wonders of livestock is necessary, and the message must be clear: not all meat is created equal.

Simplicity is clarity. And here is the clearest example I have ever encountered in the case for a good cow (these are not my original thoughts; I’m adapting them from other sources.)

The sun is a source of energy that is nearly unfathomable. It powers everything we have on Earth, in one way or another. To waste the sun’s energy by ignoring it is ridiculous; it shows up on our property without a monthly contract and we’ll never receive a bill or nasty letter in the mail for utilizing the rays. Indeed, there isn’t one coupon buried in the increasingly gargantuan stack of advertisements stuffed in our mailbox that offers a better deal than that from the sun.

Most people, I’m afraid, are only peripherally aware of the magnificent resource centered in our solar system. We’re wired for complexity, and the thought of simply sopping up sun rays to our advantage seems a little too easy. Surely our future depends on some complicated technological marvel designed in a laboratory and linked via Bluetooth to an iphone, right? The sun just sits out there. It can’t be doing much more than providing light.

Even those who’ve come to realize the potential of the sun expend tremendous effort trying to capture, store and distribute solar energy. We’re all familiar with solar panel systems, and I have no real aversion to them beyond the horrendous politicking and societal delineations that seem inextricably intertwined with the energy discussion. The fact remains, though: man-made solar farms are quite elaborate and expensive to build, maintain and dispose of.

There is another far less laborious solar collector available for our benefit that is almost completely overlooked: Plants. Grass. Vegetation. Indeed, the leaves of photosynthesizing autotrophs are incredibly effective at capturing energy from the sun and using it to create life. As they grow and blanket the Earth, green leaves utilize every inch of space to soak up energy, and, in the process, accumulate and create all sorts of elements and compounds that are extremely vital for human health.

A logical conclusion, then, is for humans to eat plants, thus capturing the stored solar energy. And we do (not enough of them, actually). But what about the plants we can’t digest? I remember as a youngster convincing my parents to allow grass from our yard as an ingredient in my salad for dinner one evening, and, much to my dismay, the eating experience was less than stellar (there isn’t enough dressing in the world). As a population, then, do we simply overlook the vast grass resource available on Earth, choosing instead to utilize only the plants we can eat? That’s a HUGE waste of energy!

Grasslands are the biggest solar panel in the world, and for decades we’ve been torching them with chemicals to grow soybeans for “healthy” fake burgers or allowing succession to reclaim the verdant open space. We should embrace them, and to do so in an environmentally enhancing manner requires a low cost, self sustaining, self duplicating unit to collect the sun’s energy stored in grasses and adapt it into a form that can be utilized by people. We need a solar converter.

Enter the herbivore. A cow, raised entirely on grass, is a mammal that can harvest and store solar energy well beyond the green season. It’s a perfect symbiotic relationship: the grass needs pruning to remain vegetative and fully solar efficient, and the herbivore needs grass to acquire nutrients for life. The grazing herbivore fertilizes the grass with dung, urine and trampled detritus, which in turn grows more grass to support future generations of herbivore. It’s the least complicated solar collection system we have available, and it didn’t come from Tesla.

Such a revelation must acknowledge that current widespread ecological disdain for cattle actually targets management, not the animals. Environmentalists and concerned citizens alike have been blaming the steer for what people have done to him. That’s like condemning a busload of children because the driver ran over your dog; it doesn’t make any sense.

Well funded lobbyists representing commodity beef groups are not helping with PR as they fabricate terminology to justify the commercial beef system that created the problems in the first place. Their paradigm needs placed in a box and set aside; it’s causing too many distractions. Everyone outside of the lobbying circle — you and I — should realize that supporting grassland enhancement can be as easy as buying a good steak; those local food dollars return to individuals who are increasingly committed to beautifully simplistic herbivore choreography that mimics the natural migration of bygone wild herds. Stewarding in a new management paradigm is far more effective than banishing beef entirely, a tactic that removes vital solar converters from our landscape in favor of a tractor ripping up soil to grow beans for a veggie burger.

[The writer farms with his family near Clarion.]

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