First post! Taking the plunge …

This is a “Blurb” I’ve used for a talk I’ve started giving to agricultural audiences. It seemed like a good thing to use for a “test-drive”.

Grass Based Health: Turning the Food Pyramid Upside Down

Conventional wisdom, when it comes to human nutrition, tells us that we should be eating a low-fat diet, with restricted consumption of red meat. This advice became the official recommendation of the United States government in the late 1970’s. Peter Ballerstedt will introduce evidence that the fat-is-bad hypothesis was wrong, and the impact the growing awareness of this can have on animal agriculture in Oregon.

Peter has an extensive background in forage production, utilization, and forage-based livestock production systems. He was the forage extension specialist at Oregon State University from 1986 until 1992. His recent personal experiences led him to study human diet and health. What he’s learned doesn’t agree with advice we’ve been given for the past 30 years or more. This new understanding, combined with his forage background, has given him an interest in local, sustainable food production systems. His knowledge, enthusiasm, and speaking style will provide an entertaining and informative presentation.

And here’s a .wmv file that I made by combining an audio recording of the talk I gave to the Central Oregon Hay Growers Association with some of the slides I used (I couldn’t capture all of the animations from the PowerPoint slide deck …)

The Original North American Trail Food

Last weekend I attended the combined meetings of American Society of Bariatric Physicians and Nutrition and Metabolism Society. Among the many great researchers I met was Dr. Stephen Phinney. Over dinner the topic of pemmican came up, and we shared our recipes. During his presentation he discussed the importance of pemmican in the diets of the people who inhabited the Great Plains of North America prior to, and for some time after, the arrival of European settlers.

Pemmican is produced by pounding or grinding dried lean meat and combining it with rendered fat. It is equal parts, by weight, of dried meat and fat. Pemmican kept indefinitely without refrigeration, had a greater nutrient density than any other food, and as such, was the ideal “trail-food”. It sustained the Plains people in extraordinary health for centuries, and fueled the European exploration of North America and beyond. And then the modern nutritionists decided it needed to be “improved.”

Convinced that this meat and fat mixture couldn’t be “healthy” without vegetable matter, they started formulating various mixtures with nuts, dried berries, dried fruit, and grains in varying proportions based upon their own unsupported theories. Whatever your belief about the essentiality of carbohydrates in the human diet (they aren’t!), one fact is clear: the addition of carbohydrate to traditional pemmican reduces its nutrient density.

Remember the story of the British Antarctic Expedition of 1910, led by Robert Falcon Scott? Barry Groves explains in his book Trick and Treat that Scott was talked into supplying the party with this “improved” pemmican.

Anyone who’s been backpacking knows that the weight of your supplies is a limiting factor. Outfitting an expedition is a situation where nutrient density (amount of nutrients per pound of foodstuff) is critical. Returning from successfully reaching the South Pole (although they were beaten to the goal by a Norwegian team lead by Roald Amundsen), the three surviving members of Scott’s party died shortly after March 29, 1912 – 11 miles short of a major supply depot. Groves suggests that Scott and his party are among the first victims of the “modern” nutritionists.

Nancy read The Fat of the Land, by the Canadian Arctic explorer and ethnologist Vilhjalmur Stefansson.
Stefansson lived among the Inuit and other northern peoples for extended periods. He reported that these people ate a diet consisting of animal fat and protein and were remarkably healthy. Again, the nutritionists disagreed. It couldn’t be true because they knew humans needed vegetable matter to provide “essential” nutrients. Stefansson ultimately proved his point by submitting to a year-long study where he ate an all-meat diet. But perhaps that’s a story for another post.

Armed with Stefansson’s description of pemmican as a 1:1 dried meat to fat mixture by weight, we began our experiment:

Starting with our oven-dried beef. Remove as much fat as possible, and slice it thin. Place it on racks in the oven at 150 F. Every half hour or so, turn the pieces to promote even drying. There are other methods. Dr. Phinney uses a microwave set on 10% power. I’m afraid I didn’t get all the details during our dinner conversation. I’ll try to get the full information. If I do, I’ll post it here.
Rather than pounding the jerky to produce shreds, I used the food processor to chop it up.

I’ll try to leave it a little coarser in the future.

Transfer the meat to a bowl and add an equivalent amount of melted fat.

We’ve used home-rendered beef tallow, but the flavor is a little strong for us. Instead, we use a 50-50 mix of tallow and lard which we render from our locally produced, grass-fed beef and pastured pork. Because of the lower saturated fat content of the lard, this pemmican is softer than pemmican made with tallow would be. We store them in the refrigerator, so that’s not an issue.
We use some inexpensive candy molds to make bite-sized pemmican pieces.

After cooling in the refrigerator, they pop out of the mold fairly cleanly.

Two of these are a lot to eat, approximately 5 grams each, 38 Kcal, 1.2 g Protein & 2.5 g fat. Compare that with those “100 Calorie pack” snacks items …
Dr. Phinney appreciated the irony of the shapes. Heart-healthy! We’re not planning to apply for Heart Check logo approval …

While I Recover From the Last Three Weeks …

The last three weeks have been VERY full. Lots of great moments, with the Spring Fling Hammered Dulcimer Gathering capping it all off last weekend. I’m trying to get caught-up, and writing for this blog hasn’t been at the top of my list. I’m trying to get into the habit of posting regularly, so here are two informative videos I found on a post Tom Naughton’s blog.

I wasn’t aware of Dr. Scott Connelly or his Body Rx book and website. From the comments section of Tom’s blog I understand that Dr. Connelly has been ill recently and his condition is seen in these videos. No matter, the information is solid and his presentation is good. I’ve got a slight problem with some of his language, but it’s relatively mild.

Dr. Connelly: Talks About Insulin pt. 1
Dr. Connelly: Talks About Insulin pt. 2

Converting Grass into Meat

I frequently hear the “fact” that livestock production is an inefficient use of land, so I thought I’d have a little fun and dust off some of my old pasture management information. We can debate the numbers, but I don’t think I’m too far off …

Let’s assume the following:

– Dry matter yield from perennial ryegrass & white clover pasture of 10,000 lb per acre
– 75% of the pasture dry matter produced is consumed by the grazing animal
– A conversion rate of 14 lb of pasture dry matter per lb of hanging weight
– An edible yield of 65% of the hanging weight
– A cooked yield of 56% of the raw weight
– A per meal protein requirement of 4 ounces of cooked meat
– 3 meals per day

Under these conditions, a piece of pasture less than 209 x 209 feet could produce enough meat to supply a person’s daily protein needs for 260 days (not to mention the lovely fat!). Remember that this land can be completely unsuited to the production of grains, fruits, or vegetables.

If we could bump the pasture yield to 15,000 lbs of DM per acre, we could produce sufficient meat to supply a person’s daily protein needs for 390 days!!

Oh, and by the way, perennial pasture produces about as much root dry matter as it does above-ground dry matter, thus fixing more carbon. Even poorly-managed pasture is equal to woodland in terms of “fixing” carbon, while well-managed pasture is many times better.

This from a perennial “crop” that requires minimal fertilizer, pesticides, equipment, or petroleum to produce. But it isn’t “green” ‘cause it’s not vegetarian!


Grass and Cancer

Those familiar with the concept of a Paleolithic diet will see the irony in this drawing by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543). Though it goes against my agriculture school training, there is compelling evidence that agriculture has not been an unqualified blessing to mankind. Many will argue that the health of mankind has suffered. Paleolithic, or pre-agricultural, humans were of larger stature than their Neolithic, or agricultural, cousins. The fossils of Paleolithic and Neolithic humans can be differentiated by the presence of pathological conditions that were absent in Paleolithic humans. I came across Holbein’s drawing in the book Soil, Grass and Cancer by André Voisin. His hypothesis, seemingly supported by an impressive amount of data, was that people who ate the products of heavy clay soils suffered numerous health problems, such as thyroid disease and cancer, in spite of the fact that the soils were rich in minerals.

Voisin’s name is familiar to those who’ve read about intensive grazing management. His earlier book, Grass Productivity, is considered a classic in the subject. Born in France in 1903, André Voisin was both a biochemist and a farmer. He taught biochemistry at the National Veterinary School of France as well as at the Institute of Tropical Veterinary Medicine in Paris. But his great insights regarding soils and grass came to him in the hours he spent watching his own cows graze the pastures on his farm in Normandy. Although he was a scientist by profession, Voisin remained a farmer at heart. He understood that if the soils and grasses were managed with care, they would in turn take care of the animals who lived on them; and if our domestic animals were healthy and well fed, then those who consumed the animals and their products would also enjoy good health.

In Grass Productivity, Voisin documented the effect of the length of the “rest” period between grazings, and the length of the grazing sessions on green pasture dry matter production and green dry matter intake by dairy cows. His “Four Laws” of what he called “rational grazing” are applicable “whatever the soil conditions, climate, altitude, latitude or longitude.”

First Law: Before a sward, sheared with the animal’s teeth, can achieve its maximum productivity, sufficient interval must have elapsed between two successive shearings to allow the grass:

  1. to accumulate in its roots the reserves necessary for a vigourous spurt of re-growth;
  2. to produce it’s “blaze of growth” (or high daily yield per acre).

Second Law: The total occupation period on one paddock should be sufficiently short for a grass sheared on the first day (or at the beginning) of occupation not to be cut again by the teeth of these animals before they leave the paddock.

Third Law: The animals with the greatest nutritional requirements must be helped to harvest the greatest quantity of grass of the best possible quality.

Fourth Law: If a cow is to give regular milk yields she must not stay any longer than three days on the same paddock. Yields will be at their maximum if the cow stays on one paddock for only one day.

I’ve enjoyed getting re-acquainted with Grass Productivity. It’s been a while since I last read it. It was during a search for “Voisin” during an on-line search of the Oregon State University Library catalog that I came across Soil, Grass and Cancer. Healthy soil, according to Voisin, is more than a collection of minerals. His data seemed to suggest that people who ate the products of heavy clay soils suffered numerous health problems, such as thyroid disease and cancer, in spite of the fact that the soils were rich in minerals. He believed that organic matter served as the catalyst for mineral absorption. Minerals must first be consumed by earthworms and microscopic life and excreted as humus before they can be easily taken up by grazing animals, Voisin believed.

In addition, Voisin believed that soil nutrient balance was important. Application of concentrated fertilizers like potassium chloride and calcium nitrate to grassland, could result in a deficiency of sulfur. Voisin suggested that this deficiency would prevent plants from producing sufficient quantities of sulfur-containing amino acids and the health of the animals will suffer accordingly.

While I credit Voisin with being a visionary when it comes to dairy pasture management, I’m afraid he was mistaken in his beliefs regarding soil and cancer. His errors are similar to those of many who’ve followed him. Numerous hypotheses about the cause of cancer, and other chronic diseases, have been advanced over the years. All too often the hypotheses were based upon the weakest of data. Sadly several have become the basis of numerous regulations and official governmental policy. Shockingly they’ve done so in the face of a compelling counter-hypothesis that continues to gain scientific support. In a perfect world, it would now be considered a theory.

“Cancer, like insanity, seems to increase with the progress of civilization.”

Stanislas Tanchou

Stanislas Tanchou was a physician who, following his service with Napoleon, entered private practice and studied the statistical distribution of cancer. Tanchou presented his complex statistical examination of malignancy to the Paris Science Society in 1843 (1). He documented evidence of increased malignancy with increased civilization. One of the prime indicators of a civilizing trend was a diet that included sugar and white flour. The greater the consumption of these foods, the greater the incidence of malignancy.

Tanchou was the first of many physicians to document what have been called “Western Diseases” or “Diseases of Civilization.” The incidence of several diseases, including cancer, increases in direct proportion to the “civilization” of a nation and its people. Evidence has continued to accumulate that as populations shift from their traditional diets to diets that contain refined carbohydrates, diseases which had not been present begin appear. And as the amount of refined carbohydrate in their diet increases, the incidence of these diseases increases. This pattern has been observed in populations on every continent.

Richard Doll (the man that proved the link between cigarette smoking and cancer) and Richard Peto’s 1981 paper “The Causes of Cancer: Quantitative Estimates of Avoidable Risks of Cancer in the United States Today” made the following points: (2)

At least 75 to 80 percent of cancers in the U.S. would be avoidable with appropriate changes in diet and lifestyle.

Food additives, pollution and occupational exposures play a minimal role.

Diet plays the largest role – from 10 to 70 percent of all cancer.

Couple these points with the wealth of information about what causes Western Diseases and you’ll find what constitutes a cancer-avoiding diet – one that is low in carbohydrate. Unfortunately that message isn’t supported by Conventional Wisdom or by the United States Government.

A few years later John Higginson, the first director of the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, wrote: (3)

“It appears that only a very small part of the total cancer burden can be directly related to industrialization.”

Remember, it wasn’t industrialization that introduced cancer and other Western Diseases to populations, it was refined carbohydrates! It seems so clear, yet official policy and legislation has been focused in other directions. In part because of faulty science, and in part because of competing interests.

Another quote from Higginson:

“If [environmentalists] could possibly make people believe that cancer was going to result from pollution, this would enable them to facilitate the clean-up of water, of the air, or whatever it is… to make cancer the whipping boy for every environmental evil may prevent effective action when it does matter.”

One of the implied benefits of “organic” food is that, since it was grown without pesticides (except for those approved “organic” pesticides, of course!) consumers will reduced their risk of cancer by consuming it. But if Tanchou and all the others have been right all along, it’s organic “carbage” (organic toaster pastries, breakfast cereals, sugar, white flour, etc) and conventional “carbage” that’s posing the greatest risk for cancer.

1- Tanchou S. 1843. Statistics of Cancer London Lancet. Aug 5, 593.

2- Doll R, Peto R. 1981. “The causes of cancer: quantitative estimates of avoidable risks of cancer in the United States today.” J Natl Cancer Inst. Jun;66(6):1191-308.

3- Higginson, J. 1981. “Rethinking the Environmental Causation of Human Cancer.” Food and Cosmetics Toxicology. Oct.; 19(5):539-48.