Best for people and environment

The left side of this fence is where holistic planned grazing was used.

The left side of this fence is where holistic planned grazing was used.

The view that fatty meat is the healthiest primary food for homo sapiens—that we are basically carnivores that also have a nifty fall-back ability to survive on plant foods in a pinch—raises a wider issue. It this were true, how could modern food production possibly shift from serving carbohydrate-centric to fat-centric eating patterns on any large modern scale. Virtually unquestioned conventional wisdom insists that not only health, but also “the environment” dictate lower, not higher, reliance on animal products.

The truth, as is surprisingly often the case, may be the exact opposite of this. Indeed, even separate from human nutrition issues, properly managed large herd animals might be the only way to halt and reverse the large-scale environmental destruction caused by modern plant agriculture and poor land management. The environmental destruction caused by grain agriculture that helps feed ruminants cannot be blamed on the cattle, which naturally thrive on grass rather than grain. And they can eat grass all by themselves; that's just how they roll.

The key insight is that large heard animals and vast stretches of grassland coevolved over geologic time. They came into existence and thrived as part of a single ecological system. One of the last modern examples of this was the unending sea of bison encountered by the early European explorers of North America (before they systematically exterminated the animals for sport, undermining the cultures that had long subsisted on them).

Decades ago, Allan Savory set out to answer some pressing ecological questions independently of issues of ideal human nutrition. He arrived at the view that the most important and underestimated contemporary global issue is the mass desertification of grasslands. And he argues that there is one and only one way to effectively alter this process. A fundamentally biological problem requires a biological solution, not a chemical one.

His breakthrough was to discover that desertification has not been caused by “overgrazing,” as is usually thought, but by mis-grazing. Earlier effects of mis-grazing were then reinforced by misguided reduction or removal of herds, which then made the problem still worse. Today, he and his institute teach methods of using proper management of herd animals to recover desertified land and transform it into far more biologically productive pastures using know-how assembled under the heading “holistic planned grazing.”

Holistic planned grazing, in my view, constitutes an evolutionary approach to land management. It recognizes and builds on the ancient co-evolutionary interplay between grassland flora and large fauna. Large herds kept themselves moving across grasslands while staying grouped tightly to defend against predators. The right know-how on the part of herd managers today can replicate these dynamics today, without relying on predators. As Savory's methods have shown, such properly managed pastures naturally retain rainwater through the grass, soil, and other life that grows there, all in an evolutionary dance with the same types of herd animals those grasses themselves originally co-evolved with. Vast surfaces of the earth were once covered with thriving grasslands occupied by roving herds of untold millions of beasts. Holistic management provides a way for us to recreate habits that mimic essential elements of this past in an efficient way.

This would also happen to produce a large potential population of herd animals thriving in environments quite natural to them that could serve as a major, nutrient-dense, modern food supply. Dr. Michael Eades has recently arrived at a similar view after careful review of Savory's ideas and critiques of them in his post, "Low-carbohydrate diet and climate change" (2 July 2017). Moreover, it is politically notable that herding can be more decentralized and distributed than mass grain agriculture, enhancing local self-reliance and independence.

White Oak Pastures in Georgia, USA provides an inspiring example of transformation of a formerly conventional ranch. Using multi-species holistic management, it has not only spectacularly recovered burned-out agricultural land, but is also breathing new life into a town that had been nearly deserted.