Customer Review

Reviewed in the United States on February 25, 2014
I ran across this book and, given the bad rap cows—meat animals in general—have been getting lately, I picked it up and read it. It’s an interesting little book and I recommend that anyone interested in the environment or good nutrition or global climate change should read it.

It’s really about restoring the earth’s soils—with a little help from grazing animals. In a chapter entitled “Ground Zero for Carbon Dioxide Reduction Is the Ground,” she cites some startling studies describing the relationship between soils and global climate change. According to Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, “. . . the soil could offset about one-third of the human-generated emissions annually absorbed in the atmosphere.” She goes on to say that “We’ve lost an estimated 50 to 80 percent carbon in our soils over the last 150 years.”

In a chapter called “Beyond Eat Your Vegetables,” Schwartz reveal the lack of nutrition in our soils and how that translates into less nourishing food. She quotes nutrition and agriculture educator, “Some nutritionists estimate that the food we eat today has just 30 percent of the nourishment of what our grandparents ate as children. The major reason,” says Sait, “is declining soil quality . . .”

“. . . the major portion of farm income is now expended on the inputs required to maintain production as soil function fails. An enormous industry . . . depends on us not finding solutions to the problems in agriculture,” Schwartz writes. These problems generate enormous income for manufacture of synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides and fungicides, toxins that sterilize the soil, she continues.

And how do cows get into this discussion? It’s not through the gas they emit, although the digestive process that produces methane also benefits the soil. Herbivores’ chewing and digesting with the help of millions of microorganisms in their guts break down plant materials so that they can fertilize the soil. Their hooves disturb the soil so moisture and nutrients can enter.

My dad wrote in a letter, back in the late forties, that the “future of the Great Plains is in cattle.” One argument against growing meat animals states that they take up land that could be used for growing crops to feed people. But some areas, not suited to growing food for people, provide good grazing. Managed properly, those areas can produce succulent grass-fed meat as well as building soil and sequestering carbon.

Schwartz’s arguments are compelling. Again, I recommend Cows Save the Planet: And Other Improbably Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth by Judith D. Schwartz.
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