Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.
Cows eat grass. You wouldn’t think it’s a big deal to state this, but at Iowa State University a highly qualified job applicant who had the temerity to voice this simple biological fact was ejected from consideration for a post leading a sustainable agriculture program, The Chronicle of Higher Education reports:
Among those who study sustainability, saying cows should eat grass is not a controversial statement. But saying so in Iowa—which grows more corn than any other state—is likely to attract attention.
Well, it sure did. Ricardo Salvador is a well-respected sustainable agriculture expert and a former professor at Iowa State—and a natural, many observers thought, to lead the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture as its new director. A finalist for the position, however, he didn’t get the post even when the top candidate turned it down. Apparently, his cow comment came back to haunt him:
The remark that may have sunk Mr. Salvador’s candidacy came 37 minutes into his on-campus presentation. While discussing a research project in New York State, he mentioned meat being “produced in the natural way that meat should be produced, which is on land suitable for grasses and perennial crops.”
If this were a TV game show, a loud buzzer would have gone off and Mr. Salvador would have been escorted from the stage that very moment. Because apparently he was supposed to say that cows should eat corn. Even if that’s not natural or sustainable, it’s simply how things are done in Iowa, a state built on big agriculture:
Corn allows cows to get fatter faster and be ready for slaughter sooner. But there are downsides, including the fact that cows have trouble digesting corn and must be fed antibiotics to prevent them from becoming ill. What’s more, the beef from corn-fed cows tends to have more fat.
The danger of the truth is so great that the Chronicle couldn’t even get Wendy Wintersteen, the dean of Iowa State’s agriculture school, to go anywhere near it. When asked whether cows evolved to eat grass, she replied, “I don’t have an opinion on that statement.”
Sheesh. Consider, for a moment, the man that the Leopold Center is named for, famed conservationist Aldo Leopold. In 1939, in the essay “A Biotic View of Land,” he wrote:
Each species, including ourselves, is a link in many chains. The deer eats a hundred plants other than oak, and the cow a hundred plants other than corn. Both, then, are links in a hundred chains.
Sorry, Mr. Leopold, but I’m going to cut you off right there before you say anything more inflammatory. Some university officials are not going to be happy about this.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required to read full article)