What a Cow Can Teach Someone Following a Vegan Diet

Posted by on Jul 14, 2015 in Grow Better Greens Podcast | Comments Off on What a Cow Can Teach Someone Following a Vegan Diet

In Episode 5 we explore what a cow can teach someone following a vegan diet. Disclaimer: this is a vegetable -centric idea and not any sort of attack on Vegans or a call to eat meat! We explore ways in which cows source the highest quality foods around them at the exact right time, to better their health as well as our own. You can listen here:




Vegan Diet: What a Cow can Teach a Vegan? (Episode Five), Show Notes:

Cows Are Masterfully Selective Eaters1:48
What They Taste as Sweetness on Their Tongues, We Must Measure with a Hand Tool4:02
Our Tastebuds are Simply a Bit out of Practice5:14
So, What HAS a Cow to do with a Vegan lifestyle?7:19
How do we get minerals in our home garden like cows get in the farming environment?10:15
Why Do You Grow Food?


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Cows Are Masterfully Selective Eaters

If you don’t mind, I’m going to tell you a little personal story, from how I learned about growing better food (aka ‘nutrient dense farming’). For me, it was through a course called Holistic Management International. As part of our course, we were taught pasture management practices. So, we actually took a field trip to a dairy farm and watched cows grazing and spent the day talking to the farmers about that particular farm’s practices.

The reality was that myself and several other people in the class were solely vegetable farmers; we were not actually raising animals. For that field trip, we definitely thought that we were just expected to hang out for the day and enjoying the scenery.

But I ended up really blown away because what we saw (and what I think would be so interesting for any vegan to see), is that cows are exceptionally aware of the nutrients that they put into their bodies. So aware that after grazing on pasture, they may seek out nutrients they missed by looking elsewhere.

After the cows we were observing grazed on their pasture grasses, they came back into a holding area in the barn that housed a whole variety of free choice minerals in bins. So, imagine these plywood boxes attached to the walls that were filled with different minerals for the cows to lick to their heart’s content. And as they came in from each specific field, we noticed that they would collectively beeline it to the same exact bin of minerals as a group and all start eating from just that bin.

Here’s the best part: imagine that the cows had just been grazing and upon their return they all started licking manganese. What the farmer was able to show us, was that by referring to their soil tests from every pasture, they were able to notice, “Okay, so they were just in Pasture A and, yeah, in fact, Pasture A has a manganese deficiency.” This had become a definitive pattern on the farm.

I was blown away that cows are so in touch with their nutritional needs right through their taste buds. I want to be able to do that.

How a Cow’s Selective Eating Helps You and I

On the flipside of veganism, we have the Paleo eater or the intentional meat eater, who’s after grass-fed beef all of the time. So, when you’re raising cows, either for beef or to make really high fat milk, what you want is for them to graze your pastureland correctly so that they get the most high quality food (we’ll get more specific below).

But you also want them to graze your pastures correctly so that you have the healthiest soil and plants stabilizing your land. And the good news for a farmer is that they don’t actually have to police this too much because it’s what a cow naturally does.

As the land is grazed correctly, missing minerals are brought up into the topsoil, ensuring that trace minerals and missing nutrients are made available to all of the flora and fauna. Allowing cows to graze farm land (under watchful management) means that the quality of the food produced on the farm will rise. In fact the mentor farmers who hosted our Holistic Management field trip shared with us that their cows were able to balance out the nutrients in many of their pastures, all on their own. The farmers did not have to plant special grasses or legumes, till in minerals, or rotate any crops to achieve mineral-rich soil that grows better vegetables; they only had to allow their herd of cows the space and the freedom to do what comes so naturally to them.

What They Taste as Sweetness on Their Tongues, We Must Measure with a Hand Tool (this is called Brix!)

Imagine that you have a group of cows all penned off in a certain section of land. They’re going to make one pass over the whole entire area just eating the top third of every blade of grass because that’s where the highest amount of sugar is. It’s also where the highest amount of minerals resides, because sugar is how nutrients travel through a plant. So the top third of a blade of grass is the highest quality food for a cow and it’s what they want to eat above all else. They won’t go for a second bite as quickly as they’ll step right next door and have the first bite of another section of high-sugar grass tips.

Here’s where the farmer has to employ strategic management practices. If the farmer doesn’t move the whole herd of cows quickly enough and all of the first chomps, all of those tasty top thirds are eaten, then the cows have no choice but to start eating the second part of the blade and the third part, until they’ve eaten right down to the root out of hunger. So, when you see pastures that have been chomped down to the ground, it’s essentially due to poor management.

Further, when the land is grazed correctly and only the top third of the grass is taken, you actually have a stronger root system and better, more nutritious plants making their way up to the top. A big part of the bigger picture about grazing animals like cows, is that they actually have the ability to heal large tracts of land and to make the minerals that are so vital to life for all mammals rise to the top. So when you see that short-grass overgrazed pasture land, you’re not only witnessing animals that are getting the shaft on nutrition, but you’re also observing land management practices that are detrimental to the entire farm and property.

But what about us? How do we know what the best bites of food are, from our gardens, farm shares or grocery stores?

For us humans to get a measurement of the amount of sugar content and minerals in our food, we must rely on a simple hand tool, called a refractometer. A refractometer is actually measuring the Brix of our fruits, veggies, and plant leaves.

Brix is a Measurement of the Soluble Solids in a Liquid.

More specifically, Brix (a unit of measurement that was devised in early 1800s Germany for winemakers to better the results of their bottling) is a measurement of the sugars in our produce. Just like cows who graze on pasture, we too can note that a higher sugar content generally infers a higher nutrient content!

A refractometer can help you to achieve a few different things. You can:

  • classify your homegrown and store-bought produce into Poor, Average, Good or Excellent quality foods
  • learn the best time to harvest your fruits and veggies for heightened mineral content
  • employ & monitor strategies in your home garden that will yield higher Brix food



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But why do we need a hand tool at all when a cow is able to detect nutrient quality (and exactly what’s missing!) all through the use of their tongue?

Our Tastebuds are Simply a Bit out of Practice

Unfortunately, we humans don’t seem able to police our nutritional needs through taste anymore. The truth is that the readings you can get from a refractometer should also correlate to a noticeable sweetness and intensity of flavor in your homegrown food. High Brix fruits and veggies should taste noticeably better. For this reason, it’s important to taste (or even smell) the foods that you are testing with a refractometer, in order to exercise your tastebuds and redevelop and awareness about the nutrients in your food.

Why Are We So Out of Practice?

There are a few philosophies that explain why our tongues aren’t transmitting nutritional messages in the way that they were intended. Most of them have to do with modernity, the introduction of processed foods and our overall dependence upon buying food as opposed to hunting and foraging for foods. Women who gathered food for their tribes weren’t just aware of what was okay to eat (or make medicine, magic, and clothing from) but also when it was best to pick these foods. This was not much different from how a cow might chomp a blade of grass – with pure, innate confidence at exactly the right time.

Consider that alongside this 2015 statistic from the ECHO Global Farm in North Fort Myers, Florida:

Seventy-five percent of the world’s food is generated from only twelve plants and five animal species! And further, more than ninety percent of crop varieties have disappeared from farmers fields. No wonder our tastebuds are a bit dulled-down!

So, What HAS a Cow to do with a Vegan lifestyle?

As humans developed over time, a crucial change occurred at the point when we began eating large game animals and seafood. The theory is that being isolated to geographical areas prevented us from accessing a true variety of minerals; game animals that covered a huge range and ate a variety of lower-downs on the food chain were giving us immediate access to the nutrient variety that we lacked. Seafood, which carried with it even more minerals from our nutrient-dense oceans filled in an even bigger gap and triggered major development in our brains (for more about these theories, check out the book Go Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization by John J. Ratey).

But what about today? All of that brain development has led us to the point where we can see big picture problems – like the ethical conundrum surrounding eating meat! So for reasons above and beyond health (as well as reasoning based on health alone) we may choose to leave meat out of our diets completely. Because many of us choose to follow animal-free diets, it becomes truly imperative that we source the highest quality (highest Brix!) foods available to us. This practice can ensure that we are back in the business of sourcing as many nutrients as possible from a vegan diet.

Obviously Factory Farming is a nightmare, but removing animals from farms altogether is not the solution; we have too much to learn from them! Our desire to take cows and other animals off of farms as a reaction to CAFOS, feedlots, and factory farms makes total sense; but taking cows off of small family farms might be a step backwards! Observing animals has really influenced my personal methods of growing food and I think we can all learn so much from them that I worry about the pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction.

And Why Does it Matter Today?

Well, for a lot of reasons. To start, more people are intentionally using food as medicine. Whether this is a reaction to the big pharmaceutical corporations pushing their side-affect-heavy drugs on us, or simply the result of more nutrition theory being brought into medical school curriculums, more than ever we are looking for cures through our diets. We are collectively harkening back to a time when people ate whole foods grown with hands-on care and when cookbooks included medicinal recipes! And frankly, it feels pretty good.

Another reason that we are searching for high-value foods, is that the love affair with organics is drawing to a close. Living here in Vermont where there are more organic farms per capita than anywhere else in the United States, I’ve noticed that this philosophy has really begun to permeate the community. Small-scale farmers have found that certifying themselves as organic has less to do with how they grow their food and more to do with following specified government regulations that benefit large agribusinesses above all others – corporations that wish to enter the ‘organic’ marketplace! In response, these small farms are cleverly pointing out that their produce has a higher overall value to it and the public is responding in a positive way. This method of farming is called Nutrient Dense Farming, or sometimes Biological Farming.

Lastly, farmers and gardeners are learning firsthand that their efforts at raising the nutrients per calorie in their produce has a major-payoff that’s too tasty to ignore: insect and disease control. Higher quality foods are always grown on higher quality plants that are capable of fending off pests and disease without the use of any type of pesticides (organic sprays and powders, included!) This realization is too valuable to ignore and puts a whole other set of practices into play. By using our handy refractometer, we can learn that a reading of ’12’ on most plant leaves is the minimum number that signifies pest-resistance. This is quickly becoming a very attractive way to grow food!

Furthermore, this tells us that visible pests and disease on our plants is always accompanied by low-value, low-brix foods.

Organic or not.

These Results can be Achieved in Your Own Garden by Using Soil Minerals

If you’re a home gardener, you can learn more about growing high brix foods from plants with heightened immune systems by testing and amending your soil. Our free video series will get you started with the basics and show you how to access online tools and calculators that take care of the math and science for you. We’ll get you the theory in the soundest way possible, and you’ll soon see that it’s not too much of a leap from regular organic gardening to nutrient-dense growing. You can sign up for the video series below:

Why Do You Grow Food?

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