Diana Rodgers (00:00):
The big idea is that saying don’t eat meat because of industrial agriculture is like saying don’t wear clothes because of sweatshops.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:12):
Welcome to the Doctors Farmacy. I’m Dr. Mark Hyman. And that’s Farmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y, a place for conversations that matter. And if you’re confused about meat, and you’re confused about the impact of meat on climate, on health, then this is the podcast you want to listen to because it’s with two extraordinary thinkers in this space. A farmer herself, Diana Rodgers, and a thought leader in the space of nutrition, who has been one of my heroes, and has really taught me a lot about what to eat and what not to eat.
Dr. Mark Hyman (00:42):
Robb Wolf is a former research biochemist. He’s a two time New York Times bestselling author of The Paleo Solution and Wired to Eat. He’s also been your reviewer for the Journal of Nutrition Metabolism, and he’s worked with the Navy Special Warfare resiliency program. He’s on the board of advisors and directors of a number of different groups, and he’s doing a great job educating people with his incredible movement called Healthy Rebellion with the goal of liberating one million people from the sick care system. Why just one million? Why not a billion? I don’t know, you’re thinking small there, Robb.
Robb Wolf (01:16):
Once you get the million, and we have a proof of concept, and everybody will steal it, and the rest will happen. So yeah, that’s the plan.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:23):
He’s also the executive producer of the film, Sacred Cow, which we’re going to talk about, and I’m so excited about this film, not only because I’m in it, but because it’s a fabulous explanation of some of the more confusing issues around meat and why we should or shouldn’t be eating meat. And if so, which meat and where was it grown, and so on and so forth. So the next guest we have today is Diana Rodgers. She’s a RD and nutritionist, a dietician, a real food nutritionist, and she actually is not only a nutritionist, but she lives on a working organic farm near Boston.
Dr. Mark Hyman (01:56):
She’s an author, she runs a clinical nutrition practice, she hosts the Sustainable Dish podcast and is an advisory board member of the Animal Welfare Approved and Savory Institute. So she’s really a fantastic woman who’s been courageous in putting forth a documentary, and a book, Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat, which launches in the summer of 2020. And you can find more at sustainabledish.com and sacredcow.info. So welcome, Diana and Robb.
Robb Wolf (02:28):
Diana Rodgers (02:28):
Thank you. Thank you so much for having us.
Dr. Mark Hyman (02:30):
Okay, let’s get right into it. We have this incredible debate in this country. Recently, a New York Times editorial by Jonathan Safran Foer talking about how, with COVID now, it’s the time to end meat. We just need to stop eating all meat. It’s a solution to all our problems, health problems, climate problems, human abuse of animal problems, and it’s just a no-brainer. What do you say to that?
Diana Rodgers (02:54):
Actually, Robb and I did a pretty epic breakdown of that just the other day on his podcast, and we kind of went point by point through the whole article. But the big idea is that saying don’t eat meat because of industrial agriculture is like saying don’t wear clothes because of sweatshops. So it’s not really the meat’s problem, it’s not the cow’s problem, it’s how they’re managed. And the industrial food system itself is a mess. So is a row crops enteric agriculture and so to just pin it on all meat and not take into account the big problems that we have what the system is just a very simplistic view.
Robb Wolf (03:37):
And it really ignores the potential for the regenerative side of the story, too. It’s not just that there’s a problem there, but we might actually be jettisoning the one legit solution that we have to so many of the issues that it does raise.
Dr. Mark Hyman (03:51):
Yeah. So on one hand where we have the conversation going on that climate change is driven in large part by factory farming of animals. And on the other hand, you’ve got the regenerative agriculture movement saying that the salvation for climate change is more animals grown in regenerative ways. So it’s a complete polar opposite. And what was striking to me about that article was that I didn’t disagree with him that factory farming should be abolished, it should be banned. And thank God that Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren put in a bill in the Senate to ban factory farming by 2040. Great idea, and it’s bad for the animals, it’s bad for humans, it’s bad for the climate and the environment. I think there’s no argument there.
Dr. Mark Hyman (04:33):
But he completely ignored the science around how we have to deal with climate change, which is through regenerative agriculture. So we’re going to break this story down into climate, which is a big environmental and climate argument against meat, health, which is another factor, and of course, animal welfare. Those are the three big Boogeyman that seemed to get all conflated, and the solution for all of it is becoming a vegan. But is it really the solution?
Robb Wolf (05:05):
We wish it was, honestly, because then we could just jump on that very popular bandwagon and our lives would be much easier than what they are trying to sell this contrarian position for sure.
Dr. Mark Hyman (05:16):
Yeah. So it’s not so simple, right? Now, if you look at it, how did we come to this idea that meat is the enemy? How did Jonathan, say, before … He’s a smart guy, come to this conclusion, and where did he go wrong?
Diana Rodgers (05:32):
There’s just so much misinformation out there. And I think what it really boils down to is we’re so divorced from food production, and we’re so divorced from the idea that that death is part of life. We don’t have to deal with grandma in the backyard, killing a chicken for dinner. We farm out human death. And so we just don’t want to think about it and people like to think of death as the end instead of just a point in a circle that actually has to happen in order for new life to come. And just because you’re not eating animal flesh on your plate does not mean that death didn’t happen. So where I live it’s an organic vegetable farm. We raise pasture-raised animals as well, but there’s tons of death that happens even for organic vegetables, let alone conventionally raised vegetables.
Dr. Mark Hyman (06:21):
What do you mean?
Diana Rodgers (06:23):
Well, in order to make a field …
Dr. Mark Hyman (06:26):
Diana Rodgers (06:27):
… to plant crops, you have to annihilate whatever was there before. So whether it was a grassland, a prairie, a forest, I mean, vegetable fields aren’t just a naturally occurring thing. So you have to get rid of the habitat of all the animals that were there before. And then even with organic agriculture, there’s organically approved pesticides and we brand praying mantis to take care of the aphids. I mean, there is death, it’s just more organic death, but it definitely happens.
Diana Rodgers (07:01):
And so we can’t escape it, and there’s this thing called the principle of least harm, which really looks at all the death that happens in order for your bread to get on the table. And a typical vegan type diet, and if you really look at that and all the little mice and everything else that’s killed through tractors and pesticides and everything else, one large ruminant animal that’s raised in regenerative way, that’s actually increasing biodiversity is a much less harm option than completely avoiding meat together.
Dr. Mark Hyman (07:39):
Yeah, so there’s birds. Bird populations have declined 50% in industrial agriculture, and all the insects running and counting. I mean, the thing about regenerative agriculture, it’s so interesting is that you see the resurgence of life. So while you may be killing a cow, you’re getting far more wildlife, far more bird life, far more insect life so you’re actually increasing the number of living things on a farm when you do that, which is kind of fascinating and sort of contradicts our traditional view.
Diana Rodgers (08:09):
Yeah. Oh, I was just going to mention, Robb, that the Audubon Society is actually partnering … What were you going to say? Go ahead then.
Robb Wolf (08:15):
Yeah, it’s interesting. The Audubon Society kind of a beacon of environmental stewardship. They’ve had a long history of fairly adversarial relationship with meat production. But more recently, they’ve seen some of the activity on savory hubs and similar farms. And what they find is literally they’re looking at the canary in the coal mine, but these birds are returning and when these birds returned, it means that their basic habitat is getting reestablished, their different food systems, the food networks. And so it’s really heartening, and this is an organization that is well-established, really dot the I’s and crosses its T’s. So when it kind of lends its support to something like this, there’s probably something to be learned there.
Dr. Mark Hyman (09:05):
Yeah, for sure. I mean, also, people who eat organic food don’t realize how organic food is grown. And maybe we can talk a little bit about that. I remember, I was in Brooklyn at this place called Brooklyn Grand, which was the biggest rooftop farm in Brooklyn, on top of the Old Navy Yard and it was just gorgeous organic farm on the top of this roof. And it was sort of mid-summer and all the vegetables are growing, and I was taking a tour of the farm. I was like, “So how do you take care of the soil on the roof here? What do you do?” “Well, we get bone meal and we get oyster shells.” I’m like, “Really? So your broccoli is a carnivore?” And people don’t understand that a lot of the compost comes from factory farms, from organic farms. So there’s a lot of challenges with even growing vegetables in organic way if you’re not integrating animals into the system to put the nutrients back in the soil, which is what they’re designed to do.
Diana Rodgers (09:58):
Completely and that’s what we do here on the farm and we actually were near Gloucester, Massachusetts, so we get fishmeal leftover from the fishing industry here that would have no other use in our food system other than turning it into really nutrient dense fertilizer that we can use on the fields. And actually, we have a story in our book about my 10-year-old daughter, witnessing a coyote ate a sheep on our farm. And I had to talk to her about that. And no, the coyote wasn’t bad. It was just doing its job as a coyote. Unfortunately, these things happen, we try our best to protect them. But the rest of that sheep is actually going to go and feed the kale that you’re eating for dinner.
Diana Rodgers (10:39):
And so she actually told me, “Oh, so it’s impossible to be a vegan.” So it is. I mean, I’ve seen some reports of this veganic agriculture using algae, but I’ve looked at the science with that and there’s a lot of greenhouse gas emissions associated with that. And then not everyone lives near an algae production facility. So how are you going to truck it around? What we want is as closed the loop system as possible, something that has all the inputs right there as much as possible. And so if you’re trying to do that you absolutely have to have animals as part of any kind of healthy food system because out in the wild there are no animalist ecosystems.
Dr. Mark Hyman (11:29):
Interesting. So you’re talking about sort of being vegan is kind of a myth.
Diana Rodgers (11:33):
I believe it is. Yeah.
Dr. Mark Hyman (11:34):
Yeah, that if you really look at the full circle of life, like they talked about the Lion King, there is a circle of life and it involves destruction and it’s inherently destructive act. My wife freaks out because our cat goes out in the yard and we have a beautiful yard and there’s chipmunks and squirrels and mice and it’s always bringing home something and it just makes her nuts. And then finally she started just understanding that this is just what life does and it’s not bad or good. You can’t say that cats are being bad doing what it’s sort of doing because it’s part of what it’s evolved to do.
Dr. Mark Hyman (12:13):
And I think we haven’t really had as a human civilization that has been vegan until very recently. We have been consuming animal products since the dawn of human existence. And Robb, you talked about how you were a vegan and I was a vegetarian vegan for 10 years. And how did it work for you? You’re in your 20s, I was in my 20s, too, and you said your body wasn’t great. What do you mean by that?
Robb Wolf (12:40):
Yeah, it’s interesting. I was a California State powerlifting champion. I’m 5’9″, about 170, 175 pounds right now. When I was competing in powerlifting, I was about 185 pounds, pretty lean, pretty muscular, and I shifted towards a vegetarian and then a vegan diet, and continued to eat the same caloric load. But I noticed that I just started losing muscle mass and really losing weight ultimately. And it was interesting because I had a whole host of GI problems that had kind of ramped up slowly over time. And it just got worse and worse, and by the low ebb of my vegan experiment, I was about 130 pounds. Hair was falling out, although that process has continued a new [crosstalk 00:13:27]
Dr. Mark Hyman (13:26):
Wait, you lost 55 pounds?
Robb Wolf (13:29):
Yeah, yeah. And ultimately, I discovered I had celiac disease, also, some other kind of not really that tolerant to legumes and whatnot. And really, honestly, I don’t do super well with a really high fiber diet like green salad is not my friend at all. And it’s taken a long time to figure all that out. But it was a really interesting experiment because I focused on whole unprocessed foods with the exclusion of animal products. I tried to keep the calorie level the same, but I just to hopefully not provide a TMI moment but things came out the same way they went in. Like I would just basically not digesting or absorbing much of anything.
Dr. Mark Hyman (14:13):
Well, it sounds like a gut problem.
Robb Wolf (14:14):
Massive gut problem, and celiac was a major factor in that. There was definitely some small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. I was living in Seattle at the time also, and I don’t think I had seen the sun for about a year so I suspect my vitamin D was at wrecked levels. So there were multiple factors that are like if I had moved to Arizona where it was a warm, sunny environment, I might have navigated that better. Like my health is generally better in a warmer, sunnier environment, but in that circumstance, it was kind of a perfect storm of graduate school, a diet that didn’t work for me and lack of sunlight, that whole circadian biology piece.
Dr. Mark Hyman (14:55):
Yeah, and then and then you went back to eating meat? And what happened?
Robb Wolf (14:59):
Yeah, it was interesting. My mother had had years of different health issues and she called me one day and she said, “You know, my rheumatologist ran a bunch of studies on me and I have celiac disease,” and she described it to me. That was the first time I’d ever heard of that. And she said that the rheumatologist said that she was reactive to grains, legumes, and dairy. And I was listening to that and being a vegan at the time the dairy part was like, “Yeah, okay. Obviously, dairy products are problematic,” but no grains, no legumes? What on earth would one eat in a situation like that?
Robb Wolf (15:35):
And it was just kind of a free association and I was thinking about I’m like, “Okay, grains and legumes. That’s agriculture. What came before agriculture?” And this concept popped into my head, a Paleolithic diet. Now mind you, this was 1998. And so very early in this whole story. I went into my house, turned on the dial up. We did it for the computer to dial up, and then there was a new search engine called Google and into Google, I put the term Paleolithic diet. And I found some work by Arthur De Vany and also Loren Cordain, who I ultimately did a research fellowship with. And Lauren had just published this paper, Cereal Grains: Humanity’s Double-Edged Sword, which is really an amazing piece. And it described all of these gut issues and nutrient deficiencies associated with grain consumption. And clearly, this isn’t a universality. Some people do great on these foods, but not everybody.
Dr. Mark Hyman (16:30):
Robb Wolf (16:31):
And then if we take a little bit of a chapter from the [inaudible 00:16:33] price side of the table, soaking, sprouting, fermenting, all those things are clearly beneficial. But when I found this information, it made a lot of sense. And I mean, I was facing a bowel resection at this time, the whole sort of colitis at the age of 26, 27. And I knew enough about medicine to know that that doesn’t ultimately end well nor does it really lead to a long healthy life, and so I reintroduced some meat in the form of some beef ribs, and I had a melon, and it was the best night of sleep that I had had in about three years. And really that would, for the last 22 years, that’s largely the way I’ve eaten.
Dr. Mark Hyman (17:11):
Melon and beef ribs.
Robb Wolf (17:14):
Sometimes some dark chocolate in there, too. But yeah, those are the mainstays.
Speaker 4 (17:18):
Hi, everyone, hope you’re enjoying the episode. Before we continue, we have a quick message from
Dr. Mark Hyman about his new company Farmacy and their first product The 10 Day Reset.
Dr. Mark Hyman (17:27):
Hey, it’s Dr. Hyman. Do you have FLC? What’s FLC? It’s when you feel like crap. It’s a problem that so many people suffer from and often have no idea that it’s not normal, or that you can fix it. I mean you know the feeling, it’s when you’re super sluggish, your digestion is off, you can’t think clearly. Or you have brain fog or you just feel rundown. Can you relate? I know most people can. But the real question is what the heck do we do about it? Well, I hate to break the news, but there’s no magic bullet. FLC isn’t caused by one single thing. So there’s not one single solution.
Dr. Mark Hyman (17:59):
However, there is a systems-based approach, a way to tackle the multiple root factors that contribute to FLC. And I call that system The 10 Day Reset. The 10 Day Reset combines food, key lifestyle habits and targeted supplements to address FLC straight on. It’s a protocol that I’ve used with thousands of my community members to help them get their health back on track. It’s not a magic bullet. It’s not a quick fix. It’s a system that works. If you want to learn more and get your health back on track, click on the button below or visit getfarmacy.com, that’s getfarmacy with an F, F-A-R-M-A-C-Y .com.
Speaker 4 (18:34):
Now back to this week’s episode.
Dr. Mark Hyman (18:36):
All right, well, let’s dig into the climate and environmental issue a little bit more because you talk a lot about this in your book and you talk a lot about it in the movie, which is compelling. And there’s a lot of data and it’s out there about why animals are bad for the climate and the environment. And I think it’s estimated that about 14% of greenhouse gases, 14 and a half percent are from in animal agriculture. It’s estimated that our water use, 70% of our freshwater use as humans is to irrigate crops for animals to eat, so we can eat them. There’s a lot of data showing how it takes a lot of water to produce a pound of beef. There’s data on how we are actually causing more environmental destruction and loss of biodiversity and all these things. So this is sort of the traditional view, which is why it seems so clear that we should not eat factory for meat. But what is the sort of bigger picture around regenerative agriculture? What is regenerative agriculture? Why is it different and how can it scale?
Diana Rodgers (19:42):
Well, there are definitely … All of these statistics attributed to cattle, I have to say even typical beef has been overly vilified. So the 14.5% of greenhouse gases attributed to cattle that was done looking at a full lifecycle of cattle. So birth, transportation, processing, everything it takes to get it to your plate. But then when that was compared to transportation industry, it was only the tailpipe emissions. So it wasn’t a full lifecycle assessment because we don’t have those numbers globally for transportation. And so if you were to look at just the tailpipe, or belching, as it is from cattle, it’s about 5% of emissions.
Dr. Mark Hyman (20:33):
That’s methane. You’re talking about methane.
Diana Rodgers (20:35):
Yes, of methane compared to fossil fuels. And then when we consider that the methane from ruminant animals is part of a biological cycle. So I’ve got this poster behind me here and it’s in the book and on the website, but basically, when the cattle breathe out methane, which is part of their digestive system, it goes into the air and then is broken into H2O, part of the water cycle and then CO2. The CO2 is taken up by the plants, they give off O2, which is what we breathe, they take in that carbon, and then leak it down to the microbes and all the fungi networks, and so they’re feeding them and then these microbes and fungi are actually feeding the plant back all the nutrients it needs, the fungi are actually going and mining minerals in the rocks. And then this is kind of a long story, I guess. When we [crosstalk 00:21:35]
Dr. Mark Hyman (21:35):
Let’s just unpack that for people, because it was such a beautiful thing you just described, which is that the plant extracts carbon from the environment, puts it down into the roots. That carbon feeds the microbiology of the soil, the fungi and the bacteria. Then the bacteria and fungi then, in turn, extract nutrients from the soil to feed the plant, which then makes the plant more nutritious and the food more nutritious.
Diana Rodgers (22:03):
Yeah, so that’s in a healthy good system. That’s how it works.
Robb Wolf (22:07):
Except really, none of that happens in a conventional row crop model. Like that whole process is interrupted. There is no mining of nutrients out of the soil, there is no sequestering of carbon via the roots so that whole process is really hijacked.
Dr. Mark Hyman (22:25):
So essentially, what you’re saying is that modern agriculture doesn’t produce living soil. So there’s none of this going on. There’s maybe a few bugs in there, a little bit of fungi, but it’s not meaningful, and it doesn’t actually allow for proper nutrition of the plants. It doesn’t allow for the storage of water and carbon in the soil. So it’s a different view of how do we farm, right?
Diana Rodgers (22:48):
Yeah. Robb, go ahead.
Robb Wolf (22:49):
Yeah. Doc, I just wanted to throw something in there really quickly to this concern around greenhouse gases is important, but folks really need a nuanced approach to this and where this is turning into a problem. There have been research papers looking at the discovery that, say, shellfish produce enormous amounts of methane. Moose in the Northern European tundra produce significant amounts of methane. This is an indication of a healthy, dynamic ecosystem. And people are calling on calling moose and see floor shellfish to reduce carbon emissions. And this is where it’s incredibly dangerous to get this story wrong because people are now rushing to judgment in a way that would actually reduce biodiversity and huge tracts of the ocean being barren is not good for anyone.
Dr. Mark Hyman (23:44):
Yeah, killing moose doesn’t seem a good solution to climate change.
Robb Wolf (23:48):
Really, it’s not the place to look. Yeah, yeah.
Dr. Mark Hyman (23:51):
Yeah. It’s so powerful. I think that the methane story is interesting because you’re sort of unpacking that, Diana, which is that when the cows released methane, we think that’s terrible. But in fact, it’s probably only a third of the methane that’s released from greenhouse gases methane from landfills, from food waste, which is mostly plant food. So all the wasted vegetables and scraps you throw out they rot in landfills, and they produce methane, which is three times the amount of methane and cows produce. And then there’s another piece, which I’d love you to explain, which is how maybe methane isn’t such an issue if you look at a properly run regenerative farm because there’s ways of capturing that methane. Can you explain that?
Diana Rodgers (24:36):
Yeah, so that’s what I was about to go to next. So when the cow chews on the grass, and we have an amazing animation in the film by given by Jason Roundtree, who is a professor at Michigan State University, and he’s the one doing all this cutting edge research on cattle and methane. So when the cattle chew the grass, then the roots die back as part of that process. When you take the animals then off and allow the land to rest, those roots will grow back stronger, and all the dead material that’s in there mixing with the bacteria and everything that’s stored carbon that’s actually building new topsoil.
Diana Rodgers (25:12):
So the Midwest is not America’s breadbasket because of corn farming or kale farming. It’s because there were bison there for hundreds of thousands of years pooping across the North America. And when you look at the number of ruminant animals we have today, our beef cattle population is actually less than the ruminants we had before we got rid of the bison. So in the 1700s, when we had all the bison plus the pronghorn, plus the elk, all of those animals, we actually we had more ruminant animals than it [crosstalk 00:25:50]
Dr. Mark Hyman (25:50):
Yeah, it was 168 million then and now it’s about 90 something million, so yeah. Can you talk about [crosstalk 00:25:56]
Diana Rodgers (25:55):
So cattle have taken over but it’s not really a methane issue as opposed to fossil fuels, which are mining ancient trapped carbon and methane in the earth’s core and then releasing them straight into the atmosphere, and they’re not part of a cycle. That’s an unbalanced equation.
Dr. Mark Hyman (26:15):
What was really interesting also is that there’s a cycle where bacteria, there’s a certain type of bacteria called methanotropes that suck the methane on a regenerative farm, out of the air, and basically store it so the net net is low. And then there’s all the other cool things you can do like grow plants that have high levels of tannins that when the animals eat those plants foraging on them as plants on a regenerative branch, it reduces the amount of methane because of the effect of these phytochemicals on the bacteria. And then they can feed them seaweed, which people are talking about doing, which also reduces. So there’s a lot of interesting strategies to mitigate of this. But the net net on a regenerative farm is it still contributing to climate change or is it not?
Diana Rodgers (26:58):
Well, so fossil fuels are just, I mean, greenhouse gases are just one component of ecosystem function, right? So we have to look at what processes are contributing to the most biodiversity and the healthiest ecosystems. And so that’s where when you talk about impossible foods and oh, we’re better as far as our greenhouse gases, they actually did a study with white oak pastures grass-fed beef, and found that for every impossible burger or beyond burger you ate you needed to eat one of those grass-fed burgers from white oak pastures in order to offset your emissions and [crosstalk 00:27:36]
Dr. Mark Hyman (27:36):
So if you eat meat burger with your plant burger, you’re good.
Robb Wolf (27:41):
Then your carbon neutral thing. Yeah, this was performed by an outfit called Quantis, which they do lifecycle analyses and it’s a remarkably complex and expensive process where they look at all the thermodynamic inputs and outputs for different scenarios like this. And it was fascinating because Quantis did this completely separately for both the impossible foods and the white oak pastures. But had these pretty fascinating results.
Dr. Mark Hyman (28:09):
Yeah, I compared them. That was interesting. Yeah, I saw the same thing. So a feedlot burger definitely is worse than a impossible burger. But it’s definitely not as good as a regenerative burger. And I think so much we’ve had on our podcast about this. I had Gabe Brown on our podcast and we’ve seen some really interesting characters discussing this aspect of return of agriculture and carbon and carbon sequestration. I think you have a great quote in your book, which is, “It’s not the cow, it’s the how.” So it’s not the cows are the enemy, it’s how are they raised. And what is their life like for them? How is raising those animals increase the life of the entire ecosystem on the farm, the biodiversity of plants, animals, insects, birds, mammals that are all in place. And then what is the quality of the food.
Dr. Mark Hyman (28:58):
Before we sort of dive into the health aspects, which I think is a big issue, because maybe we could convince people that regenerative agriculture is definitely good for the environment and climate, but people are going to still go, “Well, yeah, it’s me, but it means bad for your health.” So I want to come back to that. But we’re talking about these practices and you address this in your book, and a lot of people argue that well, it sounds like a great idea but this is a sort of a niche area. This is not scalable, that we really can’t feed the world using regenerative agriculture. What do you say to that?
Diana Rodgers (29:32):
I’m going to pass that to Robb because he just answered that really well on the other podcasts we did just the other day.
Robb Wolf (29:37):
Oh, no pressure because that we’ll see if I can it together. When you do lots of these interviews back to back you feel like you’re losing your mind because you wonder, did I actually tell this story already? And so [crosstalk 00:29:51]
Dr. Mark Hyman (29:51):
Oh, you did. You’re good, you’re good, you’re good. You got it.
Robb Wolf (29:55):
It’s interesting because it might be helpful to actually flip this around the the other way and ask the question, is there any way but regenerative agriculture that we could feed a global population that’s heading towards 10 billion people? And just as a null hypothesis as a good scientist, people should at least stop and ask that question instead of rushing to judgment immediately on this. But when we start unpacking all of these different pieces, Diana’s already talked about one piece, which is this kind of carbon sequestration element. And implicit in that is the health of topsoil. And although there were several things that we would have loved to run with, because it would have bolstered our position, there is a meme out there that says we have 60 harvests left of topsoil. Nobody knows exactly where that came from. Diana tracked it down to like a World Health Organization.
Dr. Mark Hyman (30:50):
The UN, yeah.
Robb Wolf (30:50):
Dr. Mark Hyman (30:52):
Also, Obama before he left office commissioned a report, which was about soil and he’s estimated 80 years. So this is not just a random number.
Robb Wolf (31:05):
The thing we tracked down that it was a bit of an offhand comment at a UN meeting, and it’s taken on a life of its own. And when you really get in and try to find a really concrete spot, maybe it’s 60 years, maybe it’s 80 years, but conventional practices of raising row crops, it definitely has an end date on it. It’s not something that we could go away for 1,000 years come back, and it’s still functional. But this regenerative farm, this is the way that food was produced on Earth since the transition from hunter gatherer to different forms of agriculture. It was a biodynamic system between animals and plants.
Robb Wolf (31:47):
And we’ve learned lots of stuff into the process of doing that. But those systems more closely mimic what an ecosystem is with that interface of plants and animals. It’s a very thermodynamically efficient process. And by that what I mean is that sun is going to fall on the earth no matter what. Are we going to have lots and lots of grass grown in that process? And then that grass consumed by herbivores and then other animals interfacing in that? Or do we try to expunge that and rely exclusively on synthetic chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which are the backbone of the industrial agriculture system?
Robb Wolf (32:30):
And one further piece to this is that the regenerative systems do not involve food becoming intellectual property, IP. But what has happened in this industrial row crop food system is that the stated goal is to make this like a technology model to have this food owned as IP by supernatural organizations that are not beholden to any government-
Dr. Mark Hyman (32:55):
You mean deceive companies that own the seeds, the proprietary seeds. Yeah, the farmers has to buy it. It puts them in a vicious cycle. It’s pretty bad. But to push a little harder on this question, I get the concept of regenerative culture, I think people can understand that it’s a better way of farming. But many people say, “Well, we got 10 billion people coming along. How are we going to feed them all unless we do large scale agriculture?” How does that work?
Diana Rodgers (33:23):
So we already are producing way more food than we need. There’s a lot of food waste, and anyone who’s hungry or malnourished, that’s a political problem and a distribution problem. It’s not a food production problem. So that’s just the first thing I wanted to say about that. But secondly, we did go through all the acreage in the US that is underutilized or not utilized. So there are CRP land that the government is restricting grazing on that could be opened up for grazing. There’s a lot of private land that’s not being grazed or it’s being under grazed. With regenerative agriculture even a very conservative estimate is that it increases land carrying capacity by 30%.
Diana Rodgers (34:06):
But I’m sure you’ve heard from the other guests that you’ve had on your show that they’ve seen much, much higher number. So Joel Salatin is four to five times the county average as far as the food that he’s able to produce on his land. So if we take a very conservative 30% increase, we go through all the numbers in the book, we have a whole chapter on feeding the world. We take the ethanol industry and turn that into pasture. And then some of the corn that’s actually grown specifically for livestock taken out and turned into grass. We have more than enough land to grass finish all the beef cattle in the United States and all cattle start on grass. They’re either just finished on a feedlot or they’re finished on grass, and so we’re really just looking at can we finish our cattle in the US on grass? And yes, we can.
Dr. Mark Hyman (35:01):
And people say, “Well, it takes longer to raise cattle on grass, so they’re going to release more methane emissions. They’re going to use more water.” How do you address that?
Diana Rodgers (35:10):
Well, yeah, I wanted to talk about water really quickly. So we already addressed the methane is really a non-issue when the animals are raised properly. We’re actually sequestering more carbon and when there’s more carbon in the soil, it actually attract … Carbon attracts H2O, and so it actually will store more water in the soil when you have healthy soil. So when we have flat soil that is not covered at all and it rains, it just runs off. It runs off into our waterways and it takes all the chemicals with it from industrial chemical agriculture. If you picture a cornfield with just those sticks of corn but nothing actually in between that.
Diana Rodgers (35:52):
In a regenerative system, the soil is more like a sponge. So it’s less about the water you get from the air and more about the water you can actually hold in the soil. Most of the water attributed to cattle is actually green water. So it’s rainwater that would fall anyway. And so it’s very important to look at the methodology. We do that in nutrition science, but we have to really look at the methodology in all of these environmental studies, too. So 94% of the water footprint for even typical cattle is green is rain. 97% in grass-fed water is rain. So the blue water, the water that we actually use for irrigation, that’s from aquifers is a very, very small percentage of the water. So it’s not like the cattle are just sucking these blimps that are just sucking and wasting water …
Dr. Mark Hyman (36:42):
No, but they’re also using the irrigation for corn and soybeans are used for-
Diana Rodgers (36:46):
But that’s taken into account in the water footprint so it’s still part of that 94%. So when you compare the blue water footprint, which is what we should be looking at, what is the irrigation footprint what is the, not natural rainfall, but what is the blue water footprint?
Robb Wolf (37:02):
Aquifers, [crosstalk 00:37:03] streams.
Diana Rodgers (37:04):
Yep. Beef is actually even typical beef is better than rice, sugar, avocados, and almonds.
Dr. Mark Hyman (37:12):
Wow, incredible. I also read that in terms of the speed to growth to market, which is one of the arguments that’s used against regenerative agriculture that it depends on what they eat. And we had Fred Provenza on our podcast who’s incredible range land biologist and he said if you get diverse grasses that have certain compounds and then phytochemicals and tannins, it actually accelerates the growth so it’s about the same amount of time. And of course, they have a much happier life. And they’re less stressed and they get to do their natural thing.
Dr. Mark Hyman (37:46):
The other thing that’s fascinating about it, I still want to get into this a little bit is the health issue. What was fascinating to me was animals learn how to seek out the nutrients they need in the plants they’re eating. So if left to their own devices and there’s a large enough diversity of plants, they will actually find the nutrients and the phytochemicals that they actually require for helping. You see this now. I was watching this thing the other night with my wife. It was a kind of like a David Attenborough nature film, I like those nature films. And it showed these these baboons eating, like licking the rocks, like licking the rocks to get minerals.
Dr. Mark Hyman (38:28):
Animals know what to get and what they need. And these animals will literally go around and find the nutrients that they need and the flavor profile of the plants and will actually drive their choices and make me healthier and actually lead to the increases in phytochemicals and decreases in methane production and increases in growth. That happened as a result of the animals having the choice of what they’re eating and having diverse plants. He said on Gabe Brown’s farm they had over a hundred different grasses and plants that these animals were eating.
Dr. Mark Hyman (39:01):
And what are they going to feedlot a couple of different things. It was corn and groundup this and that maybe some Skittles. So talk to me about the the health issues. Because if we can do this, if the science is there, if it’s scalable, if it actually helps reverse climate change, increase biodiversity, there are health concerns that people have about eating meat. And before I actually jump onto that, I just want to sort of come back to a point you made about how regenerative agriculture is what we’ve always done. I think it’s happened in pockets. But humans have been rapacious and they have over grazed lands, they’ve turned many years to desert. We’ve destroyed soils and civilizations.
Dr. Mark Hyman (39:43):
David Montgomery has written a whole book about this. So I think that humans aren’t the most conscious ecological creatures and they tended to destroy ecosystems. This happened even before in industrial agriculture. But I think of this as 2.0 agriculture, this is definitely an upgrade and includes concepts and ideas that mimic nature as best as possible. And that’s what makes it so unique. So I think that’s really important. So let’s talk about the health issues. You mentioned your health a little bit. What about the idea that meat is bad for your health, and then it causes cancer and heart disease and diabetes? Because if you read the literature, this is pretty much what you’re going to come away with.
Robb Wolf (40:21):
Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot of different ways to go after that. We can look at it a little bit from an anthropology long view that meat has been a part of human nutrition for quite some time, somewhere between two and three million years. That’s not proof in and of itself, but it’s maybe an interesting direction to look. But when we really dig into nutritional science, there’s a case to be made that it’s just not really that well-performed. It’s incredibly complex, very expensive to try to sequester large groups of people in a controlled environment, put them on a very specific dietary regimen and expect them to live their whole lives under these conditions.
Robb Wolf (41:00):
So we’ve done the best that we can. And we had some real wins with epidemiology like looking at tobacco consumption and its relationship to various types of cancer. But in that scenario, we hit it so big on that. And it was so compelling the relationship between tobacco consumption, various types of cancer depends on two types of cancer and the way that tobacco is consumed, but it may be upwards of 10,000% the relationship. They’re very, very powerful, very compelling. When we look at things like the rates of colon cancer just in the background of a standard westernized population, it’s about 5%.
Robb Wolf (41:40):
And then when we look at the nutritional sciences been done on this, they ask people to recall what did you eat last month, last year, and some of these really popular studies ask people to recall what they were eating as long as 12 years in the past. So these things have been found to be incredibly flawed from a data collection standpoint. But even let’s just say that these people had absolutely perfect recollection. And they didn’t lie and didn’t say that they ate things that they did or vice versa-
Dr. Mark Hyman (42:12):
Well, humans typically will over report on things that are supposed to be good for you and under report on things that are bad for you. So you say how many vegetables you ate? 10. How much cake did you eat? None. Whereas maybe it’s the opposite.
Robb Wolf (42:24):
Exactly. Yeah, yeah. So we know that that’s true, but even-
Dr. Mark Hyman (42:28):
Humans are liars.
Robb Wolf (42:32):
But then we have this data that’s really suspect right at the beginning, and then it kind of gets tortured via statistical manipulation. And at the end of the day, what we find is that the best studies that we have looking at this and colon cancer is maybe one of the best ones to consider if one were to eat red or processed meat every day of their life, the background likelihood, the absolute likelihood of cancer goes from 5% for everybody to 6% if you eat red meat every single day of your life.
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:12):
That’s a 20% increase.
Robb Wolf (43:14):
That’s a 20% increase if you play the relative risk game and even with a-
Dr. Mark Hyman (43:19):
How you spin it, right?
Robb Wolf (43:20):
Yeah, yeah, so there’s massive spin there. But like Dr. John Ionnidis has been pretty vocal in making the case that we shouldn’t do any more nutritional science research like this because it really doesn’t tell us anything. We should either step out of the game of trying to tell folks what to eat based off of really, really poor science, or we should kind of buckle down and do the type of really big expensive studies that will finally put some of this to rest. And I don’t want to get out in the weeds too far on this, but people will oftentimes say, “The World Health Organization categorizes meat as a class one carcinogen just like tobacco and plutonium and whatnot.” The way that they go about doing that, that it’s a qualitative relationship but they offer no quantitative features to it, which I find, as a biochemist, I find that fascinating. So we know-
Dr. Mark Hyman (44:17):
So tobacco could be 10,000%, and meat could be 1%, and they both get lumped in together.
Robb Wolf (44:22):
Exactly. Yeah. And again, this is all still based … I asked one of the researchers is it … Because protein broadly gets lumped into this as a class one carcinogen and I said, “Could that be an artifact of the fact that you have to have protein to be alive?” And he was like, “That could, in fact, be possible.” So I mean, there are some really interesting statistical aberrations that can be tweaked and fiddled in that. I mean, at the end of the day, there are cultures that eat lots of animal products and very few animal products. But if they don’t eat refined food products, they tend to do much better than [crosstalk 00:45:04]
Dr. Mark Hyman (45:03):
Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the problem is that most people are eating meat or whatever in the context of a very poor diet. So one of my favorite studies was they looked at vegetarians and meat eaters, who both shopped at health food store, meaning they were likely to actually be eating an overall Whole Foods healthy diet. And it was 11,000 people, it was a big study. And again, it was similar observational study, but still you think there was something there you’d see it. And there was a 50% reduction in death in both groups. So just getting rid of the crap is probably the most important thing. And then you can kind of vary what you want to eat.
Dr. Mark Hyman (45:42):
And not everybody has to eat meat if they don’t want to, but it is more challenging to get the nutrient density that you need. And it’s also important to understand that we cannot, even if we eliminated all cows and animals from animal agriculture, the 40% of the land that we have for agriculture cannot be used to grow crops. It’s poor quality land that can only grow grasses, that animals can upcycle into incredibly nutrient dense food that we can use and can upcycle it by taking the nutrients out of the plants, and upcycling them whether they’re phytochemicals, minerals, antioxidants, omega-3 fats.
Dr. Mark Hyman (46:23):
I mean, I had Gabe brown on the podcast, which just blew my mind when he talked about the levels of omega-3 fats that he was getting in the feedlot cows, the ratio of omega-6, maybe up to six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 20 to one omega-6 to omega-3. His is about one-to-one in his regenerative raised cows. So all these things play a huge role in the quality of what we’re eating. So it’s not only how we raise the animals that affects climate change, it’s how we raise them affects the nutritional quality of the meat.
Dr. Mark Hyman (46:56):
So in most of these studies, by the way, we’re done on feedlot meat. So not everybody who’s eating regenerative raised cow that’s eating 100 species of plants. It’s affecting the quality of their meat and the quality of the fats in their meat. And if we did that, we’d have a different answer. So I think it’s challenging. I think you’re right. Nutrition science is a mess, and it’s challenging to do. It’s part of the nature of humanity. We can’t lock humans in the lab for 20 years and feed different dyes to different groups and see what happens. It just ain’t going to happen. So we have to sort of learn from kind of inference from basic science, from small studies, from small clinical trials, looking at intermediate biomarkers, all that will help us.
Dr. Mark Hyman (47:37):
And I think as a clinician, as a doctor, it’s very humbling, because you can have all the ideology you want, you can believe that you should be carnivores or vegans, or omnivores, whatever. And as a doctor seeing tens of thousands of patients doing all these lab tests and seeing what actually is happening and how they feel and what happens to their body, there’s no simple answer. Some people thrive on a Paleo diet, others thrive on a vegan diet, and vice versa. So we really have to be humble about making widespread sort of dogmatic views, the status of our nutrition advice. We have to sort of look at what is the individual need and what is going on? What is your microbiome? That affects everything.
Dr. Mark Hyman (48:18):
So all these things play a huge role, and I think your book, Sacred Cow, is so important. The movie is so important. I want everybody to watch it, because I think it’ll help you understand some of the nuanced conversations and get out of this binary good, bad meat, good, bad. And I think we have to sort of understand that we have to look at the overall context of our diet and that’s why you guys do such a good job that you put. You put all this story in context, because we’re hearing so many different things and people are so confused. And honestly, I was super confused, until I started to look at all this data and started to look at the whole story and to not think in silos but to think in an ecosystem way.
Diana Rodgers (48:59):
Yeah, and we say it in the … Sorry, Robb.
Robb Wolf (49:03):
No, go for it. Go for it.
Diana Rodgers (49:04):
In the book and in the film that we’re not anti vegan at all, we’re very pro-choice when it comes to diet, and we think that everyone has the right to choose whatever they think is appropriate for them. We just think that it’s very dangerous to then set policy based on bad science. And there’s a lot of people that seem to do okay. on a vegan diet. We say it in the book and in the film, but there are also a lot of people who don’t. And there’s genetic reasons, too. Not everyone can convert beta carotene to vitamin A efficiently. It’s about half the population.
Diana Rodgers (49:38):
So there’s the gut biome, the health status of the gut. Robb and I both have Celiac actually, and don’t do well with raw kale salads and things like that. So everyone’s coming at it from a different place but also, there’s a lot of people in the world that don’t have the privilege to push away meat. And so we have to be respectful of people’s cultures, what grows well around them. There’s a lot of places in the world where women can’t own land, but they can own livestock. And when we improve the nutrition status of at risk kids, the whole GDP of these countries does better so we just have to be very careful with this. We were very pro-food sovereignty so the [crosstalk 00:50:21]
Dr. Mark Hyman (50:21):
Let me finish this one last question. You talk in your book and the title includes better me but we’re keep hearing the meat, eat less meat. Should we eat less better meat or should we just eat better meat?
Diana Rodgers (50:36):
You want to tackle that one, Robb?
Robb Wolf (50:38):
Doc, that depends a little bit like people of means should buy the best meat that they can for a whole host of reasons. Where creating a more diversified economic base like the middle of America that used to be built around the small family farm has disappeared. We have four food companies, two of them that are owned by foreign governments, foreign entities that handle 85, 90% of our total food intake. So I think that folks of means should absolutely support local, regenerative agriculture, pay that kind of affluence tax to be able to grease the engines of producing the locally necessary and locally vital foods.
Robb Wolf (51:25):
Anywhere else in the world that you go grass-fed meat is cheaper than grain-fed meat. This is entirely an artifact of the United States, and I don’t want to get too out in the weeds, but global reserve currency gives us some leverage in trading. And then we have a really massive subsidies program that creates this artificial environment. A Twinkie should not be cheaper than an apple, period. Thermodynamically, it makes no sense. Like there’s so much energy input into that versus with a fruit growing on a tree. So, on the one hand, folks should definitely endeavor to eat better meat.
Robb Wolf (52:01):
But if you are a family living at the margins when we look at developmental milestones, one of the greatest distinguishing features of success versus what we would call failure both academically socially and physically, is the nutrient density of the diet, which really just boils down to meat at the end of the day. And so although there are challenges with the conventional food system, particularly on the meat side, for folks that are living at the margin, if we create an environment where it is both socially unacceptable, and economically unviable for them to access the most nutrient dense foods that are available, we are dooming them to multiple generations of the same plight that they’re already facing now.
Dr. Mark Hyman (52:46):
Yes. The dietary guidelines in America are meant for healthy adults. The problem is only 12% of Americans are metabolically healthy. And the Lancet Commission made recommendations for a more plant-rich diet. And yet, they also said in that same paper that the young, the elderly, and the sick, all need more animal protein, which when you look at the numbers, that’s the majority of the world’s population. I think we just have to be smart and not dogmatic. And I just so appreciate both of you. I appreciate your book, Sacred Cow. I think everybody should get a copy. It’s coming out July 2020, and the Sacred Cow film, which is great, you can go to sacredcow.info to learn more about the book and the film.
Dr. Mark Hyman (53:35):
You can listen to Robb’s podcast, The Healthy Rebellion, and you can certainly listen to Diana’s work at Sustainable Dish pddcast. It’s really great, and I’m so glad to have both of you on the podcast and share about this very confusing, controversial subject. And hopefully, we got a little more down to the nuggets of what’s really true and what’s not and what’s myth, and what is something we can actually take to the bank and live in a way that is more regenerative for our health and for the environment and the climate. So thank you both for being on the podcast. If you love listening to this podcast, we’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment, share with your friends and family on social media. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and we’ll see you next time on the Doctor’s Farmacy.