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Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet

Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet

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Sacred Cow: The Case for (Better) Meat: Why Well-Raised Meat Is Good for You and Good for the Planet

5/5 (1 valutazione)
412 pagine
6 ore
Jul 14, 2020


We’re told that if we care about our health—or our planet—eliminating red meat from our diets is crucial. That beef is bad for us and cattle farming is horrible for the environment. But science says otherwise.

Beef is framed as the most environmentally destructive and least healthy of meats. We’re often told that the only solution is to reduce or quit red meat entirely. But despite what anti-meat groups, vegan celebrities, and some health experts say, plant-based agriculture is far from a perfect solution. In Sacred Cow, registered dietitian Diana Rodgers and former research biochemist and New York Times bestselling author Robb Wolf explore the quandaries we face in raising and eating animals—focusing on the largest (and most maligned) of farmed animals, the cow.

Taking a critical look at the assumptions and misinformation about meat, Sacred Cow points out the flaws in our current food system and in the proposed “solutions.” Inside, Rodgers and Wolf reveal contrarian but science-based findings, such as:

  • Meat and animal fat are essential for our bodies.
  • A sustainable food system cannot exist without animals.
  • A vegan diet may destroy more life than sustainable cattle farming.
  • Regenerative cattle ranching is one of our best tools at mitigating climate change.

You’ll also find practical guidance on how to support sustainable farms and a 30-day challenge to help you transition to a healthful and conscientious diet. With scientific rigor, deep compassion, and wit, Rodgers and Wolf argue unequivocally that meat (done right) should have a place on the table. 

It’s not the cow, it’s the how!

Jul 14, 2020

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Sacred Cow - Diana Rodgers, RD


"Diana and Robb have answered the burning question about meat. Sacred Cow proves ‘It’s not the COW, it’s the HOW.’ The answer to our broken food system is not no meat, it’s better meat. If you are concerned about red meat’s impact on your health and the planet, this book is for you."

—Mark Hyman, MD, Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine

"Public perception surrounding the environmental impacts of red meat is at the center of our food debates, and Diana and Robb have precisely and approachably laid out the science on how grazing animals are critical to the future of sustainable agriculture. They also definitively refute the claims that meat is unhealthy and make a convincing case that eating meat can be done in an ethical manner. I highly recommend Sacred Cow for anyone who eats."

—Mark Sisson, New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet and founder of Primal Kitchen foods

Humans have been eating meat for at least 2.6 million years, and it has played a critical role in our evolution. In this important book, Diana Rodgers and Robb Wolf use the most recent scientific evidence to make the nutritional, environmental, and ethical case for better meat—and to debunk increasingly common myths and misunderstandings about the role of animal products in our diet.

—Chris Kresser, New York Times bestselling author of The Paleo Cure and Unconventional Medicine

"Sacred Cow: The Case for Better Meat is a comprehensive, well documented treatise that provides us with all the scientific data we need to make informed choices about how to eat that will benefit BOTH ourselves and our planet!"

—Frederick Kirschenmann, PhD, Distinguished Fellow at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University

"Abandoning animal agriculture might well be the greatest mistake humanity could ever make. Today’s science cannot give definitive answers to the complex questions of human nutrition and ecological integrity. However, the scientific evidence indicting animal agriculture is weak, and evidence defending animal-based foods and farm animals as essential for human health and agricultural sustainability is strong—as clearly documented in Sacred Cow. Perhaps the most important truth in this well-written, highly readable book is that the continuation of life depends on death: ‘We are all part of a food web and the inevitable cycle of life, which includes death.’"

—John Ikerd, PhD, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri

"The current war against meat eaters and livestock farmers promises ethical, ecological, and health benefits from fake lab meat and plant-only diets. Sacred Cow debunks every utopian promise with precision missiles from science and a deep understanding of how life and the planet actually work."

—Joel Salatin, owner of Polyface Farm and editor of The Stockman Grass Farmer

The shift in agriculture, from one based on biology to one based on chemistry, and the resulting shift in our diets from whole foods to highly processed foods have resulted in nutrition-related disease, obesity, and environmental destruction. Diana and Robb fully understand the problem and the solution: we must change our diets and regenerate our soils, and well-managed grazing animals are critical to this transition.

—Allan Savory, president of Savory Institute and chairman of the Africa Center for Holistic Management

So much of the confusion about creating a sustainable future is based on a misunderstanding of ecology, evolution, and our place within the natural world. Much of our confusion has to do with our increasing separation from nature, especially how our food is produced. This book clearly explains how it all fits together, and how the interwoven evolution of ruminants, grasslands, and homo sapiens is not something to be left in the past, but to be celebrated and reclaimed.

—Mark A. Ritchie, PhD, executive director of the International Sustainable Development Studies Institute

"I once stopped eating meat because I thought it would keep me free of disease, release the world’s food animals from incomprehensible suffering, and save the planet from destruction. Twelve cavities, two root canals, and an assortment of anxiety disorders later, I realized this choice had come at the expense of my own health. If I had known about a healthier way to eat meat, one that respects animals and can support the health of the planet, I may have saved my health a lot of trouble. If only I’d have had access to Sacred Cow! Diana and Robb have written a tour de force making the case that meat can be good for our bodies, the animals, and the earth. Sacred Cow is the antidote to miserably meatless mondays and impossibly impotent impossible burgers. The cure is an ethical approach to eating animals, giving them their rightful place in our ecology."

—Chris Masterjohn, PhD, former assistant professor of Health and Nutrition Sciences at Brooklyn College


Paleo Lunches and Breakfasts on the Go

The Homegrown Paleo Cookbook


The Paleo Solution

Wired to Eat

This book is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice. The author and publisher specifically disclaim any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this book. A health-care professional should be consulted regarding your specific medical situation. Any product mentioned in this book does not imply endorsement of that product by the author or publisher.

Many of the designations used by manufacturers and sellers to distinguish their products are claimed as trademarks. Where those designations appear in this book and BenBella Books was aware of a trademark claim, the designations have been printed in initial capital letters.

Sacred Cow copyright © 2020 by Diana Rodgers and Robert Wolf

Interior graphics by James Cooper (ONIC Design), unless otherwise credited.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.

BenBella Books, Inc.

10440 N. Central Expressway, Suite 800

Dallas, TX 75231

Send feedback to

BenBella is a federally registered trademark.

First E-Book Edition: July 2020

Library of Congress Control Number: 2020001636

ISBN 9781948836913 (hardcover)

ISBN 9781950665112 (electronic)

Editing by Claire Schulz

Copyediting by Miki Alexandra Caputo

Proofreading by Lisa Story and Cape Cod Compositors, Inc.

Indexing by Amy Murphy

Text design and composition by Aaron Edmiston

Cover design by Emily Weigel and James Cooper

Cover photo © Shutterstock / jagoda (landscape) and © Dreamstime / Gpgroup (bull)

Printed by Lake Book Manufacturing

Distributed to the trade by Two Rivers Distribution, an Ingram brand

Special discounts for bulk sales are available.

Please contact

For our children. May they steward this world better than those who came before them.



Sacred Cow Quick Reference Guide

CHAPTER 1:Meat as Scapegoat


CHAPTER 2:Are Humans Omnivores?

CHAPTER 3:Are We Eating Too Much Meat?

CHAPTER 4:Does Meat Cause Chronic Disease?

CHAPTER 5:Is Meat a Healthy Food?

CHAPTER 6:Even If Meat Isn’t Bad for Me, Can’t I Get All My Nutrition from Plants?


CHAPTER 7:What Role Does Livestock Play in Our Environment?

CHAPTER 8:Can a Sustainable Food System Exist Without Animals?

CHAPTER 9:Are Cattle Contributing to Climate Change?

CHAPTER 10:Aren’t Cattle Inefficient with Feed?

CHAPTER 11:Don’t Cattle Take Up Too Much Land?

CHAPTER 12:Don’t Cattle Drink Too Much Water?


CHAPTER 13:Is Eating Animals Immoral?

CHAPTER 14:Why Did Meat Become Taboo?

CHAPTER 15:Why Eat Animals If We Could Survive on Only Plants?


CHAPTER 16:Feeding the World

CHAPTER 17:Eat Like a Nutrivore

In Closing




About the Authors

For more information on the issues described in this book and the Sacred Cow documentary film, please visit


At our grocery stores and dinner tables, even the most thoughtful consumers are overwhelmed when choosing how to eat right—especially when it comes to meat.

It’s an ethical, environmental, and nutritional conundrum. We want a food system that is sustainable and provides us with fantastic nutrition. Most of us want to follow the noble principle of doing least harm. And when we’re confronted with the legitimate horrors of the modern industrial food system, and a flood of contradictory messages coming from mainstream health experts and the media, many have resolved the quandary by reducing the amount of meat they eat or cutting it out entirely. Surely a meat-free diet is the only approach that can be environmentally sustainable for the long haul, and we’ve heard it’s better for us anyway.

The notion that meat is unhealthy and bad for the environment is, in some circles, settled science. The arguments are simple, powerful, and compelling: meat, they say, causes cancer, heart disease, and diabetes and is disproportionately damaging to the environment. These appealingly unambiguous elevator pitch claims get repeated by Hollywood stars, tech moguls, ideological groups, food companies.

Yet when we dig deeper, we discover nuances and details that can’t be captured in sound bites or memes. It’s a complex story that spans physics, chemistry, biology, and ecology (to say nothing of psychology and the thorny topic of economics). It’s become quite clear to us we’re being told a story about what’s best for our bodies and the planet. And that story may at best be inaccurate and at worst an existential threat. In a nutshell, the prejudice that meat is bad for health and the environment and that eating it is a morally objectionable practice has effectively become a sacred cow. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines the term thus:

Sacred cow: an idea, custom, or institution held, especially unreasonably, to be above criticism.

What is sold as sustainable, ethical, and healthy is a food system without animals, or at least one that involves substantially less meat than our current levels of consumption. These notions are accepted largely as fact. But the evidence—although it’s difficult to unpack—is clearly not consistent with these ideas.


Diana is a registered dietitian with a clinical practice helping people recover their health through real food. Her blog, Sustainable Dish, started as a healthy, locally sourced recipe site but has grown into a much deeper dive into food systems. She has spent the last eighteen years living on a working organic farm that grows vegetables and raises pasture-based meat. She met Robb in 2011 after reading his book The Paleo Solution, which has sold nearly a million copies.

Trained as a research biochemist, Robb discovered that the optimal human diet is one that most closely mimics our ancestral way of eating, before the invention of ultraprocessed foods.

Both of us have dealt with severe digestive issues, have minds that question everything, and are always looking to find the truth behind commonly held beliefs. In addition to our firsthand experience with food production and our deep backgrounds in science, we’ve read many books, interviewed experts, and have attended a remarkable number of conferences on agriculture. When we met, we quickly bonded over our interest not only in optimal human health but in discovering which food production methods were best from a sustainability perspective. For various reasons, the majority of health experts seem to have little, if any, firsthand knowledge or formal education in food production and sustainability. (When Diana was in her graduate nutrition program, the only class on food procurement focused solely on how to obtain food service commodities at the lowest price—no thought was given to where and how that food was actually grown.) And, on the other side, most agriculture and environmental experts tend not to consider optimal human nutritional needs in their arguments. Everyone seems to be tackling the future of food from their individual silos, with little knowledge or appreciation of the system as a whole. So, the intersection of this Venn diagram is something not many have explored.

Where do they overlap? To us, it makes perfect sense that we should strive for a diet that closely mimics what humans have evolved to eat and implement agricultural systems that follow nature as much as possible. In this book we’ll walk you through how we came to these conclusions.

We have been talking about the ideas in this book for many years (Robb’s first public discussion on the ethical, health, and environmental considerations of a meat-inclusive food system was in 2006). But the amount of work required to intelligently unpack these complex arguments seemed daunting—and it still was even when we wrote this book, to be honest!

And yet, now is the time to have this discussion. The debate is picking up momentum in the food world; folks are giving more and more attention to finding a diet that will both feed a growing population and preserve the planet.

Both of us have spent an enormous amount of time studying this topic and attempting to poke holes in not just our conclusions but the conclusions of the source material we cite throughout this work. Through our research, what we’ve discovered is that, contrary to the popular narrative, red meat is one of the most nutrient-dense foods available; indeed, the extent of access to nutrient-dense animal products such as meat is one of the greatest distinguishers between the poor and wealthy in developed or developing countries. Perhaps more controversially, when raised properly, cattle and other grazers may be one of our most promising tools toward mitigating climate change.


We want to be clear: this book is not anti-vegan. Oftentimes, strong feelings come into play when deciding what to eat, and there’s a large body of psychological research establishing that it’s almost impossible to sway people who have made emotional decisions. However, we feel that with a complete understanding of the nutritional and environmental argument for better meat a more nuanced ethical discussion can begin to take place.

In our increasingly polarized world, where it’s all or nothing, this book is here to introduce some much-needed nuance. If you’re an ethical omnivore concerned about the environmental impact of your food choices, this book is for you. If you’re a vegetarian or vegan but are considering eating meat again, like Robb was, this book is for you. If you’re familiar with how cattle can be part of a regenerative food system, but still worried red meat will kill you, this book is for you. If you’re open to science, then this book is definitely for you.

Now, some will say that we are writing this material to support positions set forth in our previous work; Robb is a Paleo diet expert and Diana has written two Paleo cookbooks. But you’ll find that many of our conclusions are at odds with deeply held beliefs in the ancestral health community. Perhaps most glaring: although grass-fed meat may be superior from a sustainability perspective, current research indicates that it is only marginally different from conventionally raised meat when it comes to health and nutrients. Adherents of both veganism and the Paleo diet will take issue with much of what we have to say, and that puts us in an unenviable position as authors. It would be easier for us if our findings lined up neatly with one of these worldviews, but as you will see, the truth may not fit perfectly with any preconceived diet rules.


Several years ago a PBS station in Boston was organizing a meat debate. On the anti-meat side of the aisle were to be Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and pro-vegan physician John McDougall. Robb was approached about being on the pro-meat side of the debate. Robb asked what the format and topics were to be. The PBS representative said it was to be a discussion on the relative health merits of a meat-inclusive diet versus a vegan diet. Robb said that was unacceptable. Discussions like this tend to involve a lot of moving the goalposts: They typically start with the health topic (although today, environment and climate change have perhaps displaced this), and as the many problems with a vegan diet become obvious, the discussion inevitably shifts to the environment. Once significant doubt emerges about the plausibility of a food system absent animals, the discussion then shifts to ethics. Once the least-harm principle and a basic understanding of food production systems is established, the topic inevitably shifts to feeding the world.

Robb insisted that both sides should make their respective cases on each of these topics and then be cross-examined by their debate counterparts. He would not participate in a format where his counterparts could hop from topic to topic, obscuring the topic at hand. The PBS representative thought this was a good idea and would make for a much more robust discussion. For reasons known only to them, Mackey and McDougall pulled out of the discussion once these rules of engagement were in place.

Sacred Cow will follow the same format Robb suggested for the PBS debate because a book about why we need better meat in our food system must address the three main criticisms against meat: nutritional, environmental, and ethical.

These important topics generate more than a few questions:

•Should we eat meat at all?

•Is there a best diet for humans? Or is there a spectrum of optimal human nutrition?

•Can meat be part of a sustainable food system?

•Can a sustainable food system exist without meat and animal contributions, both nutritionally and environmentally?

•How important are ethics in the story of human nutrition and sustainability?

There are sound cases to be made that a food system that includes grazing animals can be the best choice for our environment and our bodies, and that eating large grazing animals like cows can actually represent the path of least harm from an ethical standpoint. Our goal is to bring the real food and sustainability worlds together. It’s time to look back toward nature to learn how to fix our future.


We recommend reading Sacred Cow from start to finish, but we also realize some of you may be itching for answers to your most burning concerns about beef. To help you tackle the book in this way, here’s a list of the most common questions so you can skip to the relevant section:

1.Do vegetarians live longer than meat eaters? Page 61.

2.Will eating meat increase my chances of getting cancer? Page 56.

3.Aren’t we eating way too much meat? Page 31.

4.How much protein should I eat? Page 32.

5.Is grass-fed beef healthier than typical beef? Page 73.

6.Isn’t it possible for me to get all my nutrients from plants? Chapter 6 (page 85).

7.Are lab-meat and hydroponics a good way to grow food? Page 129.

8.Don’t cattle emit too much methane? Page 134.

9.How do cattle sequester carbon? Page 143.

10.Doesn’t it take twelve pounds of grain per pound of beef? Page 149.

11.Don’t cattle take up too much land? Chapter 11 (page 158).

12.Don’t cattle drink too much water? Chapter 12 (page 171).

13.Why eat animals if we can survive on only plants? Chapter 6 (page 85) and Chapter 11 (page 158).

14.Do we have the land to produce the demand for grass-finished beef? Page 232.

15.Just tell me what to eat for human and planetary health! Page 247.



It’s commonplace today to blame meat for everything from cancer to global warming. We hope you can appreciate that addressing all these claims is a bit like a game of whack-a-mole. That said, in the last several years that we’ve both been talking about the benefits of better meat, we’ve been able to boil down the arguments against meat into three main subjects: nutrition, environment, and ethics. During any debate, once we’ve thoroughly addressed the nutritional case, the argument swiftly shifts to greenhouse gases, land use, water, sentience, intent, or least harm. Before we begin to unpack these, let’s begin with our current situation: the climate crisis and our failing health, and why we believe cattle are being unfairly blamed as one of the main culprits.

We appear to be in the midst of the sixth mass extinction the earth has witnessed since life began. About 40 percent of our insect population is on the decline, and according to one study the earth may not have any insects at all by 2119.¹ Another study found that over the last hundred years, the average rate of vertebrate species loss was one hundred times the normal rate.² When we lose one specific plant that was the primary food for an animal, that animal dies, and the larger animals that depend on the first animal are also threatened. Across the 4.5 billion-year history of the earth, mass extinction events are certainly not unheard of; there have already been five mass extinctions in which 75 percent of the planet’s living species died off. This extinction, however, is different from the others because it is largely attributable to habitat loss—which is thought to be due to intensive agriculture and agrochemical pollutants.³

At the same time life on the planet is suffering environmental threats, human health is also getting worse. A fairly consistent feature of the twentieth century was that, in general, each generation lived longer, better (albeit a highly subjective term), healthier lives than the generation that came before. A host of factors played into this, not the least of which were the germ theory of infection, antibiotics, public health, and a dramatically improved diet. Yet now, for the first time in modern history, human life span, particularly in developed nations, is declining.* Chronic degenerative diseases are rapidly increasing. And despite knowing more about nutrition than ever before, our obesity and diabetes rates continue to soar. Throughout recorded history, hunger has been humanity’s main problem. But today, far more people die from eating too much rather than too little—although it’s fair to say that most of these people are overfed yet undernourished (a topic we will explore more later). What’s more, the real health-care costs associated with our broken food system are poised to literally cripple developed countries via a host of untenable economic scenarios. One in seven dollars spent on health care in the US goes to treating diabetes and its complications,⁴ and the combined cost of health care and missed work from obesity is over $150 billion.⁵

We’re rightly scared about our health and our world. But many of the proposed solutions have tunnel vision. More and more, we are being sold a notion that there is only one good way to eat and, by extension, only one way to produce food. Christiana Figueres, the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, recently declared that eating meat should be abolished. How about restaurants in 10–15 years start treating carnivores the same way that smokers are treated? If they want to eat meat, they can do it outside the restaurant.⁶ But is meat eating really as toxic as smoking cigarettes? Is a global food system really most sustainable if it focuses on a few crops, which are dependent on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides? How did we get to this point, where food sources that humans have relied on for millions of years are now considered backward and objectionable?


Meat is strong. It’s red, bloody, has a rich flavor, and throughout our history has been associated with hunting, ritual, power, vitality, sexuality, and wealth. And as we’ll discuss later (chapter six), animal products are nutritionally vital to humans. Despite the nutritional benefits of meat, plant proteins are labeled as pure and clean while meat and animal products have been labeled as dirty, unhealthy, and sinful. Many people classify their diet as it relates to the level of meat intake (carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, flexitarian, or vegan) and there are strong judgments made by some of these dietary tribes against each other.

This is not new. Within just the Abrahamic religions, differing food proscriptions have helped to define culture and demarcate in-groups from out-groups. But we are modern, civilized, and sophisticated. Surely, ancient tendencies to define good versus evil, to call for violence against another group based on food, is a feature of our past, not our future. Right? How did meat go from a necessity to something many fear or even are repulsed by?

Frédéric Leroy, a food scientist and microbiologist at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, has written on the topic of meat and how our views of it have changed through the years. Leroy has examined how meat became a pharmakon, a Greek word that can equally denote a remedy and a poison, as well as a pharmakos, or scapegoat.⁷ This idea has grown in lockstep with increasing concerns about our health and environment and may have roots in our collective disconnect from how food in general—and meat in particular—is produced. An alternate title for this book could have been Scapegoat, as meat is a singular focus of all that is wrong with the modern world, including individual health concerns, privilege, and destroying the planet. No other food is quite as powerful or polarizing. We’ll dig more into this idea in chapter fourteen, but it’s critical to note that the feelings we have toward killing animals are deeply entrenched in our culture, and this has influenced dietary and environmental policy.

Humans weren’t always separate from nature, or at least not as contemporary Westerners are now presenting the issue. As hunter-gatherers for most of our existence, we held very distinct worldviews. Current research suggests that at least 2.6 million years ago animal products became an important part of the hominin diet.⁸ We were able to handle raw meat by using tools to cut and pound it. Even though cooking meat didn’t start until about half a million years ago, the nutrients we got from raw meat and fat gave us a huge boost, allowing for the development of bigger, smarter brains and advanced vocal cords.⁹ Eating meat also gave us freedom from the time-consuming process of gathering plants and chewing them. On a calorie-by-calorie basis, animal products provide far more nutrition than any plant material, and raw, unprocessed plants required far more energy and resources to digest, so animal products were highly prized. We hunted what we needed and used all parts of the animal. Meat was important to us, both physically and as part of community function.

Beginning about ten thousand years

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