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The Doctor's Farmacy

Meat or Plants: Which is Better for Reversing Climate Change?

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Using the lens of Functional Medicine, we know we can’t blame just one part of the body for disease or dysfunction. The same goes for agriculture and climate change. We can’t just blame cows and call it a day. It’s a complex issue that deserves a comprehensive plan of action.

Regenerative agriculture recognizes the essential role of grazing animals in an ecosystem to create stronger soils, healthier crops, and produce better meat. On today’s episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy, I sit down with Nicolette Hahn Niman to explore where we’ve gone wrong when it comes to raising meat, some of the biggest areas to focus on for a positive climate impact, and so much more. As a vegetarian rancher for almost two decades who now eats meat, she offers a unique perspective on raising and eating animals.

At one point in time, cows were labeled enemy number one when it came to greenhouse gases and climate change. Sadly, that label has lingered. Conventionally raised cattle are absolutely a problem, but that doesn’t mean all cattle are. It’s also important to note that while cows account for about 5% of methane production, food waste in landfills accounts for 16%. Nicolette and I discuss how cows who are free to graze on pasture are improving our ecosystems, literally from the ground up, and can improve carbon sequestration to fight climate change.

Nicolette has recently updated her book Defending Beef to expand on a topic she’s spent her whole adult life studying. We talk about her history as a vegetarian and why getting older and discovering she had poor bone density caused her to shift her diet to include consciously raised meat.

We also talk about the evolving industry of lab meat. While many people think this is a completely harmless approach to meat, it’s important to realize where the medium from some of these products comes from—fetal serum from pregnant cows. There is a darker side to this industry than what is advertised and Nicolette explains why it may not be the solution it’s been touted to be.

Nicolette is an incredible resource for understanding the role of animals in all forms of agriculture and climate change. I hope you’ll tune in to learn more and gain a wider view of the nuances between meat, health, and our climate problems.

This episode is brought to you by Thrive Market, Athletic Greens, and Rupa Health.

Thrive Market is offering all Doctor’s Farmacy listeners an extra 25% off your first purchase and a free gift when you sign up for Thrive Market. Just head over to thrivemarket.com/Hyman

Athletic Greens is offering Doctor’s Farmacy listeners a full year supply of their Vitamin D3/K2 Liquid Formula free with your first purchase, plus 5 free travel packs. Just go to athleticgreens.com/hyman to take advantage of this great offer.

Rupa Health is a place for Functional Medicine practitioners to access more than 2,000 specialty lab tests from over 20 labs like DUTCH, Vibrant America, Genova, Great Plains, and more. You can check out a free live demo with a Q&A or create an account at RupaHealth.com.

I hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as I did. Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD
Mark Hyman, MD

In this episode, you will learn:

  1. Four popular camps of thinking around meat production and consumption
    (6:09)
  2. The history of how beef came to gain the reputation as the most environmentally destructive and least healthy food we eat, and why this is actually a much more nuanced issue than the question, is beef good or bad?
    (7:34)
  3. Is regenerative agriculture the solution to climate change?
    (13:13)
  4. Why Nicolette started eating meat again after decades of being a vegetarian and what she noticed about her food cravings after making this change
    (16:26)
  5. The vital role that beef and animals play in creating healthy food and ecological systems
    (27:39)
  6. Soil as the foundation of the food system and planetary sustainability
    (31:42)
  7. Why we need to move away from the dualistic view of meat vs. no meat
    (40:22)
  8. Animal and human’s innate nutritional wisdom
    (44:18)
  9. The latest research on methane, cattle, and global warming and what we previously got wrong
    (54:56)
  10. The role of policy in mitigating climate change
    (1:04:07)

Guest

 
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman, MD is the Founder and Director of The UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of Cleveland Clinic's Center for Functional Medicine, and a 13-time New York Times Bestselling author.

If you are looking for personalized medical support, we highly recommend contacting Dr. Hyman’s UltraWellness Center in Lenox, Massachusetts today.

 
Nicolette Niman

Nicolette Hahn Niman is a writer, attorney, and livestock rancher. She authored the books Defending Beef (2014, and second ed. 2021) and Righteous Porkchop (2009), as well as numerous essays for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times. She has also written for The Atlantic, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Earth Island Journal, among others. Nicolette has appeared on The PBS Newshour, The Dr. Oz Show, and in numerous films and documentaries, including Eating Animals and Sustainable. Previously, she was the Senior Attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper, where she focused on agriculture and food production; before that, she was an environmental lawyer for National Wildlife Federation. Today, she lives in Northern California with her two sons, and her husband, Bill Niman, founder of the natural meat companies Niman Ranch and BN Ranch.

Show Notes

  1. Get a copy of Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat

Transcript

Speaker 1:
Coming up on this episode of The Doctor’s Farmacy.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Fundamentally, we need to return to understanding and mimicking the way the earth functions. And when you look at natural models, all systems have the three key components. You have the plants and you have the animals and you have the fungi.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Welcome to The Doctor’s Farmacy. I’m Dr. Hyman. And that is 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 whether you should eat it or not, whether it’s going to save the planet by not eating it or save the planet by eating it, you better listen to this podcast because it’s with none other than Nicolette Hahn Niman, who’s an extraordinary woman, an expert in this topic. She’s a writer, attorney, livestock rancher and recently a former vegetarian. We’re going to talk about that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
She’s authored a number of books, including Defending Beef. The new edition is coming out and it’s available in the summer of 2021. I encourage everybody to get a copy. The full title is Defending Beef: The Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat. Now that may be getting some of your hackles up if you’re listening and you’re a vegan, but just listen to the podcast because we’re going to explain exactly why that may be the case.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
She also wrote the Righteous Porkchop, which is an interesting title, as well as lots of essays for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The L.A. Times, she’s written for The Atlantic, San Francisco Chronicle, The Earth Island Journal and many others. She’s been on the PBS NewsHour, Dr. Oz and many films and documentaries, including Eating Animals and Sustainable.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
She was a senior attorney at the environmental organization of Waterkeeper, and she focused on agriculture and food production in that aspect and also worked for the National Wildlife Federation. Lives in Northern California with her husband and two kids. Bill Niman, who is her husband, is the founder of the natural meat company, Niman Ranch, and BN Ranch. So these are those you can get racy, grass-finished or regenerative meat. So welcome Nicolette.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Thank you. It’s a real pleasure to be here. And thanks for that great introduction.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Of course. Now as I’ve been thinking about me and I’m talking with some friends, it seems like there’s basically four camps around meat. There’s the ones who say, “Well, let’s just keep scaling meat production for growing rural population. And we’re going to find new innovative ways and technologies to make it better and do it right.” And that is the conventional meat industry, or otherwise known as CAFOs or feedlots. And there’s people arguing for the benefits of that, for sure.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Then there’s the people who are like, “No. Meat’s going to kill us. It’s going to kill the planet. Everybody should be off meat. And we should eradicate animal agriculture period from the planet.” And that’s one position. And another position is we should design lab meat, cell based meat, stem cell meat, innovators who are crying to create alternatives, maybe insect meat. Who knows? And then there are the regenerators. The ones who believe that we can change the way we’re raising animals in order to optimize the health of the planet, the health of the animals and the health of humans in the process. Regenerating human health and ecological health.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So those are the four, I think, buckets that people are playing with around meat. It’s a very complicated topic. We’re going to focus today on the regenerative aspect, which is your focus and your expertise, but there’s so much conflicting information about meat, whether it’s good or bad for us and whether it’s good for our health and on the planet. And so tell us how did beef get to be public enemy number one, and be perceived as the most environmentally destructive and least healthy food that we can be eating. And how have we got this wrong when it comes to this topic?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah, I really think that’s true. I think it’s kind of been called the king of meats, especially in the United States. And I think part of that is because it was the most consumed meat in the US for a long time. For decades, it was the number one most consumed meat. That’s actually chicken now, so it’s been replaced. But it was for a very long time the number one meat. So there’s that aspect of it.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And then there’s the fact that beef has always been the most expensive meat. And so I mean maybe frog meat or something obscure would be above it, but as far as meats that are commonly available, the beef would be kind of the thing you might just have on Saturday night, the nice steak. When I grew up in my household, you had a steak on Saturday night, for example. And that was because it was a more expensive piece of meat. And so it was something that you had just once a week.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so it was kind of regarded as something that was a little bit special. And around 1970, I think partly because of the fact that it was the most popular meat and it was also considered kind of almost a little bit of a luxury, but at the same time, these are large animals. And so the individual animals are really visible on the landscape.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And when you look at the individual animal and how much water it drinks or how much land it purportedly takes to raise an individual animal, it just looks like a lot. And so right around 1970, I could kind of date that as the key kickoff point when people really started focusing on cattle being a problem ecologically and beef shouldn’t be something we’re eating so much of. And I think-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And also because it had saturated fat, which was deemed to be really evil at the time-

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Exactly. It was kind of-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
… and it turned out not so much anymore, but yes, it was [crosstalk 00:05:48]-

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
It was the confluence of those two things. That’s right. You had diet for a small planet and then you had the concern over saturated fat. Which beef has more saturated fat than chicken, for example. So there were all these things that were kind of swirling around that I think led to people starting to focus on, well, maybe we shouldn’t be eating so much beef or maybe we shouldn’t eat it at all, and cattle are bad for the planet.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And then I feel looking at the trajectory of this and I’ve read a lot of the books that were written historically on this topic, things like Beyond Beef and Diet For a New America and all those kinds of… And I’ve read all those books. And to me, it looked like there was kind of this anti-beef sentiment welling up around 1970. And then actually there was a huge rise in the consumption of beef in the 1970s and ’80s. So it kind of, that also fosters more discussion, more controversy about it.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But actually beef consumption started falling pretty dramatically over the last couple of decades, but there was this rise in concern over climate change, which I think is legitimate. I mean, I am a very big advocate of the idea that climate change is important and urgent and we need to address it. But unfortunately this led to a kind of a renewed interest in this idea that beef is really problematic and that we shouldn’t be raising cattle. if at all, we should be doing tiny numbers of them.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And especially because of methane because cattle are ruminant animals and they emit methane in their digestive processes. And there’s a real focus on methane when you’re talking about climate change. Again, legitimately there’s a focus on methane, but the real question I have and the argument that I’m making in the book is that we’re misidentifying the real concerns that we should be having as far as climate change and methane. And so I don’t in any way dismiss the concerns over climate change, but I really protest pinning that on cattle and beef.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, it’s interesting I think a lot of the arguments miss the nuances of the story of what kind of beef, how it was raised and from you, I first heard the term, it’s not the cow, it’s the how, but I think [inaudible 00:08:04]. And it really is a much more nuanced conversation than meat, good meat, bad. It’s which meat, how is it raised? I mean, even lab-based meat is interesting because what are they feeding the cells? They’re feeding them food, which is grown how? Which is grown in traditional, commercial, agricultural processes that drive climate change and environmental and ecological destruction. And [crosstalk 00:08:31]-

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, and it’s even worse than that because the medium in which a lot of the lab meat is grown is actually oval, bovine, fetal serum, which you have to get from pregnant cows. And this is a really dark underside of that whole industry. And they have said they can eventually stop doing that and replace it with something else. But all of the early lab meat is based on a serum that is taken from pregnant cows at slaughter. And in fact, I even heard that there was an incentive, slaughter houses were offering incentives for bringing pregnant cows to slaughter houses in order to get that serum. So that’s a really dark side to that story that nobody’s really talking about.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I mean, it’s a lot of debate around whether or not regenerative agriculture hit scale in integrating animals, really has the capacity to draw down enough carbon to make a difference. Some people say it can reverse all of the greenhouse gas emissions that have happened since the industrial revolution. Others say that’s more challenging.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think the methane argument is very interesting too, because when you really look carefully at it, methane from cows is about 5% of methane emissions, rice is about 3% from rice patties and what’s even worse is all the vegetables that you throw in the garbage from your fridge or your scraps that go into landfills, which is 16% of the methane.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So it’s more than three times the methane from the vegetables than from the cows, which I don’t think people really recognize. And of course there are a lot of ways to mitigate, which I want to ask you, to mitigate the methane in cows by what they eat and how you raise them and what the soils are like and so forth. So it’s a very nuanced conversation.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, and it just shows that, you just gave a bunch of really good examples of how there’s methane from a lot of sources, of a lot of activities, and some of those things like growing rice are things that we want the world to be doing, right? But some of those things like wasting food, which is a huge source of methane from the landfills, is something we shouldn’t be doing.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And there’s just some renewed attention a few weeks ago, the Congress has just indicated that it’s going to, once again, under the Trump administration, they stopped trying to focus on stopping the methane leaks from natural gas production at the abandoned wells, which apparently is a huge source of methane. It’s far more than cattle. And it’s one of those things that’s something we absolutely shouldn’t be doing, right? It’s a waste. And it-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
It’s about 31%, right? Of all methane comes from the fossil fuel industry, including the [inaudible 00:11:11].

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. It’s absolutely from the… There’s a huge amount coming from the whole fossil fuel industry, but the key point is, a major source of that, a major part of that is actually just leaks that could be capped. So when you talk about cattle, there’s a whole bunch of complexity to the issue because you’re talking about a living entity that’s part of a living ecosystem, right? But just the fact that it’s producing food that’s nourishing for lots of people versus a wasted food item rotting in a landfill or a leaking uncapped part of the fossil fuel system. So that’s kind of the low hanging fruit that we should be attacking is the things that are all bad. There’s nothing good about leaking methane from natural gas production.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Or food waste.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Exactly. Food waste is a travesty in so many ways because it’s not just that it’s causing the methane, but there was all the resources that went into the production of that food. And then there’s no nourishment, there’s no benefit from that. Nobody’s consuming it. It’s just going into the landfill. And then on the end, it’s also causing that kind of pollution. So there’s so many reasons to focus on reducing food waste.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, absolutely. So let’s backtrack a little bit. You have been a paradox for many years because you were a vegetarian married to a livestock rancher. And you wrote a book while being a vegetarian called Defending Beef, which is kind of a funny concept for a vegetarian to pick to write about. What first prompted you to become a vegetarian and then why have you changed? Because you just let me know before we got on the podcast that you started eating meat again. And how has your perspective shifted and what are the changes that you’ve noticed in yourself?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, I started becoming a vegetarian when I was a freshman in college and I had already been a, what I would consider an environmentalist as a kid. I used to get the Ranger Rick magazine from National Wildlife Federation. And I got involved in high school environmental groups. And then I started in college and I was a biology major in college and involved in the environmental society there and everything.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And like we were just talking about before, it was kind of in a zeitgeist at that time, that if you were a good environmentalist, you did not eat beef because this was what was being said, it was destroying the rainforests and it was overly resource consumptive to produce beef. And, oh, there was too much water also. There are all these pieces of the argument. But it just seemed like, well, if you’re going to be a good environmentalist, you shouldn’t eat beef.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So I first gave up beef. I remember very distinctly. And then about six to eight months after that, I stopped eating all kinds of animal-based foods, or I should say, all meat, fish and chicken and everything. I always ate dairy and egg products. But in any event, I did it because I just thought it was kind of the right thing to do. And as we were talking about before, I also bought the idea that from a health standpoint, it would be a healthier diet.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And I kind of skated along with that perspective for many years. And then I was hired, I was working as an environmental lawyer for National Wildlife Federation and then I was hired by Bobby Kennedy Jr. from that job to work for him at the group Waterkeeper Alliance as an environmental lawyer.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And he asked me to focus on the livestock industry because there’s a lot of pollution from industrial, which I know you’re well aware of. And it’s really about the concentration of the animals and the systems that are very much like factories. And so you have a lot of that’s brought together and you have a lot of animals brought together in small amounts of usually fully confined indoors, if you’re talking about pigs and chickens and turkeys, for example, or dairy cows.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And then you have the problem of the air pollution and the water pollution coming out of those operations. And that was the focus of the work that Bobby Kennedy asked me to do, to address that pollution as a lawyer. And at first, that kind of neatly reinforced my own ideas that not eating meat is the right thing to do. Because I was looking at kind of the worst of the meat industry.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And not too long into that project, I started thinking, we should really be seeking out good examples of animal farming so that we can promote what we want to build, not just be tearing things down. And I started working with a lot of farmers in the Niman Ranch network. And that’s a collection of farmers that all follow traditional animal husbandry practices and focus on animal welfare, focus on soil health, focus on animal health. And through that, I met Bill Niman and then a couple of years later we got married, to fast forward. And I moved out to California from New York and began actually living and eventually working on our ranch as well.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But for 17 years, I still did not eat meat. And it was mostly at that point, by the time I kind of got to 17 years after living on a ranch and not eating meat, it was more just about kind of a habit. And also just still this feeling that, I don’t really need to eat meat and I haven’t needed it and I’m okay. And so why should I be eating meat?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But what happened is I turned 50 years old a couple of years ago and I decided that as I got older, entering the second half of my life, I wanted to make sure that I was doing everything I possibly could with lifestyle choices, eating and exercise and everything else, to keep vibrant health. I didn’t want to just kind of limp into my 50s and 60s and 70s, I wanted to… I’m really active. I’ve always been a triathlete and a runner and everything. And I was really active physically, and I’ve always been super focused on eating healthy, real whole foods.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And I started feeling like I want to make sure that I’m doing everything I can in my diet to make sure I have strong bones and strong muscles as I age. And I knew that women especially have a problem with bone density as they age. And I had my own bone density tested and I was kind of shocked to learn that I had the precursor to osteoporosis.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So I really decided, I made a very conscious choice that I would begin eating meat again, because I knew that would help me, especially in retaining muscle mass and that would help me keep my bone density and hopefully then rebuild bone density that I might’ve already lost. And that was about a year and a half ago. And I’ve been feeling really good and I’m very happy.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
But you noticed the difference in the quality of your health before and after?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, one of the biggest differences really surprised me. I hadn’t heard people talking about this, but it was definitely my experience. And that was, I had always craved sweets a lot my whole life. And I thought by beginning to eat meat, I would not be hungry as much. And that’s true for sure. Because I was always hungry, I was a vegetarian for 33 years and I was kind of chronically hungry.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But the other thing I noticed, and this surprised me more, was that I stopped craving sweets nearly as much. I mean, there was a huge difference in that. Almost from one day to the next. And so I kind of feel like it was my body beginning to feel satiated really for the first time, nutritionally satiated. Like I was saying a moment ago, I was reared by parents that believed in whole foods, and my mom had a big garden in the backyard and used to bake her own bread and all that stuff and her own yogurt.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
I mean, I was always raised eating whole foods. But I still had that sweet craving thing for many years. And then now with adding meat to my diet that has, not totally gone away, but dramatically gone down. So I feel like my body for the first time is really satiated nutritionally.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s amazing. [inaudible 00:19:29] the data is pretty clear that as we get older, we need more protein to increase muscle synthesis. And the disease of aging is really a disease of muscle loss, which people don’t really understand. And the best protein for building muscle clearly, according to the data is animal protein. There no doubt about that. And because the quality of amino acids, the concentration of protein and many other factors.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And the sugar craving is fascinating because often people who are vegetarians have higher loads of carbohydrates in their diet. And that leads, as we age, to higher levels of insulin and insulin makes you hungry all the time. And when you eat protein, it doesn’t really spike the insulin that much. Fat doesn’t spike it at all. And so you’re ending up having a more balanced blood sugar and even metabolism, which is so critical as we get older.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So that’s a fascinating discovery because when we get into the health aspects of beef, I said I want to loop back and go… Why did you write Defending Beef? And why did you update it? Because it was a great book to start with, and you put a lot of new stuff in it. And I wonder why you came back to this book again? It’s such an important moment in history around climate change and our nutritional strategies and the increasing polarization of views. As I opened up the conversation with you, you’ve got the ones who are no meat, yes meat, regenerative meat, lab meat. So we’re in this conversation. So what was the thesis of the book that was driving you forward with this discussion?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. Well, the first book, as you mentioned in the intro, I wrote a book called Righteous Porkchop, which was really about attacking the industrialization of animal-based foods and saying that that’s problematic on so many levels, whether it’s the quality of the food that’s produced to the environmental impact and whatever.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And after I wrote that book, I was increasingly getting people say to me, “Oh, I read Righteous Porkchop and I just became a vegetarian [inaudible 00:21:35].” And I kept thinking, “Well, that wasn’t really the message [inaudible 00:21:38]” And so I thought, I’m going to try to get people thinking about what they can do to build this regenerative food system that I think we so desperately need.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And for me, opting out of meat, and so that’s why it’s ironic I was doing it myself. And I finally decided I’m not going to do this anymore, but I was kind of part of that mode of thinking almost. And it’s a simple solution. Well, I’ve dealt with that now. I’m not part of the problem. And in fact, if you opt out of meat, you’re not doing anything to build the complex, interconnected, interrelated, locally-based, regionally-based, relationship-based kind of food system that I think we really so desperately need, which has kind of the opposite of the industrial food system.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so increasingly, I wrote Defending Beef because I was constantly hearing and constantly struck by the idea that beef was the worst problem, the worst problem [inaudible 00:22:40] and the worst problem out in the environment. And my own lived experience was showing me just the opposite. I was seeing not just a lot of really good information about the wholesomeness and the high nutrient value of the food, but I was seeing and just learning more and more everywhere I went and everything I read about the importance of raising animals in healthy ecosystems. You’ve mentioned, it’s not the cow, it’s the how, tagline. I have a t-shirt that says that on it and I love wearing it because it’s kind of a great conversation starter.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well I want one.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
I know it’s such a great t-shirt. It’s just, boom, boom. Diana Rogers made them.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh good. Okay.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
[inaudible 00:23:27]. But I’m sure we can get you one. But the idea is that people have taken this very complex question and reduced it to this very simple idea, which is beef are bad. cattle are bad. And in fact, the how is the key point. And so what I wanted to do in Defending Beef is show how… Actually I just gave a talk a few days ago to a group of fifth and sixth graders, And I had a little whiteboard and I drew a cow and then, I did very bad artwork, I drew a cow and then I drew a car and I asked them, I said, “what is the similarity between these two?”

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And I thought they would never get the answer. And a kid yelled it out right away. He said, “They both start with the letter C.” And I thought, “My God, that’s amazing. No adult would’ve gotten that.” And I said, “That’s exactly the right answer.” I said, “Otherwise, the cow and the car, there’s no similarity.” Okay. And so I went through this whole big conversation with them about how you have essentially, fossil fuel drawn out of the ground, fossil fuel that was not environmentally problematic. And then it goes through the car and it’s admitted through a tailpipe.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Whereas a cow is part of a complex ecosystem and it has carbon that it’s using and that it’s releasing and that it’s essentially cycling and it’s essentially old carbon versus new carbon. And you wouldn’t believe it. This class was so engaged and so interested and they just got it. It was a really fun fun experience to meet with the kids and talk about that. But so basically Defending Beef was my answer to this idea that cattle and beef are the problem out there. And I just take this, I heard an amazing talk a few years ago by the physicist and philosopher Fritjof Capra, and he said-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Oh, he wrote The Tao of Physics, right?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. Right. And he says everything is all about systems. He says everything in nature is connected and nothing is linear. And he said only humans create linear machines. So when you look at a car, you can think of the inputs, you can think of the outputs. When you look at a cow, you’re talking about something that has all different kinds of relationships and impacts and all kinds of things that affect that animal and everything, it has many impacts.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So when I talk about cattle, for example, when I talk about their hooves, and their hooves press the seeds into the ground, which helps germination. They also help press vegetation into the ground, which feeds the soil. Their mouths are doing a clipping and pruning process of vegetation, which also helps the regrowth of the plant, but it also helps the diversity of the vegetation that’s growing there because the plant is no longer shading other things that are trying to sprout.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And then you of course have the impact of the urine and the manure coming out of the animal. And that helps the soil, of course it adds nutrients, but a lot more than that. And water essentially, through both the urine and the feces, but most importantly, the biology of the manure is actually helping to trigger the biology of the soil. And this is the key to the grazing animal, is it has all of these impacts that are helping the ecosystem have a healthier function. And especially starting with that soil biology and that leads, when you have healthier soil biology, I know you have talked about this many times on your podcast before, so your listeners have probably heard a lot about this already. But-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
They’re sick of it, but I got to keep talking about this. It’s an important topic.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
You just got to keep going there because this really is the key. I mean, it’s funny because soil is the foundation literally of the food system. And it is also the foundation of sustainability for the planet. And you’ve mentioned before about there are all these figures about how much carbon can be sequestered in the soil, and I think we don’t need to worry about whether or not this can fully sequester all of the carbon that needs to be sequestered to stop global warming.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
When you talk about carbon in soil, you’re actually talking about the life of the soil. And historically there was a lot more carbon in the soil than there is now. A great deal more, we’ve lost a huge portion of it. And much of that carbon that we’ve lost is in the atmosphere and contributing to global warming.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So when you’re talking about reintroducing and re-sequestering the carbon into the soil, you’re both talking about pulling carbon out of the atmosphere where it doesn’t belong and you’re talking about putting it back into the soil where it does belong. It enhances the life of the soil. And the biology that soil is very complex. There’s a lot of discussion about carbon and carbon is absolutely crucial, but a lot of it is about the micro organisms. And it’s not just-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It’s like your micro-biome except for the soil.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Exactly. And there’s that great book by Dr. David Montgomery and his wife Anne Bikle, The Hidden Half of Nature, making that very argument and making that analogy that for a healthy human, you have to have that healthy microbiome and for a healthy planet you have to have the soil having a healthy sub soil, the life of the soil and that microscopic life has to be vibrant and functioning at a high level.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And what modern industrial agriculture has done is essentially destroyed that soil life below ground. And the goal of regenerative agriculture and cattle are a really important part of this is to re-introduce that life to revitalize that life of the soil. And that means more water in the soil. And that means more vegetation can grow and more diverse vegetation grows, and that means more above-ground life, more diverse and more plentiful insects and everything, earthworms to beetles. And then you have the more diverse vegetation you have and the more diverse insect life you have, the more diverse, larger species you have. And so it’s kind of an upward cascade.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So what would you say to those people who say, “Well, sounds good, but at the end of the day if you grow vegetables, you’re going to be better off. And then you don’t really need animals to be part of a regenerative system. That maybe we can introduce a few more bison in Montana and that’ll help, they can migrate do their thing, but we really should not have animal.” And I’ve talked to people who I thought are experts or billing themselves as experts in this space who were saying, “No, no, no. Animals do not need to be part of a regenerative agriculture system.” What would you say to those people?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, first of all, I think Sir Albert Howard said it so well when he said, essentially there is no system in nature that doesn’t have animals. And the whole, I think solution, you mentioned technology at the beginning, and there are lots of people who are looking to technology to solve climate change and to solve human health problems and to solve our diet and health and farming connection. And I don’t discount the value of technological contributions.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But to me, fundamentally, we need to return to understanding and mimicking the way the earth functions. And when you look at natural models, all systems have the three key components. You have the plants and you have the animals and you have the fungi. And we haven’t really talked about fungi here so far today, but they are a critical part of the way for example, the subterranean ecosystem works, is a lot of the whole process of carbon sequestration and the way the plant gets nutrients and so forth, is facilitated by microscopic fungi. So they are really key, the three legged stool that creates sustainability. So if you just think you can remove animals from that, in my view, the stool is not going to stand.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah, I think that’s right. I think that like you said before, they contribute to the fertilization of the soil, the urine in the manure, they dig it up with their hooves and even the saliva from the mouths of the ruminants actually stimulates plant growth. So if they grazed down a little bit, that’s saliva makes the plants grow even more, which even sequestering more carbon. So powerful.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
What’s really important for you to understand is that soil is alive. And most of the plants we grow now are in dead soil. And even vegetables. So what’s fascinating is that even our vegetable quality has gone way down. Our meat quality has gone way down. And we’re not growing foods in a way that actually produces the most nutrient dense foods. Even if we’re eating broccoli or kale or whatever you think you’re doing good for your body. It depends on how it was grown because if it was grown even in an organic setting, it still may not be that great for you because a lot of organic farmers use industrial organic and they’re tilling and they’re using…

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And by the way, my favorite story is, and I love your comment on this, is that if you eat regenerative grazed grass-fed beef, the cow is a vegan. Okay? If you’re eating organic broccoli grown the way it’s grown in America today, it’s actually a carnivore, because they use animal products on the farm to grow the food they use, obviously manure, they use blood meal, bone meal, oyster shells. So they’re putting all these animals stuff on the soil. [inaudible 00:33:10] realize that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And then on top of that, we talked about this, but just a very active agriculture is destructive. Except regenerative agriculture is less destructive because it restores ecosystems. But if you’re clearing fields, if you’re plowing, if you are disturbing natural habitats, you’re killing the rodents and the rabbits and the birds. I mean, 50% of bird species have been decimated because of our modern agriculture, not to mention the bazillions, literally I don’t even know if there’s a number to count the number of organisms and fungi in the soil, which are so critical to life.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And they’re critical for a lot of reasons, from a health perspective, this is the one that I’ve learned that’s most fascinating to me because I’m always an interested doctor and how do I create health for my patients? And one of the most important and undiscovered and un-really looked at aspects of our nutrition are the phytochemicals in food, which are these things we’ve all heard about, but don’t really think about much, which are, let’s say the colorful blueberries. Why are they healthy? Because they have [inaudible 00:34:10]. Or green tea, why is that good for you? Because it has catechins and so forth.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So why is red wine good for you? Well, it has resveratrol. These are all polyphenols, antioxidant compounds and petrochemical compounds that determine our health. And when you have a depleted soil, the bugs are missing. The bugs are required to extract nutrients to get to the plants and then the plants, because they can’t get them, are less nutritious. So even if you’re eating broccoli today, it’s 50% less nutritious than it was 50 years ago. That’s a problem. So it’s not just about animals or plants, it’s what plants? It’s not the broccoli, it’s the how? Kind of how the broccoli [inaudible 00:34:51] kind of way to say that. But it’s so important-

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, I think what you just were talking about is a perfect illustration of how it isn’t about meat versus no meat. It’s about what kind of a system do we have? Do we have an industrial system, which is reducing everything into simplistic components and trying to function like a factory or do we have complex ecosystems producing our food? And it’s very clear that from a planetary health standpoint and a dietary health standpoint, we need to create ecosystems. And when you’re focusing on that, it’s very clear as well that animals are essential. So to me, I’m trying to move people a little bit away from that dualistic view.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. And I think the idea that we can avoid killing or dying or death as we eat, it’s not actually true. I mean, 70 million animals a year are killed just through agriculture, even if you’re killing bacteria in the soil or you’re killing earthworms. Fred Provenza, I know you know him, I love him. He said the whole world is a big restaurant consuming itself. We become food for the animals and the plants [inaudible 00:36:01] for us. It’s this beautiful ecological cycle and it does involve death. I mean, it’s just part of the cycle of ecosystems. And I think we kind of miss that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, and mark, I had an interesting moment several years ago when I was still a vegetarian, when that really came home to me because I was working in my garden, I have a pretty large garden and I have a little orchard that we just use for our own consumption, but I was clearing the garden at the beginning of the season when I was planting a lot of things. And it was really overgrown. And so it was full of all kinds of spiders and insects and worms and snails and tons of different kinds of plants. And some little fungi were growing in there. And I was just ripping that all away in order to plant what I wanted, the one plant.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And I was like, “Wow.” I was causing Armageddon for this whole tiny ecosystem. Right? In order to put my my one seed that I wanted to put in there. And that just really struck me, my God, there is no such thing as food production that doesn’t cause death and destruction to some organisms. So I think, Gabe Brown, who I’m sure you’re also familiar with, is this wonderful farmer in North Dakota and he says all kinds of-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And he’s been on the podcast too.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. I think he’s just amazing. And I love his book, Dirt to Soil. And one of the things that he kept emphasizing in that book Dirt to Soil and also when I’ve met him in person, he says, “When I realized, when I moved from conventional farming, I was waking up every day thinking, what should I kill today? What plant do I need to kill? What weed do I need to kill? What insect do I need to kill?”

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And then regenerative complex farming is all about life. He said himself now it’s fostering life versus trying to kill all these things that were in the way of the one crop that he was trying to produce before. So it’s a really big shift in regenerative food production. You’re moving towards life. And that’s why there’s kind of that irony that people think that if you’re eating animals, you’re causing death. I think of it very differently.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. That’s an interesting perspective. So that’s the beauty of regenerative agriculture, regenerates ecosystems, regenerates all the life in the soil, the insect community, bird communities, natural mammal communities that live in the area, whole watersheds and ecosystems totally transformed. And then the carbon project and marine shows. There’s just so many examples of how this happens.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The same thing happened, for example, in Yellowstone, when they reintroduced wolves in Yellowstone, everything changed in the entire ecosystem to make it healthier. So when you actually have a robust ecosystem, that’s what we need to be focused on us. It’s not what we’re doing in farming or in health. And in fact that’s what functional medicine is. It’s an ecosystem approach to health because the body is an ecosystem and we’re connected to the ecosystem of the earth and the plants and the animals. And what’s even more striking to me is that these phytochemicals that that are so critical for our health are demeaning in great short supply because we don’t eat that many fruits and vegetables, but the way we grow the food is depleting them.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And the work of Fred Provenza and Stephan Van Vliet at Duke, you’re aware of I’m sure, it’s showing that there’s this new discovery of phytochemicals in meat. What’s even more interesting is that the animals modify these chemicals that they’re getting from eating a hundreds of different plants, that all of these medicinal compounds and their metabolize are quite different. So you’re almost getting in some ways upgraded phytochemicals when you eat regenerative raised grass-fed beef, which is a mind blowing concept.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Right. No, I have to admit, all these years I’ve been studying this and now I’ve been a practitioner of ranching for the last 18 years, and it was not until I read Fred Provenza’s book, Nourishment, that I really thought about the question that he talks about in terms of the diversity of the pasture for the animal.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Of course I knew as a general matter, it was a good idea to have a diverse pasture, but he goes really specifically into the science of it and shows to me the most fascinating thing that he talks about in his book Nourishment, is that they would test the blood of sheep in the morning, and then they would have grad students and so forth follow around the sheep and watch what they ate. And they discovered that every single animal ate something different every day. And that everyday, the foods that they selected for themselves individually for that day, corresponded to what was lacking in their blood work that morning. And by the evening, they would have remedied that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And he also showed that they were able to prophylactically avoid illness through the things that they were selected dietarily and that they could treat, they could self-medicate through what they were selecting. And so he’s arguing that we have an inherent nutritional wisdom, not just sheep, but that humans have this. That the modern industrial food system has ruptured that whole connection that we would inherently have. And he talks about the irony of the fact that we now believe we need to have experts tell us what to eat because it is [crosstalk 00:41:05]-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. Your wild elk doesn’t get advice from his elk nutritionist.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Exactly. And he says we all kind of accept that [inaudible 00:41:15] that right. And then we might buy it, but maybe sheep or cattle can figure out what they should be eating. But then we think it’s a giant leap to think that the human has this ability too, and he says, “No, it’s not a giant leap. We actually have this.” But the problem is right now we’re stopping ourselves from infancy. From the moment we get formula, right? We’re getting processed foods. We’re not getting the real food as it does occur in nature.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And when we do that, then our body recognizes what we need, what it contains and what we need, and we’re able to manage our own nutrition. So that’s that whole idea about real foods versus processed foods is it actually allows your body to do its own maintenance work to a certain degree of knowing what it needs and seeking it out.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And that’s where going back to why I’m eating meat again, that is part of why I’m eating meat again. I really believe my body was saying, “You need meat.” Because I was feeling hungry all the time and I was craving sweets all the time. And then I started eating meat and everything starts receding really dramatically.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. It’s fascinating. Yeah, I love that book Nourishment. I’m going to have Fred back on the podcast. I’m actually going to visit him in Montana because I am so inspired by that guy. And I don’t have a lot of people who I go, “Wow, I really want to meet that guy.” And he he’s one of them. And in the book, he talks about this fascinating experiment they dated years ago on kids. They took a bunch of orphans and they stuck them in a lab, which you couldn’t do that study today, but they gave them all this weird food like organ meats and weird stuff that kids wouldn’t eat. But let them select whatever they wanted.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And these kids ate all this weird stuff that we wouldn’t think would be attractive to them, but because they hadn’t been inculturated with what to eat and not to eat, they naturally sought out those foods which were most nutrient dense, which provided the right building blocks for them to build their robust health. And it turned out after a long period of time these kids were eating weird organ meats, all this stuff, they actually were more robust health than all the other kids. It was fascinating.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And also what’s fascinating about the experiment as well, and I agree with you, it’s not something that can be done now, so it’s a historical anomaly, but I think it’s called Clara’s kids because the researcher was named Clara. But he says similar to the ruminant animals that he studied, they did not choose the same thing day after day, they would choose different foods.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so they were naturally balancing out their own nutritional needs. And that’s where it’s really fascinating because we keep thinking we have to follow a food pyramid or a MyPlate or something. Somebody has to tell us how to get our nutrition. And that experiment really helps make the case that we ourselves have the ability, if we’re actually exposing ourselves to real whole foods. Right? And we’re allowing our bodies to use their nutritional wisdom. It’s absolutely fascinating. It’s something [crosstalk 00:44:14]-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Well, that’s the whole theory of the book, right? It’s reclaiming our nutritional wisdom that we each innately have wisdom. And I always say, listen to your body, it’s the smartest doctor in the room.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yep. Exactly.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And so most people don’t connect what they eat with how they feel and when you start to break that down, people can begin to notice. And we know that for example, the most flavorful foods are actually the best for us, right? We know the phytochemicals in the food provide the flavor. We know in the meat, for example, even the way it’s raised, the flavor is dependent on the quality of the food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And that flavor goes along with health. And that’s something that people don’t understand. That’s what these [inaudible 00:44:54], “Oh, I need my vitamin C. I’m going to need this plant. Or I need these phytochemicals, because they’re going to help me with inflammation. Or my joints hurt, I’m going to take this thing that’s going to help me [inaudible 00:45:02].” They’re not thinking that, they’re just naturally picking foods that are flavorful and that their body intuitively wants. And I think we’ve missed the boat on that.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. And I’ll tell you, my husband, Bill Niman, really is a meat expert and he’s from Minneapolis and his parents had a little grocery store, Niman Groceries. So he’s kind of grew up in the food world. And he’s always been really interested in eating quality and making delicious food as well as healthy food.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And he’s undergone an interesting transition in about the last decade when we started trying to move all of our animal raising to completely pasture-based. And what he noticed is that not only does he like the flavor of the grass-based meat now, but when he eats conventionally produced meat now, it really tastes bland to him. So he had kind of gotten used to that. But then when he started eating exclusively grass-based meats, he started saying, “Wow, I really like this. I prefer this. And the other stuff doesn’t taste right anymore.”

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So I think our taste buds have in so many ways gotten kind of dumbed down over the generations, but at the same time, what I like about Fred’s book too, is it’s kind of hopeful. It says, okay, we have gotten into this place where you’re used to industrial foods and a lot of people were raised on them, but you still have that inherent nutritional wisdom and you still can recognize the foods and the compounds that are good for you. And those tastes good. Ripe fruit tastes good and meat that is raised on grass tastes good because it has those nutritional things that our body says, “Oh, wow, this is good for me. I like this.” And it’s a kept kind of a natural process.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I just had to review a book. It is coming out, I think in the Fall, called Eat Like a Human. And it’s written by an anthropologist who has been studying food and has gone around the world looking at different cultures and what they’re eating. He was talking about tribes in Africa that mix blood and milk from the animals and drink that. And he explained how great he felt after he had that, even though he says that’s a weird food to us. But really all the ways that we’ve processed and prepared foods have really denuded it of its nutritional qualities. And that’s really in my mind, regenerative agriculture is about. It’s about restoring, knowing the earth and the soils and better conditions for animals, but it’s to provide way more nutrient-dense food.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
As a doctor, that’s what I care about, is why are my patients sick? They’re sick because they’re eating the food they’re eating predominantly. One in five deaths globally is from bad diet. And I think that’s probably far more actually. And in America we’re seeing this pandemic of COVID, but it’s on a pandemic of chronic disease and obesity, which is driving the deaths and the horrific outcomes.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And a lot of it is because of the food people are eating. And so if we go away a minute, if we start to shift our system to provide more nutrient-dense food, real food, we’re going to shift this healthcare crisis. I mean, it’s a win-win-win all the way around. Now backing up to your book a little bit, Defending Beef, which I really think people should get a copy of. What was it that you learned between writing the book the first time and rewriting it the second time?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Oh, there’s just so much. I mean, it’s such an important topic. And you asked me at the beginning, why did I want to pick it up and rewrite it? I was invited by a publisher to do it, and I jumped at the chance because we felt that there’s kind of a more conversation about this even now than there was five years ago when the first book came out, and also more misunderstanding. There’s kind of this oversimplified, again, this kind of simple view is beef is unhealthy food and cattle are bad for the environment.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And we were seeing more and more examples around the world where beef are restoring ecological health, for example. And I think there’s, I’m sure you’ve talked about this many times on your podcast, but there’s really good research kind of re-evaluating the purported connection between red meat and bad health outcomes.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so I wanted to take up the new research and look at that more carefully and present that. But also I specifically wanted to look at the methane question in particular, because there was so much focus on that. And what I’ve learned is, I mean, there’s so much to say about methane, as you said, there are ways to mitigate it. Good management of cattle grazing, for example, reduces methane production just by about 25%, just by improving grazing practices.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But there’s really good research showing that when you have, going back to talking about the insects in the ecosystems, when you have more dung beetles in a system, for example, that there’s less methane rather that comes out of that production system. And really importantly, the whole science of it, the way it’s calculated-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I don’t want to be reincarnated as a dung beetle. That doesn’t sound like fun to me.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
They’re pretty cool. I heard somewhere, I don’t know if [inaudible 00:50:16], but I heard somewhere that scarab beetle in ancient Egypt and all those scarab beetles that are holding up the sun, that that’s actually a dung beetle holding up a piece of dung. I don’t know if it’s true or not. I’ve heard that rumor before. The ancient Egyptians knew the importance of the dung beetle.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
But there’s a scientists and at Oxford university, Dr. Myles Allen, and I don’t know if you’ve encountered his work or not, but I had read some articles that he wrote. And then I heard him speak in person in England. And I met him and spoke with him directly. And I talk about his work in the new edition of Defending Beef, because he’s one of the really important voices that are saying, “Hey, we’ve got this methane question completely wrong.” And he’s a methane expert. He’s a physicist at Oxford University and he was on the intergovernmental panel on climate change. He was on their scientific advisory committee for [inaudible 00:51:09].

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so this is his area of expertise. He directed something called The Methane Project there at Oxford university. And he really knows the topic. And he says this whole idea of global warming potential, which is the way that it’s always calculated when you talk about policy questions and methane, and you say, “Well, this much methane equals this much global warming,” and so forth. And he says that essentially the science of that is incorrect and that everybody who’s working on this issue from the science side knows this, but because it was so much more logistically simple, that this was something that was adopted 20 years ago or whatever, and nobody wants to revise it because it has huge policy implications.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So what he says is, we need to revise the way we’re calculating the global warming potential of methane. And when you look at the methane from cattle, it’s really a minor issue globally. And he says the real issue is the fossil fuel industry. And if you really understand the science behind methane, there’s no question about that he says.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And he says in fact that if we essentially keep this number of cattle on the globe static, if we’re not increasing the global number of cattle, then it doesn’t contribute to global warming at all because of the way the science actually works on it. And in the United States, we’re actually reducing the number of cattle. And I talk about that in the book in a lot of detail, we’ve been reducing the total number of large ruminant animals on farms for a long time in the United States.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so we talk about deforestation and it’s true, that’s a big problem, but it’s not an issue in the United States. And that’s not to say that no deforestation, but the net impact in the United States is we’re reforesting the United States. And so again, this is really, you’re taking concepts and you’re generalizing them.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so when you look at whether the US consumer who’s buying American-raised beef, which is the vast majority of the beef in the United States, is about 80% is grown in the US. And you could easily seek it out if you are concerned, which you should be. You should seek out American-raised beef, but if you’re doing that, then you know that it is not from a deforestation situation. And you also know that the total herd size in the United States, that the herd of the United States, the cattle herd of the United States is not collectively contributing to the global methane problem.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And in fact, there’s another professor at Cornell, Dr. Robert Howarth, who heads the methane project at Cornell University, and he’s done a ton of work showing that fracking is really the big problem in the United States when it comes to methane. So it’s not that methane shouldn’t be discussed at all when you talk about cattle, they do emit methane. And there are lots of good ways to mitigate that from a management and an ecosystem perspective, but it’s really not the giant issue that people have [inaudible 00:54:19].

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, it was my understanding that 12,000 years ago, the amount of methane in the atmosphere was the same as it is today. We had a lot more [crosstalk 00:54:27]-

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And the ruminant.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
We had a lot more ruminants, right?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah, there were more ruminants, wild ruminants than there are domesticated ruminants today. And they [crosstalk 00:54:34]-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Elks, deer, antelope. Yeah.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
[inaudible 00:54:37].

Dr. Mark Hyman:
[inaudible 00:54:38], all of those are producing methane. And it really it’s about the same. It’s a short-lived greenhouse gas, not like carbon, which stays there forever. And it seems like there’s a lot of ways to mitigate it by, for example, what the cows eat. If they’re foraging on plants, for example, with high tannin levels. And it’s important that, it shouldn’t be called grass-fed beef, it should be called grasses-fed beef or something. Because there may be a lot of different plants with different properties.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And the tannins, for example, in some of the plants reduce methane, or if they’re [inaudible 00:55:07], they reduce methane. Or if they have a real regenerative system that there are organisms within the soil, the [inaudible 00:55:14], that actually suck methane out of the atmosphere. So when you put all that together and you say, well, how does that compare to let’s say fracking, well, that’s three times as much methane is produced from that as it is from animal agriculture.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And on top of that you’ve got nitrogen fertilizers, which are deriving the fertilizer from an energy-intensive process that requires natural gas, which is about one to 2% of the natural gas use in the world globally. A global energy use is for making fertilizer, which is the nitrogen. But what that does is it gets turned into nitric oxide, which is 300 times more a potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. So there’s a whole bunch of other stuff people aren’t talking about like the fertilizer stuff scares me way more than the methane stuff. And that’s used for plants too, that’s just used for animal agriculture.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And there’s some very interesting research as well that shows that essentially when you put the commercial, chemical fertilizer on plants, that they begin essentially getting lazy and they no longer engage in those subterranean microscopic exchanges that they normally would with the soil. So they are no longer as able to get the nutrients that they need from the soil and they don’t put as much carbon into the soil.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So you have to have plants and soils functioning in the way that they’re supposed to function in order to have this healthy food system and healthy food and healthy ecosystem that we’ve been talking about. And so the implications of commercial fertilizer, there are a lot of downstream effects and a lot of it is stuff that people are not thinking about when they’re buying soy at the supermarket and they think they’re doing the right thing.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That’s all fascinating. And I want to loop back to this conversation about just what an impact, and the health question we’ve discussed in the podcast many times. I don’t know if we have time today to talk about it. I want to talk about the impact on climate change, because from a regenerative agriculture perspective, some say that, “Well, we can sequester all the carbon in the atmosphere today using advanced soil practices and regenerative agriculture.”

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Which essentially for those listening is defined as a few practices, key practices that have been agreed upon such as no tilling, cover crops, crop rotation, managed grazing, integrated animals into the livestock of the farm, making sure that you leave roots in the ground and that you understand the context of where you’re growing things so you can do it properly. That’s what we mean by regenerative agriculture. And there’s a lot of ways to do it. And some of the ways that work the best, like silvopasture, which is where you actually grow trees, and then you put animals in the trees to eat what the trees are dropping down.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
That actually probably is one of the better ways to restore soil. We’re not even talking about that. So when you look at those practices, some say, “Well, we could literally reverse climate change 100%.” And others say, “No, not so much.” And people talking about soil carbon sequestration, it’s complicated because there’s soil in North Dakota, there’s soil in North Korea, there’s soil in Chile, there’s soil in Arizona, and they’re all different. And the contexts are different. The climates are different. The ability to sequester soil is different.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
And then there’s the questions of how do we even measure the effect and a lot of controversy about that. So we really haven’t gotten all the nuance pieces together in my mind. I just wonder if you have a perspective, if you were a policymaker and you were in D.C. and you were like, “Look, we really want to support regenerative agriculture. We don’t really know what works best or how to measure it, to define success.” What would be your advice?

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah, well, I think you can’t pin all your hopes for climate change mitigation and improving that situation on agriculture, but it is a very important piece of it. And so for me, the debate over whether it can fully mitigate climate change or not is not that important. It’s really about moving it forward in the right direction. And I’m very happy that the Biden administration is focusing on soil health and the biology of soil and incentivizing carbon to go back into the soil because it’s absolutely the right thing to do. And I think it’s [crosstalk 00:59:30]-

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I think he was the first president to say cover crops in a speech.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. Well, I remember when your friend Tim Ryan was running a while back in the primaries, he was doing such an amazing job talking about regenerative agriculture and regenerative food systems and everything. And that was extremely exciting. But I was thrilled that some of that stuff got adopted by the Biden people. And so I think he’s doing a lot of really good things with focusing on soil health and this idea that regenerative agriculture is mainstream.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And Secretary Vilsack, the agriculture secretary now, was Obama’s secretary of agriculture, but it was a completely different time then. And nobody was talking about regenerative agriculture and so he wasn’t, right? But he’s moved along and I’m thrilled that he’s talking about organic agriculture more and he’s talking about the importance of smaller scale farming and he’s talking about soil health and soil carbon and that sort of thing.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
So I’m hopeful that some good things will come of that. But to me, it’s a piece of what needs to be done. I think it’s really important to always remember that, well, the main problem with climate change is from fossil fuels, and that we need to see major policy changes in order to really address that. Things like, for example, fuel efficiency standards in cars and improving the number of electric vehicles that we’re having in the United States and just shifting towards renewable fuels, and that’s happening too. So I think hose are really good signs.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And I think each of us can look at our individual footprints and try to make sure we’re doing everything we can, but ultimately the most important thing from a climate change perspective is that the governments of all of our countries are doing the right thing because we need big things to happen on the policy level. And especially with respect to fossil fuels. And so we as citizens need to ensure that that’s happening. But our own diets are not going to resolve climate change. And so I think focusing on them for our personal health and to support regenerative agriculture is really important. But I do not look at it as the solution for climate change.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
The other issue, because if you look at Project Drawdown and look at 80 of the top global solutions for mitigating or reducing or drawing down carbon, and food and agriculture were the collective number one solution, not fossil fuels. [crosstalk 01:02:03]-

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Yeah. I know. I site that in my book actually. Yeah, I remember that.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. And depending on how you slice and dice it, when you look end to end at the food system, deforestation, soil erosion, factory farming animals, the transport refrigeration, food waste, all of that, when you add it all together, it’s estimated to be between 40 or 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions, which is actually more than the fossil fuel industry. So I agree with you, we need to dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions or eliminate them. But we also need a system of actually mitigating or drawing down carbon because just stopping emitting won’t solve the problem. If we stop now, it’s got to be the other piece of it.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
Well, I mean, I think this goes back to the idea of complex solutions for complex problems. And we have to come at, not just climate change, but all of these implications of the way we’re living in an industrialized world today. I’m always interested in these kinds of more obscure questions like lighting. The fact that so many people are living under fluorescent lights and all kinds of other weird lights that are clearly can have human health effects on how much time we’re looking at computer screens late at night, it’s affecting our sleep.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
I mean, I think all of this, it’s a facet of… And I have two young sons and they want to be on the iPad all the time playing video games, which they were basically never allowed to do at all until this darn pandemic made their schooling beyond Zoom. Right? And so it’s like all of this stuff is modern living collective, right? And so for me, it’s about how are we living as humans and talking again about Fred Provenza’s book, he kind of gives this beautiful, huge vision at the end of this book of, okay, we need to reclaim our humanity, our connection with the earth.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And I think that’s a lot of what regenerative food is all about. It’s about farming systems that make us healthy people as individuals that are eating it. And also those that are practitioners are helping to rebuild this broken earth that we have really damaged so much with industrial food production and all the other industrial systems.

Nicolette Hahn Niman:
And so in my own life, I try to not just eat healthy food, but I also try to be outside a lot, exercise a lot, breathe fresh air, get my kids out all the time. I really limit their screen time, I encourage lots of physical movement and working physically, all the stuff that I think really builds healthy bodies. The things that our bodies were evolved to do. And so many modern humans are not doing them anymore. And I think that has a lot… It’s not just about the food, I think it’s that old way of living that’s leading to this very widespread illness or unhelpfulness as we age.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
Yeah. I think that’s absolutely right. I mean, we have to reclaim our relationship to the natural world and our place in it as part of the ecosystem. We’re not separate from it. And I think that’s really the change that has to happen. And Fred in his book, Nourishment, blew my mind, talking about the 20 senses that plants have and the way they communicate with each other, the way they communicate with other plants.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
I mean, it’s just fascinating the way they communicate with microbes. And we barely begin to understand these deep ecological relationships. And essentially that’s what you’re talking about, is how do we restore an ecological way of living that creates more balance and will solve a lot of global problems.

Dr. Mark Hyman:
So Nicolette, thank you so much for being on The Doctor’s Farmacy. Again, everybody should get a copy of the new edition of Defending Beef, which is a powerful case for understanding the role of meat in our life. And its title is Defending Beef: Ecological and Nutritional Case for Meat. And no one will be disappointed by that book. I can’t wait to get my new copy. And I hope you all enjoyed this podcast. If you have anybody who’s concerned or confused about meat, share this podcast with them on your social media. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, leave a comment, we’d love to hear from you. And we will see you next week on The Doctor’s Farmacy.
Speaker 1:
Hi everyone. I hope you enjoyed this week’s episode. Just a reminder that this podcast is for educational purposes only. This podcast is not a substitute for professional care by a doctor or other qualified medical professional. This podcast is provided on the understanding that it does not constitute medical or other professional advice or services. If you’re looking for help in your journey, seek out a qualified medical practitioner.
Speaker 1:
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