The Beatles recorded much of the soundtrack of my life, but that doesn’t mean I want Paul McCartney to write the cookbook for my kitchen.
Earlier this month, the former Beatles frontman spoke at a European Parliament forum and urged his listeners to alter their eating habits. “We call on people worldwide, but especially in the developed nations, to change their diet to one meat-free day as the most effective way to combat global warming,” he said in a statement.
Last summer, McCartney launched a cause called “Meat Free Monday.” He started a website and even recorded a song. It won’t go down as a lost classic that belongs on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, but you can hear him sing it on YouTube.
Do you want to know a secret? I have no problem with people choosing not to eat meat. Some may not like the taste. Others face health restrictions. Catholics have a long tradition of avoiding meat on Fridays, especially during Lent.
Yet I worry about McCartney’s message and the effect that its widespread adoption would have on people around the world, especially in developing countries. His view of farming is utterly unrealistic, sort of like a fantasy world where "rocking horse people eat marshmallow pies".
His real message is far more radical than his little ditty about Mondays would suggest. He believes that the human consumption of meat is bad for the world, and that everybody would be much better off if we switched to an all-plant diet. In other words, he really wants people to reject meat not just on Mondays, but eight days a week.
It’s like McCartney wants to rename one of his early records from “Meet the Beatles” to “Beat the Meatles.”
McCartney believes that mass vegetarianism would be a boon for the environment. He has recently adapted his message to climate change: One of his favorite slogans is “Less Meat, Less Heat.” His rationale is that because meat production results in the emission of greenhouse gases, then less meat production will put the brakes on global warming.
So will fewer rock concerts in front of tens of thousands of people, by the way; but I'm not advocating that!
I just think that Mr. McCartney needs to stop and think about the unintended consequences of his agenda. Let me help him get his feet back on the ground.
You see, I don't think of myself as a "nowhere man". I’m a lifelong farmer who grows crops and raises livestock. I find it hard to imagine a sustainable form of agriculture that doesn’t mix these two practices just as nature has always done. My cattle receive the majority of their food from crop residue or grain processing by-products--in other words, leftovers such as corn stalks and other materials we mere humans can't utilize directly. And we don't just recycle on the input side. The waste my animals subsequently produce is not wasted. It goes onto fields as my primary source of fertilizer. This cycle has built up the fertility of my fields for generations and has created a resource legacy for me to pass along to my children.
It’s an efficient way to produce food. It’s also a diversified, sophisticated system that’s getting better all the time. If you remove one piece from the circle, you throw everything else out of whack. These methods, used by me and an untold number of other food producers, are diversified and they’ve evolved over time. They’re the destination we’ve reached at the end of a long and winding road.
When McCartney attacks these systems because they offend his vegetarian sensibilities, I’m reminded of the refrain to his song, “I’m Looking through You.” He certainly doesn’t see farmers or understand their value.
Instead of defaming meat, we should teach the best practices of modern agriculture to farmers in developing countries--farmers who desperately need to boost their productivity in order to feed booming populations and improve their own livelihoods. These best practices include a proper balance between crops and livestock. There’s a nutritional element as well: Meat is an excellent way to deliver protein and balanced nutrition. People in poor countries will benefit from more of it, not less.
Anti-scientific fears about biotechnology among elitists in Europe already have had a devastating effect on resource poor people, especially in Africa. A similar campaign against meat would do them further harm.
Paul McCartney means well. If he were to take the time to learn more about sustainable agriculture, he’d see that meat poses no threat to the planet. And then maybe he’d just let it be. Imagine……..
Reg Clause, a Paul McCartney and Beatles long-time fan, raises cattle, corn and soybeans on a fourth generation family farm in central Iowa. He is a Truth About Trade and Technology board member (www.truthabouttrrade.org)