If You Want to Save the World, Veganism isn’t the Answer

Isabella Tree wrote . . . . . . . . .

Veganism has rocketed in the UK over the past couple of years – from an estimated half a million people in 2016 to more than 3.5 million – 5% of our population – today. Influential documentaries such as Cowspiracy and What the Health have thrown a spotlight on the intensive meat and dairy industry, exposing the impacts on animal and human health and the wider environment.

But calls for us all to switch entirely to plant-based foods ignore one of the most powerful tools we have to mitigate these ills: grazing and browsing animals.

Rather than being seduced by exhortations to eat more products made from industrially grown soya, maize and grains, we should be encouraging sustainable forms of meat and dairy production based on traditional rotational systems, permanent pasture and conservation grazing. We should, at the very least, question the ethics of driving up demand for crops that require high inputs of fertiliser, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides, while demonising sustainable forms of livestock farming that can restore soils and biodiversity, and sequester carbon.

In 2000, my husband and I turned our 1,400-hectare (3,500-acre) farm in West Sussex over to extensive grazing using free-roaming herds of old English longhorn cattle, Tamworth pigs, Exmoor ponies and red and fallow deer as part of a rewilding project. For 17 years we had struggled to make our conventional arable and dairy business profitable, but on heavy Low Weald clay, we could never compete with farms on lighter soils. The decision turned our fortunes around. Now eco-tourism, rental of post-agricultural buildings, and 75 tonnes a year of organic, pasture-fed meat contribute to a profitable business. And since the animals live outside all year round, with plenty to eat, they do not require supplementary feeding and rarely need to see the vet.

The animals live in natural herds and wander wherever they please. They wallow in streams and water-meadows. They rest where they like (they disdain the open barns left for them as shelter) and eat what they like. The cattle and deer graze on wildflowers and grasses but they also browse among shrubs and trees. The pigs rootle for rhizomes and even dive for swan mussels in ponds. The way they graze, puddle and trample stimulates vegetation in different ways, which in turn creates opportunities for other species, including small mammals and birds.

Crucially, because we don’t dose them with avermectins (the anti-worming agents routinely fed to livestock in intensive systems) or antibiotics, their dung feeds earthworms, bacteria, fungi and invertebrates such as dung beetles, which pull the manure down into the earth. This is a vital process of ecosystem restoration, returning nutrients and structure to the soil. Soil loss is one of the greatest catastrophes facing the world today. A 2015 report from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization states that, globally, 25 to 40bn tonnes of topsoil are lost annually to erosion, thanks mainly to ploughing and intensive cropping. In the UK topsoil depletion is so severe that in 2014 the trade magazine Farmers Weekly announced we may have only 100 harvests left. Letting arable land lie fallow and returning it to grazed pasture for a period – as farmers used to, before artificial fertilisers and mechanisation made continuous cropping possible – is the only way to reverse that process, halt erosion and rebuild soil, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. The grazing livestock not only provide farmers with an income, but the animals’ dung, urine and even the way they graze, accelerates soil restoration. The key is to be organic, and keep livestock numbers low to prevent over-grazing.

Twenty years ago, our soils at the farm – severely degraded after decades of ploughing and chemical inputs – were almost biologically dead. Now we have fruiting fungi and orchids appearing in our former arable fields: an indication that subterranean networks of mycorrhizal fungi are spreading. We have 19 types of earthworm – keystone species responsible for aerating, rotavating, fertilising, hydrating and even detoxifying the soil. We’ve found 23 species of dung beetle in a single cowpat, one of which – the violet dor beetle – hasn’t been seen in Sussex for 50 years. Birds that feed on insects attracted by this nutritious dung are rocketing. The rootling of the pigs provides opportunities for native flora and shrubs to germinate, including sallow, and this has given rise to the biggest colony of purple emperors in Britain, one of our rarest butterflies, which lays its eggs on sallow leaves.

Not only does this system of natural grazing aid the environment in terms of soil restoration, biodiversity, pollinating insects, water quality and flood mitigation – but it also it guarantees healthy lives for the animals, and they in turn produce meat that is healthy for us. In direct contrast to grain-fed and grain-finished meat from intensive systems, wholly pasture-fed meat is high in beta carotene, calcium, selenium, magnesium and potassium and vitamins E and B, and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) – a powerful anti-carcinogen. It is also high in the long-chain omega-3 fatty acid DHA, which is vital for human brain development but extremely difficult for vegans to obtain.

Much has been made of the methane emissions of livestock, but these are lower in biodiverse pasture systems that include wild plants such as angelica, common fumitory, shepherd’s purse and bird’s-foot trefoil because they contain fumaric acid – a compound that, when added to the diet of lambs at the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, reduced emissions of methane by 70%.

In the vegan equation, by contrast, the carbon cost of ploughing is rarely considered. Since the industrial revolution, according to a 2017 report in the science journal Nature, up to 70% of the carbon in our cultivated soils has been lost to the atmosphere.

So there’s a huge responsibility here: unless you’re sourcing your vegan products specifically from organic, “no-dig” systems, you are actively participating in the destruction of soil biota, promoting a system that deprives other species, including small mammals, birds and reptiles, of the conditions for life, and significantly contributing to climate change.

Our ecology evolved with large herbivores – with free-roaming herds of aurochs (the ancestral cow), tarpan (the original horse), elk, bear, bison, red deer, roe deer, wild boar and millions of beavers. They are species whose interactions with the environment sustain and promote life. Using herbivores as part of the farming cycle can go a long way towards making agriculture sustainable.

There’s no question we should all be eating far less meat, and calls for an end to high-carbon, polluting, unethical, intensive forms of grain-fed meat production are commendable. But if your concerns as a vegan are the environment, animal welfare and your own health, then it’s no longer possible to pretend that these are all met simply by giving up meat and dairy. Counterintuitive as it may seem, adding the occasional organic, pasture-fed steak to your diet could be the right way to square the circle.

Source: The Guardian

Grilled Brussels Sprouts with Hazelnut Vinaigrette

Ingredients

1 pound medium Brussels sprouts, stems trimmed and outer leaves removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely diced shallot
1 tablespoon clover honey
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
canola oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped toasted hazelnuts
1 teaspoon grated orange zest

Method

  1. Heat your grill to high. If using wood skewers, soak them in cold water for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and cook until crisp-tender (a skewer inserted into the center meets a little resistance), about 5 minutes. Drain, rinse under cold water, and drain well again. Pat dry with paper towels.
  3. Whisk together the vinegar, shallot, honey, mustard and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl.
  4. Slowly whisk in the oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.
  5. Toss the Brussels sprouts with a few tablespoons canola oil and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Skewer the sprouts onto the skewers and grill on both sides until golden brown and slightly charred and just tender, about 2 minutes per side.
  7. Remove the Brussels sprouts to a cutting board and cut them in half. Transfer to a platter.
  8. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the warm Brussels sprouts and top with the hazelnuts and orange zest.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Source: Chef Bobby Flay

In Pictures: Food of Beyond Sushi Vegan Restaurant in New York City, U.S.A.

Heart Disease Risk Grows as Women Move through Menopause

A marker for heart disease risk considerably worsens as women transition through menopause, according to a new analysis from the largest and longest running study of women’s health in midlife, the Study of Women’s Health Across the Nation (SWAN). Black women experience this accelerated decline earlier in menopause than their white counterparts.

According to the research team, led by scientists at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, the findings add to growing evidence that menopause is a critical time for changes in cardiovascular health and underscore the importance of women and their doctors focusing on heart health during the menopausal transition. The results are reported online and will appear in the March issue of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, a journal of the American Heart Association.

“Midlife is not just a period where women have hot flashes and experience other menopausal symptoms,” said senior author Samar R. El Khoudary, Ph.D., M.P.H., associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “It’s a time when their cardiovascular disease risk is increasing as we see significant changes in multiple clinical measures of their physical health.”

El Khoudary and her team used a subset of data from SWAN Heart, an ancillary study that enrolled women from Pittsburgh and Chicago between 2001 and 2003 and included two examinations of early markers of cardiovascular health over time. Ultimately, 339 women were included in this study, 36% black and the rest white.

The study focused on how arterial stiffness changes as women transition through menopause. Arterial stiffness refers to the elasticity of arteries and is measured by looking at how fast blood flows through arteries. Stiffer arteries can lead to dysfunction in how well the heart pumps and moves blood, and damage to the heart, kidneys and other organs.

The researchers tracked the women through SWAN for up to 12.5 years, or until they reached menopause, allowing them to confidently anchor the arterial stiffness measure to the menopausal transition.

On average, as women went through menopause, their arterial stiffness increased by about 0.9% up to one year before their last menstrual period to about 7.5% within one year before and after their last period, a considerable acceleration. The black women in the study experienced greater increases in arterial stiffness earlier in the transition than white women, more than a year before menopause. The findings held after adjusting for numerous factors that could affect heart health, including waist circumference, blood pressure, lipids, smoking status, physical activity levels and financial stress.

“SWAN is a unique source of data on changes in women’s health over several decades, and this is the latest in a long line of research by our team and others that indicates the menopausal transition is a very important time for heart health,” said lead author Saad Samargandy, M.P.H., a Ph.D. student at Pitt Public Health. “While there are limitations to our study, including that a sizeable minority of the women had their arterial stiffness measured at only one time point, we were still able to see that major changes to cardiovascular disease risk happen around menopause.”

This study follows several others that link the menopausal transition to the accumulation of heart fat, changes in cholesterol, inflammation and coronary artery calcification, among other heart disease risk factors.

“Our study is not able to tell us why we’re seeing these changes during the menopausal transition,” El Khoudary said. “But we speculate that the dramatic hormonal changes accompanying menopause might play a role by increasing inflammation and affecting vascular fat deposition, a hypothesis that we would like to test in future studies.”

Clinical trials will be needed to test if lifestyle interventions, such as changes to diet or physical activity; medications, such as statins or hormone replacement therapy; or even increased screening and tracking of measures of heart health could be beneficial as women go through menopause, she said.

“But we can say, right now, that women should be made aware that their cardiovascular health is likely to worsen as they go through menopause,” El Khoudary said. “Therefore, frequent monitoring of cardiovascular risk factors may be prudent, particularly in black women who are at even greater risk earlier in the menopausal transition.”

Source: EurekAlert!

Eating Disorders are Linked to Exercise Addiction

New research shows that exercise addiction is nearly four times more common amongst people with an eating disorder.

The study, led by Mike Trott of Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), was published this month in the journal Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity.

The research is the first to measure rates of exercise addiction in groups of people with and without the characteristics of an eating disorder, The meta-analysis examined data from 2,140 participants across nine different studies, including from the UK, the US, Australia and Italy.

It found that people displaying characteristics of an eating disorder are 3.7 times more likely to suffer from addiction to exercise than people displaying no indication of an eating disorder.

Trott, a PhD researcher in Sport Science at Anglia Ruskin University (ARU), said:

“It is known that those with eating disorders are more likely to display addictive personality and obsessive-compulsive behaviours. We are also aware that having an unhealthy relationship with food often means an increased amount of exercising, but this is the first time that a risk factor has been calculated.

“It is not uncommon to want to improve our lifestyles by eating healthier and doing more exercise, particularly at the start of the year. However, it is important to moderate this behaviour and not fall victim to ‘crash diets’ or anything that eliminates certain foods entirely, as these can easily lead to eating disorders.

“Our study shows that displaying signs of an eating disorder significantly increases the chance of an unhealthy relationship with exercise, and this can have negative consequences, including mental health issues and injury.

“Health professionals working with people with eating disorders should consider monitoring exercise levels as a priority, as this group have been shown to suffer from serious medical conditions as a result of excessive exercise, such as fractures, increased rates of cardiovascular disease in younger patients, and increased overall mortality.”

Source: Anglia Ruskin University


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