By Annabel Morgan, Gallatin County, Montana
“Hey, be neat, no meat,” said television talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres in a short video she posted to social media on September 17.
“It’s a great idea for the planet. It’s a great idea for your health. It’s a great idea for the animal’s health,” she said. On Instagram, people have watched the video almost 5 million times.
I like Ellen a lot.
I like her humor. I like her compassion. And I like her show, even though I don’t get to see it very often.
But I don’t like what she said about meat—and I replied to her comments in my own short video. To my surprise, my remarks got some attention. If I had known that this was going to happen, I would have done a better job of brushing my hair!
Yet I wanted to get across my main message. It’s okay to eat meat. You don’t need to feel guilty about it.
If you want to be a vegetarian, that’s fine by me. If you want to go even further and be a vegan, then I say: Okay and good luck. Ellen ate a vegan diet for years, though now she apparently eats fish and eggs as well.
Food is a personal choice and I don’t want to change anyone’s preferences. I’m glad that our diverse food industry can satisfy so many different needs and desires.
But nobody should quit eating meat for the reasons Ellen listed. The production of meat doesn’t hurt the environment, the consumption of it is good for your health, and nobody cares more about the welfare of animals than the ranchers and farmers who tend to them every day.
I’m part of a ranch family in Montana. On my husband’s side, we go back five generations. We run a commercial beef operation that features high alpine grazing and a permanent mother herd, which means that some of our cows are with us for 15 years. We grow native grasses for their food and use bulls for breeding.
Ranchers like me are often criticized for working with livestock because our animals emit greenhouse gases and contribute to climate change. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, however, the vast majority of greenhouse gases come from transportation (29 percent), electricity (28 percent), and industry (22 percent). All of agriculture accounts for only 9 percent—and livestock are just a fraction of this amount.
So we’re hardly a major problem. Electricity is a bigger threat, but Ellen can’t criticize its overuse because without electricity, nobody could watch her on television.
Meat is also an excellent source of protein and part of a healthy diet. It provides a good balance with vegetables, fruit, and other types of food. It’s nutritious and delicious.
What bothers me most about Ellen’s anti-meat manifesto, however, is what she says about animals—and the casual implication that we ranchers treat our livestock with cruelty.
Nothing could be further from the truth. For one thing, unhealthy animals are unprofitable. We have a financial incentive to keep our livestock strong. Healthy animals bring us the best prices.
We also want them happy. This means creating a low-stress environment. We make sure that each animal has enough room to graze. When we’re around them, we try to talk in monotone voices to avoid alarming them. When we have to move them, we don’t force them where they don’t want to go but rather coax them in the right direction.
The bottom line is that we’re kind to them. We treat them well.
They don’t get sick very often, in part because we give them vaccinations, just as we give vaccinations to our kids. Nothing is foolproof, of course, and sometimes they come down with ailments. When that happens, we put them under the care of veterinarians and work them back to health.
And when it comes time to slaughter them, their final moments are quick and painless. We care for them from birth to death.
So to Ellen, I say: Enjoy your vegetarian diet. And if you want to learn more about how we raise cattle on our farm and provide meat for those who enjoy it as part of their healthy diet, please come and visit us in Montana. You are welcome anytime.
To the meat-eaters whom she’s trying to guilt into changing their habits, I say: Be neat, eat meat.
Annabel and her family run a 5th generation family cow/calf ranch in Gallatin County Montana. The ranch, established in 1880, consists of high alpine grazing and lower hay ground. Annabel is a guest author for the Global Farmer Network www.globalfarmernetwork.org