When I was back in Florida a couple of weeks ago for my grandmother’s funeral, my Godmother asked me if I had read the November issue of National Geographic. In it is a lengthy article entitled, “Carnivore’s Dilemma” written by scientific journalist Robert Kunzig. Following her advice, I tracked down a copy of the issue and spent some time last weekend reading it.
I’ll admit that when I first heard that an environmental journalist had written an article in National Geographic magazine highlighting cattle feedyards, I envisioned a pejorative rhetoric belittling the method that my farm uses to complete the final step of traditional beef production.
That is not at all what I found…I found a very balanced article that discusses the complex issue of responsible food production.
I commend Mr. Kunzig for his detailed personal research as well as bringing an open mind to an often heated debate. You can read the article by clicking here. The precursor to the commentary is the author’s fundamental question:
“Is it all right for an American to eat beef?“
In an effort to find an accurate answer, Mr. Kunzig spent a week at Wrangler Feedyard near Tulia, Texas. Wrangler Feedyard is one of nine feedlots operated by Cactus Feeders. This fact immediately caught my attention because I have the privilege of knowing both the co-founder of Cactus Feeders — an older gentleman who hails from Nebraska, Paul Engler, and his son Mike, who now serves as CEO of the company.
Paul Engler reminds me of my grandfather. Incredibly intelligent, fiercely independent, entrepreneurial in nature, all enhanced by an incredibly personable and gentlemanly personality. Although it has been more than a year since I last visited with Paul, a smile comes to my face whenever something makes me think of him. As my grandfather would say, “he is good people”. His son, Mike, holds a PhD in biochemistry from Johns Hopkins University, and spent twenty years doing research at Harvard and the University of Texas before coming back home to help run the cattle feeding enterprise.
The author combines his personal experience visiting one of the Engler feedyards with the intellectual and philosophical exercise of exploring modern food production. He does this by raising many pertinent questions…
- Is the goal of using technology to produce affordable food admirable or evil?
- What kind of people are farmers?
- How can farmers care for animals and then send them to their death?
- Is it humane for cattle to live in a feedyard setting for the last few months of their lives?
- Is pharmaceutical use in food animals acceptable?
- Are feedyards sustainable?
- How do we meet demand for meat while protecting biodiversity and fighting climate change?
While it is clear that these topics will continue to be debated, Mr. Kunzig leaves his readers with this thought:
“What my reporting had really left me wanting to say no to was antibeef zealotry. That, and the immoderate penchant we Americans have for reducing complex social problems — diet, public health, climate change, food security — to morality issues populated by heroes and villains.”
I would like to take this opportunity to thank National Geographic, Mr. Kunzig, and all those at Cactus Feeders for coming together to have a respectful, honest discussion.
I encourage everyone to read Mr. Kunzig’s article as it was intended — with an open mind. Please feel free to leave questions relative to beef production and feedyards below in the comment section as I am happy to be an additional resource in this discussion.