Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Living on a gravel road in a rural Arkansas county with more cows than people, I have much to be thankful for on my favorite American holiday. Hence a Thanksgiving lesson in boondocks economics: Last week, I paid my hay man $2,200 for 55 round bales to see my cows and horses through the winter. That’s $40 apiece, a more than fair price.

Weighing 1,200 pounds, a single bale feeds half a dozen cows for roughly a week, depending on the weather. The colder it gets, the more they eat. There’s always a celebration among the big girls whenever I bring them a new one. Spontaneous head-butting matches, that kind of thing. The horses, too, start running and bucking when they hear my neighbor’s tractor coming to lift a new bale out of the barn and over the fence.

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6 responses to “Thankful For My America”

  1. JohnCoffman says:

    Gene, Thanks for your thanksgiving post. Brings back fond memories when I was raising kids, cats and cows on my small farm. I have been following the drought since we have friends in TX. I remember selling all but two cows when I ran out of pasture in June. I was lucky, I got .50 on the dollar. Later that season 7 steers showed up on the place, my pond still had water and their pasture had dried up. The radio station still took missing animals announcements, so I found the owner.
    John C

  2. BruceGruber says:

    Excellent, informative, and poignant. Having moved from a 1/4 acre suburban lot in Atlanta, the City That Used to be “OF” Trees, to 37 acres of farmland in Casey County, KY has been eye opening. I could unfairly generalize and describe my former universe as narrowly focused on TODAY and the immediacy of efforts to balance rising costs and declining property values or 401-K’s or a sense of foreboding over educational decline or ‘revenue enhancement techniques’ of the local police department. My new world shows the scars, burdens and joys of decades of family and community interdependence. While justified pride in free, natural and self-determined decision making (and responsibility) abound, an atmosphere of resentful impotence and resignation over-arches any conversations that delve into the complexities of society, education, or politics – as though these ‘externalities’ are alien and impenetrable compared with rainfall and fertilizer prices. Elections are examples of impotence rather than exercises in communal decision making. Minimizing debt, helping neighbors do the same, and ‘getting by’ is the defense against society’s seeming individualized indifference and amoral speculation.
    We haven’t yet figured out how to make our ‘farm’ pay for itself. With no livestock (yet), the hay that grows is being shared freely with neighbors who help with tractor repairs. Knowing hay is worth $100 a roll 1000 miles down the road is not unlike knowing that the lucky $1 lottery ticket could change things quite a bit.
    Obama’s observation that “bitter” small-town Americans “cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.” doesn’t seem dumb. It sounds like it has been taken out of a much broader context. It sounds somewhat like the turf defense of a street gang or a Tea Party member’s belief regarding the effect of government on their life. I’m pretty sure that when Oshkosh and Fruit of the Loom moved 8000 local jobs to Mexico, consideration of the years of service and community support did not compute in the Wall Street type considerations … and you and Matt Taibbi are both appreciated. “MOO!” too.

  3. futuristic06 says:

    Where was the CIA/FBI Labor day 1990
    when the news was out that 9/11 was coming.
    What I read 6 weeks before 9/11 Jeb Bush set up Florida Homeland Security.
    Where did he get his Info. for this to happen.
    Why was Osama Bin Laden Family in the Air over Florida all planes were Grounded.

  4. Vasu Murti says:

    Veganism Is Direct Action!

    “A diet that can lead to heart attacks, cancer, and numerous other diseases cannot be a natural diet,” writes Keith Akers in A Vegetarian Sourcebook (1983). “A diet that pillages our resources of land, water, forests, and energy cannot be a natural diet. A diet that causes the unnecessary suffering and death of billions of animals each year cannot be a natural diet.”

    I understand there are conservative Christians who fear vegetarianism…which is kind of like being afraid of nonsmoking, nondrinking, or recycling.

    Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain fed to livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.

    A pamphlet put out by Compassion Over Killing says raising animals for food is one of the leading causes of both pollution and resource depletion today. According to a recent United Nations report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, and other animals for food causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks and other forms of transportation combined.

    Researchers from the University of Chicago similarly concluded that a vegetarian diet is the most energy efficient, and the average American does more to reduce global warming emissions by not eating animal products than by switching to a hybrid car.

    “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

    –Union Nations’ Food and Agriculture Association

    Nearly 75% of the grain grown and 50% of the water consumed in the U.S. are used by the meat industry. (Audubon Society)

    Over 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to grow grain for livestock. (Greenpeace)

    It takes nearly one gallon of fossil fuel and 5,200 gallons of water to produce just one pound of conventionally fed beef. (Mother Jones)

    Farmed animals produce an estimated 1.4 billion tons of fecal waste each year in the U.S. Much of this untreated waste pollutes the land and water.

    The following points and facts are excerpted from Please Don’t Eat the Animals (2007) by the mother-daughter writing team of Jennifer Horsman and Jaime Flowers:

    “A reduction in beef and other meat consumption is the most potent single act you can take to halt the destruction of our environment and preserve our natural resources. Our choices do matter: What’s healthiest for each of us personally is also healthiest for the life support system of our precious, but wounded planet.”

    –John Robbins, author, Diet for a New America, and President, EarthSave Foundation

    One study puts animal waste in the United States to between 2.4 trillion to 3.9 trillion pounds per year. The United states produces 15,000 pounds of manure per person. This is 130 times the amount of waste produced by the entire human population of the United States.

    A 1,000-cow dairy can produce approximately 120,000 pounds of waste per day. This is the functional equivalent of the amount of sanitary waste produced by a city of 20,000 people.

    A 20,000-chicken factory produces about 2.4 million pounds of manure a year. Poultry factories are one of the fastest growing industries throughout Asia.

    One pig excretes nearly three gallons of waste per day, or 2.5 times the average human’s daily total. One hog farm with 50,000 pigs in France produces more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles, and some pig farms are much larger.

    Factory farm pollution is the primary source of damage to coastal waters in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. Scientists report that over sixty percent of the coastal waters in the United States are moderately to severely degraded from factory farm nutrient pollution. This pollution creates oxygen-depleted dead zones, which are huge areas of ocean devoid of aquatic life.

    Meat production causes deforestation, which then contributes to global warming. Trees convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and the destruction of forests around the globe to make room for grazing cattle furthers the greenhouse effect.

    The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations reports that the annual rate of tropical deforestation has increased from nine million hectares in 1980 to 16.8 million hectares in 1990, and unfortunately, this destruction has accelerated since then. By 1994, a staggering 200 million hectares of rainforest had been destroyed in South America just for cattle.

    “The impact of countless hooves and mouths over the years has done more to alter the type of vegetation and land forms of the West than all the water projects, strip mines, power plants, freeways, and sub-division developments combined.”

    –Philip Fradkin, in Audubon, National Audubon Society, New York

    Agricultural meat production generates air pollution. As manure decomposes, it releases over 400 volatile organic compounds, many of which are extremely harmful to human health.

    Nitrogen, a major by-product of animal wastes, changes to ammonia as it escapes into the air, and this is a major source of acid rain. Worldwide, livestock produce over thirty million tons of ammonia. Hydrogen sulfide, another chemical released from animal waste, can cause irreversible neurological damage, even at low levels.

    The World Conservation Union lists over 1,000 different fish species that are threatened or endangered. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimate, over 60 percent of the world’s fish species are either fully exploited or depleted. Commercial fish populations of cod, hake, haddock, and flounder have fallen by as much as 95 percent in the north Atlantic.

    The United States and Europe lose several billion tons of topsoil each year from cropland and grazing land, and 84 percent of this erosion is caused by livestock agriculture. While this soil is theoretically a renewable resource, we are losing soil at a much faster rate than we are able to replace it. It takes 100 to 500 years to produce one inch of topsoil, but due to livestock grazing and feeding, farming areas can lose up to six inches of topsoil a year.

    Livestock production affects a startling 70 to 85 percent of the land area of the United States, United Kingdom, and the European Union. That includes the public and private rangeland used for grazing, as well as the land used to produce the crops that feed the animals. By comparison, urbanization only affects three percent of the United States land area, slightly larger for the European Union and the United Kingdom. Meat production consumes the world’s land resources.

    Half of all fresh water worldwide is used for thirsty livestock. Producing eight ounces of beef requires an unimaginable 25,000 liters of water, or the water necessary for one pound of steak equals the water consumption of the average household for a year.

    The United States government spends $10 million each year to kill an estimated 100,000 wild animals, including coyotes, foxes, bobcats, badgers, bears, and mountain lions just to placate ranchers who don’t want these animals killing their livestock. The cost far outweighs the damage to livestock that these predators cause.

    The Worldwatch Institute estimates one pound of steak from a steer raised in a feedlot costs: five pounds of grain, a whopping 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about 34/b> pounds of topsoil.

    Thirty-three percent of our nation’s raw materials and fossil fuels go into livestock destined for slaughter. In a vegan economy, only two percent of our resources will go to the production of food.

    “It seems disingenuous for the intellectual elite of the first world to dwell on the subject of too many babies being born in the second- and third-world nations while virtually ignoring the overpopulation of cattle and the realities of a food chain that robs the poor of sustenance to feed the rich a steady diet of grain-fed meat.”

    –Jeremy Rifkin, pro-life AND pro-animal author, Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, and president of the Greenhouse Crisis Foundation

    According to the editors of World Watch, July/August 2004:

    “The human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future–deforestization, topsoil erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities and the spread of disease.”

    Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, similarly says in the February 1995 issue of Harmony: Voices for a Just Future (a peace and justice periodical on the religious left):

    “…the survival of our planet depends on our sense of belonging–to all other humans, to dolphins caught in dragnets to pigs and chickens and calves raised in animal concentration camps, to redwoods and rainforests, to kelp beds in our oceans, and to the ozone layer.”

    The number of animals killed for food in the United States is nearly 75 times larger than the number of animals killed in laboratories, 30 times larger than the number killed by hunters and trappers, and 500 times larger than the number of animals killed in animal pounds.

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is challenging those who think they can still be “meat-eating environmentalists” to go veg, if they really care about the planet.

    peta2 is now the largest youth movement of any social change organization in the world.

    peta2 has 267,000 friends on MySpace and 91,000 Facebook fans.

    A few years ago, PETA was the top-ranked charity when a poll asked teenagers what nonprofit group they would most want to work for. PETA won by more than a two to one margin over the second place finisher, The American Red Cross, with more votes than the Red Cross and Habitat for Humanity combined.

    “If anyone wants to save the planet,” says Paul McCartney in an interview with PETA’s Animal Times magazine from 2001, “all they have to do is stop eating meat. That’s the single most important thing you could do.

    “It’s staggering when you think about it. Vegetarianism takes care of so many things in one shot: ecology, famine, cruelty. Let’s do it! Linda was right. Going veggie is the single best idea for the new century.”

    Even if meat-eaters can’t understand the crime of unnecessarily killing animals, they must acknowledge the obvious injustice of taking grain away from the hungry just to feed livestock. Vegan author John Robbins writes in his Pulitzer Prize nominated Diet for a New America:

    “Half the world’s population does not receive an adequate amount of food to eat. Ten to twenty million die annually of hunger and its effects. The Institute for Food and Development Policy reports that, ‘Forty thousand children starve to death on this planet every day,’ or one child every two seconds.

    “The livestock population of the United States today consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed over five times the entire human population of the country. We feed these animals over 80% of the corn we grow, and over 95% of the oats. Less than half the harvested agricultural acreage in the United States is used to grow food for people. Most of it is used to grow livestock feed.

    “The world’s cattle alone, not to mention pigs and chickens, consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. It takes 16 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef. According to Department of Agriculture statistics, one acre of land can grow 20,000 pounds of potatoes. That same acre of land, if used to grow cattlefeed, can produce less than 165 pounds of beef.”

    Ronald J. Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, in his 1977 book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, pointed out that 220 million Americans were eating enough food (largely because of the high consumption of grain-fed livestock) to feed over one billion people in the poorer countries.

    Les Brown of the Overseas Development Council calculates that if Americans reduced their meat consumption by only ten percent per year, it would free at least twelve million tons of grain for human consumption–or enough to feed sixty million people.

  5. faultroy says:

    This is one of the better commentaries that Lyons has written. However, while he waxes poetic about his farmer neighbor, he neglects to mention why these farmers have day jobs–they can’t make any money in farming. The margins are so tight, the farmers are being squeezed by both the fertilizer giants, the oil company prices, and the grain buyers and of course the consumers. And while Lyons is “Thankful for His America,” the reason he is thankful is because he is not trying to make a living doing what he enjoys. Rather, he writes and makes his living as a city slicker and plays at farming. That someone with access to a national audience to not mention the harsh realities of our small farm system to not give voice to the very same farmer that is literally helping him in his hobby is rather disturbing. Perhaps Lyons should spend a little more time with his farmer neighbor rather than playing with his cows. Perhaps then we would be able to see just how unfair the farmer’s plight really is. Every rural community is being stifled by the unfair and greedy tax structures that always take more out of his meager profits while demanding ever more dollars for public services and their employees. Their school taxes go up and taxes to keep the public service sector in cushy jobs and even better retirement incomes while the farmer has the privilege of working 18 hour days during the harvest season without any EEOC or labor regulations for him to sue his employer. People like Lyons have no problem demanding that “government” help illegals and all manner of disenfranchised, while at the same time requiring small farmers to help pay for all these benefits. What disturbs me most about people like Lyons is their complete and utter cluelessness. He literally can’t see the forest for the trees. And because of this he literally bites the hand that feeds him–and his cows.

  6. dpaano says:

    I get what you’re saying, but man was eating meat way before politics, environment, etc. came into play, and I’m sure they will continue to eat meat. Our bodies are meant to have meat protein, believe it or not, and even vegans have to have SOME type of protein. Sorry, but I’d rather have a steak occasionally (and I really do only have beef and pork occasionally), than a plateful of veggies every day! I’m not putting down vegans…my husband, who is a chef, is one to a degree. I’m just saying that meat has been the meal of choice for centuries.

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