The Melanie Avalon Podcast Episode #49 - Anya Fernald (Belcampo)
Anya Fernald is the co-founder and CEO of Belcampo. Belcampo operates 27,000 acres of organic farmland in California and processes its own livestock for sale in its own butcher shops and restaurants.
Anya has two decades of leadership and entrepreneurship experience in high quality, organic and premium foods. Anya has been recognized as one of Inc. Magazine’s 100 Female Founders, one of the 40 under 40 by Food & Wine, named a Nifty Fifty by The New York Times, has been profiled in The New Yorker and The New York Times, and has served as a regular judge on Iron Chef America on The Food Network since 2009. Anya’s debut cookbook, Home Cooked, was released in spring 2016 with Ten Speed Press.
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2:30 - Use the code AVALON20 at Belcampo.com to get 20% Off Your Order!
2:45 - IF Biohackers: Intermittent Fasting + Real Foods + Life: Join Melanie's Facebook Group For A Weekly Episode GIVEAWAY, And To Discuss And Learn About All Things Biohacking! All Conversations Welcome!
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8:35 - Anya's Personal Story
13:00 - Europe Vs The US, A2 Vs A1 Milk And Digestibility
14:45 - The Tradeoff: Food Efficiency & Productivity Vs Quality And Nutrition Food Today
17:00 - Calorie Vs Nutrients
17:45 - Satiety Triggers (Calories, Nutrients, Fiber)
20:15 - Do We Have To Supplement?
20:40 - Navigating The US Grocery Store
21:00 - Glyphosate Problems
22:15 - Glyphosate And Glycine
22:45 - The Role Of GMO's
24:50 - Conventional Vs Regenerative Agriculture
27:20 - The Problem With Grain Fed Cows
28:50 - The Problem with High Fat, Prime Marbled Meat
31:45 - BEAUTYCOUNTER: Non-Toxic Beauty Products Tested For Heavy Metals, Which Support Skin Health And Look Amazing! Shop At Beautycounter.Com/MelanieAvalon For Something Magical! For Exclusive Offers And Discounts, And More On The Science Of Skincare, Get On Melanie's Private Beauty Counter Email List At MelanieAvalon.Com/CleanBeauty! For The Month Of July, New Customers Get 20% Off With The Code CLEANFORALL20
34:10 - Is Conventional Meat For You? Broad Category Assumptions
35:45 - Increasing Carbon In The Soil
37:10 - The Role Of Carbon In The Environment
37:50 - The Problem With Tilling
40:00 - Methane Emissions
43:00 - The Decimation Of The Prairies And Need For Ruminants
45:10 - Lab Grown Meat And Price Point Issues
47:00 - Is There A Meat Shortage?
50:10 - How To Store Meat? What Causes Freezer Burn?
51:20 - Ordering Meat Online
52:30 - Refreezing Meat
53:00 - What Causes Rubbery Chicken?
56:00 - The Contamination Potential Of Chicken
56:45 - Bleaching Chicken, And Air Chilled Benefits
58:50 - Amyloid Proteins In Stressed Animals
59:30 - Stress Hormones And Sex Hormones In The Animals
1:02:00 - Dairy Vs Beef Cows
1:06:30 - Changing The Price Of Meat: The Role Of Subsidies
1:11:45 - JOOVV: Red Light And NIR Therapy For Fat Burning, Muscle Recovery, Mood, Sleep, And More! Use The Link Joovv.Com/Melanieavalon With The Code MelanieAvalon For A Free Gift From Joovv, And Also Forward Your Proof Of Purchase To Contact@MelanieAvalon.Com, To Receive A Signed Copy Of What When Wine: Lose Weight And Feel Great With Paleo-Style Meals, Intermittent Fasting, And Wine!
1:13:50 - "Conventional" Organic Vs Local Vs Grass-fed
1:15:15 - What To Look For As A Grocery Store Shopper
1:17:25 - Picking Chicken And Chicken Scandals
1:08:25 - Things To Consider With Grocery Delivery
1:20:15 - The Practicality Of At Home Farming
1:22:20 - Backyard Chickens, Pigs, Goats
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Melanie Avalon: Hi friends, welcome back to the show. I am very excited about the episode that we are about to have. It's about a topic near and dear and true to my heart personally, but I think it also really ties into a lot of things that everybody is experiencing, all of the stress involving our food system right now and the future of that and what that looks like on a sustainable basis. I think that the content that we're going to discuss in here, I would have wanted to have had this episode anyway before COVID and the whole quarantine situation, but I think now it's even more present to a lot of people. So very, very excited. Let me introduce the fantastic guest that I have on.
I'm here with Anya Fernald. She is the cofounder and CEO of Belcampo, and I'm so jealous because for listeners, you might know I’ve lived in California for about 10 years, and now I'm in Atlanta, but Belcampo actually operates a 27,000-acre farm, organic with regenerative agriculture. We're going to go into the science and the details of what that all means. They're doing incredible things. Anya herself, a lot of awards to her name. She's actually been one of Inc magazine's 100 Female Founders. She's one of the 40 Under 40 by Food & Wine. She's been named a Nifty 50, I really like that, by the New York Times. She's been profiled in the New York Times and The New Yorker. And you might have actually seen her on the television because she has served as a regular judge on Iron Chef Americaon the Food Network since 2009.
Anya, I am so excited about this conversation that we're about to have. So, thank you so much for being here.
Anya Fernald: Thank you for having me.
Melanie Avalon: I thought to start things off before we get into the actual topic. I'd love to hear a little bit about your personal story and what led you to where you are today with this passion for organic farming, regenerative agriculture, your restaurants, all of that. So, what's your story?
Anya Fernald: Melanie, we're a little bit alike in that. It comes from a space of health and interest in health. I've always been interested in food and cooking, and I loved-- you play that role in childhood that imprints and shapes how we think about life. One of those roles that I played in my childhood home was, my mom was really intimidated by cooking and so I learned to cook at a really young age, really to help her because she got very overwhelmed when cooking. So, I had that base level of knowing how to cook and being really comfortable in the kitchen.
And then health comes into it. I was athletic in college and in high school. I like feeling good. I still love feeling great. I was really interested in the power that food has on your body for good. Really, as a cook and as a person interested in health, I was always experimenting and trying things. I remember trying Atkins diet, but I was really a kid of the 90s, so there was a very high-carb low-fat approach at that time. I in college took a bit of time off and was a baker for a year. In doing that, I started to make buttermilk and cheese to make traditional breads. This is a long-winded adventure here, but from there, I started making cheese and after college, I took that passion, I went to Europe and I started working as a cheesemaker, first in Wales and then later in Italy. From there, I got a job in Sicily with a group of cheesemakers, helping them effectively market and export their products.
I moved to Italy full time for that work when I was, I guess, 21 or 22, just right out of college and I got a visa and it was a great job. But I really got to be in touch with the land, it was a very rural remote area of Sicily. The neatest thing that happened to me in that time in my life pretty much from like 21 to 23 years, is that I really had a physical health revolution. All sorts of little things in my life, like split ends and dry skin and the occasional UTI, and even cavities. Stuff that has just been part of my life disappeared. I lost weight. I felt really focused and clear
It was a radically different diet than I had lived in the US. My life in Europe, I was living in really rural areas, initially on dairies and then in a very rural farming community. I was eating like two pounds of cheese and two pounds of meat a day. I went on this sort of very effectively a keto diet. Then, the fruits and vegetables that you're eating were seasonal, they were smaller than what I was used to eating in the US. I ate them with a lot of olive oil. It was just a totally different way of eating. We also foraged a lot of food. In Sicily, every weekend, my friends and I, that was the thing you do. You go out and gather bitter nettles and fronds and wild asparagus, and gather all these different things and cook from them. So, it was an amazingly different style of life. My whole physicality changed.
I remember at that time just feeling like I never want to go back. Also, just mood, I had a much more even mood. I was always happy, and I hadn't always been happy before. [chuckles] It’s something where I just said, “Hell, I never want to go back.” So, I don't consider myself somebody who's passionate about cooking. I'm a passionate cook, I cook to relax. It's very soothing for me and I'm a really skilled cook. I've been cooking for years. I've run a lot of restaurants. But really the piece of it that motivates me is that connection to just peace and tranquility that comes from having really good food and the way that your body can respond to that and minor health friction can go away, and you can experience just complacency and tranquility physically from good clean food, for me particularly, high fat and high protein.
Melanie Avalon: That is the coolest story ever. You have the coolest life story. Are you a cheese lover still?
Anya Fernald: Yeah. I'm now in definitely goat and sheep. And then, I will eat cow milk cheeses that are very aged and European. Not to sound like too much of a snob, but there's definitely something different. I believe in the A2 milk and that heritage breeds of cows have a different digestibility to them. As I evolve as an eater, I'm eating a narrower and narrower bandwidth. But I think that's true with everything we get in America. You and I were talking before the show started about shared European roots and we've all had the experience when you're abroad that you're, “Wow, I eat until I'm satiated, but I'm losing weight and I feel great.” That thing that happens in Europe because it's everything you have access to is cleaner than what we have here. Cheese in the US, I do eat, but with some caution about where exactly it's from.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I'm actually so glad you touched on that because I was going to ask you about that with the milk and the A1 and the A2 and everything. I hear that so often from my family, from just people in general. People say they react to so many foods in the US, they have to be really strict with their diet. And then, they go to Europe and they eat gluten, dairy, they eat everything and they feel fine. I've been so fascinated by all of that. I was wondering-- I feel I'm already on tangent rabbit holes, but to that specifically, do you think it's just a matter of, for example, with the dairy, the difference in the A1 and A2 milk? For listeners that aren't familiar, would you like to tell them a little bit about what that means specifically?
Anya Fernald: No, definitely. That's a little out of my expertise. I know broadly that it has to do with a configuration of-- it's a gene that causes a different type of configuration of the key protein in milk. Is that protein or is that fat? I forget which one, I think it's the protein.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, I think it's the protein.
Anya Fernald: Yeah, it comes from that. So, like everything, we had this massive efficiency applied to agriculture in the 1930s through 60s. So, everything got bigger, better, faster. In that, we lost something. For example, if you eat an orange today, you're going to need to eat eight oranges to get the same amount from today's oranges of vitamin A that you would have gotten from one orange in 1940. The downside of all this efficiency, this extremely high productivity is that the quality is lower. Part of that is just things being pushed to produce a lot. Another thing is actually the genetics and design of the animals or plants that are producing it.
In the case of the cows that we're talking about here, the modern dairy breed, which is an A1 type of gene, produces a protein that's somewhat more complex for your body to digest. The old-fashioned breeds of dairy, which are old fashioned and in the rearview mirror because they produce less milk, period. Those animals produce this A2 two which is apparently much less problematic for your body.
Now, in my view of it too, anytime you have this big efficiency trade-offs, there's always externalities. I think a modern Friesian, the big A1 dairy cows, they can produce something bananas, like 15 gallons of milk a day. A baby cow needs one gallon. What you've done is engineered an animal that produces 15 times the amount of milk. Even if a Friesian cow has a calf on it, if you don't milk that cow with a machine every day, it will die because it's producing so much milk. For those of us who have breastfed, imagine if you produce enough milk for 15 babies instead of one, like what that would do for your body? If you think about that, in terms of that machine of an animal-- now you go to the old-fashioned breeds, they might produce two gallons of milk a day as opposed to one. So, there's a huge difference between the total productivity.
And then anytime you had that step function growth in efficiency in food production, there's always a cost. There's always something else that's got to give. So, it doesn't surprise me at all that there's some protein degradation or inferior quality or greater inflammation potential for the product when you've increased the capacity of production so much out of the same animal.
Melanie Avalon: That is mind-blowing about the 50 gallons versus one gallon.
Anya Fernald: Not 50, but 15.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, 15. Still mind-blowing. To that point, I think that really helps explain why-- It seems like we've solved the calorie problem. We're able to create with these systems to put out a lot of food, although we can circle back around to that with the apparent “food shortages” that we seem to be experiencing right now with COVID. We've seemingly solved the calorie problem where we have ample supply of food, but there's just not the nutrition there. It's not surprising to me that we're still hungry because it's like we have to eat so much more.
Anya Fernald: Yeah. There's a really interesting concept that has been proven in animals, which is called secondary satiety trigger. The idea is that when we're eating, we're not just eating for satiety. We're not just eating to have enough fat and enough calories or whatever it might be. Secondary satiety trigger is a trigger that's associated with micronutrient load. The concept is that if you're having lunch of Doritos, you're going to be more inclined to overeat, A, because the sugar-salt combination makes that food hyperpalatable, the concept of hyperpalatability where certain combinations of sugar and salt does cause you to overeat. The other piece that's making you overeat out of that bag of Doritos is that you're not getting any micronutrients. That's a nutritionally barren food. If you don't get any of those micronutrients, your body doesn't say stop because it's not actually full because it's not really eating just for fuel. It's eating for medicine. Food is the original medicine. We eat to heal. Animals eat to heal. You look at goats. When there's an outbreak of a stomach issue in a flock of goats, they will automatically go to bitter herbs and eat only bitter herbs which are a natural antibacterial. Animals have that. They naturally heal through food.
In humans, we've unlearned that. Although I think that pregnant women sometimes discover that, like that craving for something. You all of a sudden want meat like crazy or want to eat the dirt or something. There's these stories of women. So, I think in pregnancy, there's some extreme examples that I think people who are super in tune with our physicality still can conjure that forward in their evolution. But in today's world, we're offered these nutritionally void foods, and so we don't hit these secondary satiety triggers, and so we're more inclined to overeat.
Melanie Avalon: It seems like there's a few different things that we have to “hit.” You were talking about to feel full, the actual calories, the nutrition like you just discussed. Then, I was reading about how, I guess, historical hunter-gatherers ate a certain amount of fiber per day. There's this idea that maybe we also need a certain amount of fiber to feel full. That's really problematic because these processed foods are devoid of nutrition and fiber. Then on the flip side, if we're eating conventional produce, like we were just discussing, with a modern food system, they're going to be not as high in nutrients. It seems like it's just difficult to provide the bodies the fuel that it needs. It's not shocking.
Anya Fernald: Yeah. Sadly, I think that in the American diet, we do need to supplement just to be real about what's nutritionally available in our foods. So, I would never have supplemented when I lived in Europe, but here I do, because I think there's just things that you're not getting and the micronutrients, but you also just need to be extremely cautious about what exactly you're eating.
In the US, there's no such thing as something that you just eat. The reason why is you have to be very proactive about your health. You have to be an advocate for your health as you navigate an American grocery store. In doing that, my assumption when I navigate in most American grocery stores is that everything is contaminated. You were talking about people going to Europe and not having gluten allergy. I would argue that the issue there is glyphosate, which as we know, with genetically modified crops being outlawed in the EU, glyphosate isn't necessary there. Glyphosate is used-- it's effectively the yin to the GM crops yang. The GM crops are engineered to be resistant to glyphosate. When you have a GM crop, genetically-modified crop, you spray it very heavily with glyphosate.
Every California wine, for example, is contaminated with glyphosate, even the organic ones. Every organic grain-based product is contaminated with glyphosate. It's everywhere. It's been connected to autism. It's connected to inflammatory diseases, like Crohn's and irritable bowel syndrome. It's been connected to a whole host of endocrine issues. Glyphosate works-- [unintelligible [00:15:02] pests because it effectively disrupts their endocrine system. So, there's not a big surprise that it has a soft tissue, lymph, endocrine effect on humans as well. And it's pervasive. I would say when people, “Why do I not get sick when I go to Europe?” A, they use lower gluten flours because they do longer, slower rises and things like that on the breads that they use. The actual grains that they're using, they tend to prefer varieties that have a more natural, less enhanced level of gluten. But also you're not responding to the glyphosate in that baked product.
Melanie Avalon: Are you familiar with the work of Teri Cochrane? She wrote a book called Wildatarian?
Anya Fernald: No, I haven't heard of that. Tell me more.
Melanie Avalon: She's really interesting. I had her on the podcast as well, but she has done a lot of research into glyphosate. One of the things she was talking about was how there's research showing that the body can confuse it for glycine. It completely messes with that system in our bodies as well, on top of the toxic effects and then fact that it's water-soluble and the microbiome. It's just shocking, everything that it can do.
Anya Fernald: No, you have to be super careful about it. Everybody in the US initially was worried about GMO-free, right? Well, it's not really the GMO crops that get me concerned, the Frankenfood stuff. I'm actually not very concerned about eating that product, even though it's nutritionally lower and some things I don't like about it. I'm concerned about what you can spray on those crops because unlike-- if you plant conventional corn and you want to spray some pesticide around it to kill off the weeds, you have to go in there with a handheld device or with a specialized tractor and spray at the base of that plant to kill it off, but you can't touch the plant because the plant will die right with an herbicide or these heavy pesticides are used. When you have a genetically modified, you can just take a crop duster and just spray the heck out of the whole thing.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, wow.
Anya Fernald: So, that's the problem is that you have a much higher application of pesticides to GM crops because they're engineered to be resistant to it.
Melanie Avalon: I feel like this is a silly question, but is that the main goal of GMO? Is the goal to make it more resistant to pesticides?
Anya Fernald: Yeah, resistant to one pesticide, which is glyphosate. And listen, the resistance of glyphosate, it's naturally occurring in one plant. Like everything, it’s got a natural root. So, it's not like that they totally engineer that. No, that came from one plant that was resistant to glyphosate. The engineering of these crops is to engineer them to be resistant to glyphosate.
Melanie Avalon: Is it true that glyphosate came from leftover bomb material? I keep hearing that from multiple people.
Anya Fernald: I don't know. I know that the whole herbicide, pesticide fertilizer industry rapidly took off after World War II, in part as some large munitions factories that were built for World War II were repurposed as fertilizer factories.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, that’s so interesting.
Anya Fernald: So that may be related to that. That is true, basically after the end of the Second World War, the question was what do we do with these large munitions factories, and fertilizer was one thing that was made them.
Melanie Avalon: Well, bringing it back to more of your forte, even though you know a lot about that anyways. I feel there's just this huge, what do I call it? We're so disconnected today from the farming system. At least I feel I am. Unless you're a farmer or somehow work in that industry, we just don't see it. So, when we contemplate sustainability and what is healthiest for the environment, what is healthiest for our health, I think there's just a lot of misunderstanding about what, for example, the conventional farming system actually looks like compared to a regenerative agriculture system like you do at Belcampo because I know there's a huge movement to-- we'll just eradicate animals and we'll have a vegetarian system and that'll be best for the planet. But I feel like unless we understand the whole system, it's hard to comprehend the implications of something like that. I was wondering if you could paint a picture of what the conventional farming system looks like compared to the regenerative system.
Anya Fernald: The easiest way to connect it for me is to look at it really as analogous to our own system of eating where we've actually created a system that creates obese animals very quickly. The way we do that is we put them in situations that are highly stressful. They're fed a maladaptive and inflammatory diet, and they're heavily dosed with antibiotics. That's the short version. Now, that's not just to make them obese, it's also because it's cheaper. If you look at an evolutionary diet, for an animal like a cow, cow is not what’s called a monogastric. A monogastric-- you and I are both monogastrics. Pigs are monogastrics. Dogs are monogastric. Monogastrics are carnivores or omnivores. We can eat a bunch of different things. But everything we eat is characterized by being very nutritionally dense. Seeds, meat, fruit, a lot of calories per ounce.
Cows are ruminant. They're not a monogastric, they have five big stomachs. Why do they have all those stomachs? They have those things because they can take this really nutritionally poor, very high fiber food, grass. If you or I ate grass, we'd be in the hospital within a day. It'll be really bad for our system, because you can't process that much fiber. It'll actually break your gut. If you're a cow though, you have this amazing system that's been designed to take this very, very poor quality food and turn it into nutrition. That’s as an incredible system. What happens when you dump a bunch of green into that system? You have massive inflammation.
When we take a cow and we feed it corn, we're feeding it a food that it is not adapted to eat and its responses to gain weight rapidly and to become very inflamed and prone to sickness. Now, you combine that in the space of the cow’s life in a feedlot. They're also fed things like sawdust, leftover candy, like broken rejected candy. Other types of food waste. Plastic shavings are used in cow feed as a fiber additive. They're fed basically a bunch of garbage, literally garbage. They're dosed pretty heavily with antibiotics to suppress their natural immune reaction to being in that system. They're also not allowed to move very much.
Now in the start of their life, most cows in the US are born in what's called the cow-calf operation, which will typically be outside in the grass. They'll stay there till they're about six months and then they'll move to a confinement operation versus stocking operation, and then a feedlot. Those feedlots are designed to limit motion. Cows can't walk around, and they're typically about 15 square feet per animal. They're designed to just feed them really intense loads of calories while giving them antibiotics to suppress the associated disease that comes from being sick. When you see a beautifully marbled steak-- when I see one of those steaks, like those big fat Wagyus with all the veins of fat, I just think of obesity.
Melanie Avalon: I shudder when I see that.
Anya Fernald: I know. We’re applauding it, I see that all the time on social media like, “Oh, I got this really--” Really cool people that I think would be more aware of this. You show a picture of a 700 pound, eight-year-old and you're like, “Isn't this kid cute?” You're like, “No, that looks like somebody who's really sick in ways that it doesn't even know”. That's what I see when I see a fat Wagyu or super marbled prime steak. I see obesity. I see inflammatory response. I see sickness and death. That's what's tragic to me. We've come to fetishize this really high-fat meat and that high-fat meat, it's just an animal's body desperately trying to process a terrible foodstuff in a terrible environment.
And it's really effective. When you have an animal in that environment, it can come to full maturity, full puberty, entire lifespan, it'll be ready for market in 16 months. In a truly natural environment, unimproved pasture such as out in the wild, that same cow would take 36 months, so almost three times as long to gain the same amount of weight. In an operation like Belcampo where we have what's called Improved Pasture, they're on grass, but it's really sweet fresh grass to finish it towards the end of its life, it'll take 24 to 26 months. We can take a natural feed, make it extra great. And we can take the finishing time from 36 months down to 24 to 26 months. But in this conventional system where they're feeding it in this really nutritionally dense food, the antibiotics, it'll go down to 16 months to finish a cow. So, it's a very efficient system.
When you look at why grass-fed meat costs more, it takes at least almost twice as long to get that animal ready to market. And then also, if you or I wanted to, let's say, gain 10 pounds, how much would it cost and take for us to gain that 10 pounds by only eating spinach? Compared to how much would it cost or take for us to gain 10 pounds eating Fritos. It's a much more efficient, cheap way to get weight gain in a mammal, obviously, is to feed that kind of food.
The thing is that I feel some empathy for the conventional ag system because they were doing what they were told. It was like the American dream, lots of meat. Let's make this meat cheap. Meat is healthy for humans. Every American should deserve to have a barbecue on the weekend with a bunch of rib-eyes and hotdogs and stuff. And we did that. We made meat very, very cheap. And industry did what we asked them. We asked them for $2.99 a pound chicken or chicken breast. We asked them for this vast availability of meat. But what we didn't bargain for or look at is the bigger trade-offs that we'd have to make for that cheap product.
Melanie Avalon: It's so sad. And then on top of that, like you're saying, the farmers did what they were told, and we created this system. And then, on top of that, I think meat has been so unnecessarily demonized for its potential health. It's ironic to me because I think it's one of the most nutritious things that we can consume. And yet, in part, it makes sense, given the eating meat in the context of a high-processed, high-carb diet as well, or the nutritional issues with meat today. So, on top of that, it's like these farmers are producing meat, and now there's this whole idea that meat’s not even good for you.
Anya Fernald: Well, I would argue that it's totally true that that meat is bad for you.
Melanie Avalon: The conventional meat.
Anya Fernald: Yeah. And it's really bad for the planet. It's definitely bad for everybody involved, bad for the animals, bad for the planet. So, I would argue that that meat is-- all the advertising around that meat is totally accurate. It's not a clean product, it's not good for you, it's not good for the environment. The problem that I see is that we have conflated the two types of production. When we're talking about anything, there’s subtlety. If I say, “Are vehicles bad for the planet?” You say, “Yeah, vehicles are bad for the planet.” I'd say, “Well, what about Hummers?” “Totally bad for the environment.” “Okay, well, what about bicycles?” “Oh, wait a second, that's a vehicle, but it's not…Okay.” You have a minute where you can't make a category assumption about something as broad as what we're talking about. So, it's true. Conventional beef is terrible for your health, terrible for animals and terrible for the planet.
But beef is not. Beef is a fundamental part of human evolution, not just with regard to how we feed ourselves, but it's also been massively important to how we maintain and improve landscapes. All ruminants have been. A properly managed grazing ecosystem has been like a cornerstone of domesticating landscapes. Because what we've shown on our farm, we started measuring carbon in the soil in 2013 with the Soil Carbon Institute, which is a third-party nonprofit here in California. We measured it again in 2019, six years later, and we had increased soil carbon density in all of the samples that we used. We have actually, through raising beef at scale, 3000 cows in our operation-- through raising beef, we have increased the carbon in our soil. We have sequestered actively carbon in our soil.
Melanie Avalon: That is so fantastic. I'm glad you brought it up, because I'd love to dive a little bit deeper into that because I think a lot of people have these general ideas about carbon in the soil, carbon, methane emissions, greenhouse gases, all of this stuff, and there seems to be this idea that, “Oh, cows produce methane and increase greenhouse gases. So just get rid of that and we'll be fine.” One of the really interesting things was how, especially now with COVID, and well, now people are driving more, but do you know like the stats about the changes in methane emission when we stopped driving because of quarantine?
Anya Fernald: No. Tell me.
Melanie Avalon: I actually heard it on Robb Wolf’s podcast. I'll put a link in the show notes to the actual numbers. But basically, the amount of methane concentration went down so dramatically from basically the stop in transportation that-- people like to demonize cows is the main problem for greenhouse gases when that's probably not the main thing to be focusing on. So yeah, what is that process of-- How does it affect the carbon levels in the soil and how can it be like a carbon negative sink?
Anya Fernald: Yeah, so let's talk about the two things separately because they're different phenomena. Carbon and methane. Carbon is sequestered by plants. Plants take carbon out of the environment through their leaves, and they put it into the soil through the roots. It's a cycle and it happens on a bunch of different levels in the environment. In the case of perennial pastures, so in the case of our operation, it's the green grasses that grow naturally, that reseed naturally, where our animals walk and feed. Those have root systems that are at times as long as 30 feet deep. What you'll see is that the sequestration happens far beneath the soil. These plants that we have are just natural grass plants. As animals walk around, they actually contribute to the health of the plant. How do they do that?
Well, think about it when you have a plant in your yard, and you trim it. It will grow back more robust. That's the same thing. You're basically trimming the plant. You're creating vigor in it. And then while that's happening, the animals’ hooves are going to be slightly aerating the earth. They're going to be slightly digging up in the same way that a small amount of like tilling or opening up to let water and things penetrate your garden will have a good effect. The other thing that’s happening is that the animals dropping manure, which is high in nitrogen and also contains seeds from other plants. It's basically a mix of trimming the plants, fertilizing them, and aerating them.
In a conventional system, you're not feeding the animals off that natural grass. You're cutting some crops like corn, and bringing it to them. A, you're feeding them seeds, but you're also feeding them the product of a tilled agriculture. If I was to go into our farm and till up the pasture, we would release a massive amount of carbon, and the lack of tillage on our operation is very crucial to retaining the carbon sequestering function of the pasture. By not interrupting the roots, by cutting them with basically blades, you're allowing the soil to regenerate and to sequester the carbon. When you have agriculture where you're tilling every year, and you're also spraying it with chemicals like glyphosate among others, that break up the root system because they hurt the microbiome of the soil, you're effectively ruining the soil’s capability to increase organic matter and to sequester carbon
Melanie Avalon: Now, I'm just thinking back to when I was growing up and having the garden in the backyard, and we would put out the manure and everything. I remember the moment my dad explained what manure actually was. But it's just so incredible that it's like almost the natural system of the world with farming, it can restore itself if we just let it be the natural system.
Anya Fernald: Exactly. That's also with methane. It's a related thing. I think about with methane. Imagine a bird flies over your yard and goes and drops manure. You see that fall in your yard-- I actually buy bird manure in for my-- guano, for my yard and sprinkle it on my plants. You see one drop of bird guano, you're like, “Great! Awesome, fertilizer!” Imagine, all of a sudden you have a bucket, that's two feet deep. 10 feet wide, and it's full of bird manure. You're not, “Oh, awesome.” What are you thinking? Then you're like, “Oh, it's disgusting. It smells really bad. There's stuff growing in it.” It smells like nitrogen. It's very intense. And that's the same issue with methane.
When you have a small amount of guano or manure dropped into the earth where it can integrate [unintelligible [00:32:20] quickly, you're fine. That's good. That's the natural cycle. That's how pastures regenerate. Think about it, plants fundamentally have seeds so that we will eat them and pass them and distribute them. That's the function that we play in a plant's life. That's why fruit is sweet because they want birds and us to eat it and pass it through our digestive tract and drop it into the ground, wrapped in manure, which is an excellent fertilizer. That's a very smart plant that does that. These plants have been designed to encourage us to eat their products and to drop them into the soil. That's the ultimate in the natural process.
Now, you have to actually break that process and rebuild it in a way that's not functional, that's damaging to make these natural positive systems with the negatives. With concentration like-- do you remember seeing during the big floods that we had with hurricane last year? There was those terrible overhead views of the pork farms. Did you see that? Where there's these vast lagoons of red that were just spilling out into the waterways?
Melanie Avalon: Of red?
Anya Fernald: Yeah. They put lagoons of manure behind these confinement farms, and those are just like acres upon acres of just straight manure. That stuff is so toxic. When that leaks into the environment, it actually kills all the fishes, it kills all the waterways, it kills the plants. Because when you have a high density-- it's the same thing too. If I dropped a two-foot wide and two-foot thick chunk of bird manure on my lawn, that piece of grass underneath it would die. It's a density of nutrition. A little bit is great. And when there's a bunch of it in aggregate, it's toxic, like many powerful natural substances.
Melanie Avalon: I was going to say exactly. It reminds me of comparing healing with therapeutic doses of food and supplements compared to pharmaceuticals where you take a concentrated-- something that probably was initially based on a plant mechanism, and then concentrated and take this drug that, I think oftentimes becomes more toxic than the intention of it
Anya Fernald: Our natural system and how animals evolved in the environment, it's an evolutionary process. It's been evolved for an optimal outcome for the plants, for the animals, for the earth. That's the great story that tells this truth is the story of the Prairies, the actual decimation of the American Prairies had to do with putting up fences. The Dust Bowl was a result of 20 years of fences being up. When the fences went up, the ruminants and killing off the buffalo herds. When the fences went up, the ruminants went away. There were no more buffalo. The buffalo were then killed off. For a couple years, they farmed the Dust Bowl areas. They farmed the Great Prairies. It was some of the most record wheat harvests in history.
Then, it immediately cratered and there was no fertility left because it was a weak ecosystem. It's not a very thick topsoil in that area, and the Dust Bowl happened because there hadn't been ruminants there for a number of years. It is actually a great nonscientific but historical event that verifies the importance of ruminants in maintaining and keeping vibrancy and adding soil health and soil density and organic matter to the earth. In our own country, where we actually killed the most productive natural ecosystem or one of the most productive natural ecosystems of the Great Prairies of the US, we killed them by removing the buffalo. And we thought, “Great, these are abundant and beautiful and vibrant and green. We’ll farm these.” We farmed them for a year or two, and then they no longer were productive, and that's when the Dust Bowl happened. There's a whole historical narrative about that.
The role of ruminants in maintaining ecosystem is documented time and time again. And a great way to ensure a collapse in a naturally ruminant-rich environment is to remove the animals. I feel this idea that we would be better off with no domestic animals or no ruminants and that cycle, it doesn't align with what's happened in the past. Maybe, there's some hypothetical future where you could have machines wandering around that punch small holes and drop nitrogen pellets. It seems very complicated. We have an animal that's perfectly designed to do this, let it do it. What we've done is we've taken a system that worked but was not very hyper-efficient, and we've made it hyper-efficient. And in doing that, we created all the typical damage of hyper-efficiency.
Melanie Avalon: That also reminds me of something. There's all these ideas of like lab growing meat and things like that, and it's like we're trying to recreate this whole natural system-- I'm sure there are a lot of goals in mind with doing that, but we could just return to the natural system.
Anya Fernald: Well, let's talk about why people are afraid of doing that. And that has to do with the fact that the meat would cost a lot more. The problem is we could return to that system, but we would probably-- the meat’s price point in that system would be high enough that we wouldn't all be eating rib-eyes and hamburgers, we’d be eating cheeks and tongues. [chuckles] And bone broth. There's a bunch of implicit choices in the current system, which is that it also allows us to eat primarily really, really easily lean cuts and to ditch the rest of it. There's a lot of externalities for us as consumers.
In America, we have become a country of people who know how to cook a couple of things. We know how to cook sausages. We know how to throw a steak on the grill. We know how to make a hamburger, but we don't know how to braise. We don't know how to make broth. We don't know how to cook an oxtail or a shin or a cheek. So, there's a lot of other kind of choices that would have to happen from a consumer basis. I reiterate this isn't a system that was shoved down our throats by industry. This is a system that we made as consumers in America in choice after choice in what we wanted. And now we're left with the end of that set of choices and I think a lot of us are like, “Wait a second, let's take a step back. Let's reevaluate. What exactly did we sign up for here?” That's a process, it’s like a cultural conversation right now. But I don't want to-- it's not just about price. The other side of price is that when you have cheap meat, you can afford to eat the nicest cuts, and only the nicest cuts.
Melanie Avalon: To that point, I keep bringing it up, but with the whole COVID thing starting, it seems like there was this meat shortage, for example, like the grocery stores couldn't stay in stock. It was a lot of fear surrounding that. And at the same time, I was reading that there actually wasn't a shortage of meat, that it was more a-- I guess, I don't know. I just wanted to talk about that because I was reading at the same time that it seems there's a lack of meat oil shortage, at the same time I was reading that they're actually wasting a lot of animals at these conventional farms. I don't know if it's like mass killings or don't they have to just get rid of a lot of--?
Anya Fernald: Yeah. That’s a sad story. They're doing like abortions of pigs and cows now too. Destroying eggs. Yeah, awful
Melanie Avalon: What's going on exactly?
Anya Fernald: Okay. So, what happened is the piece that broke is that the current supply chain is extremely complex and efficient. Any types of products that are going to be in a grocery store, they're going to have like an eight-month planning in production cycle. An operation like our company, Belcampo, when COVID hits, I'm selling less meat in the restaurants and there's a lot more ground beef in one-pound packages. No problem. We have a slaughterhouse. We just buy more little plastic bags and make more one-pounders out of that meat that we are going to sell the restaurants as a shoulder or something. It's a very easy thing, took us like three days.
If you look at big industry, you have so many different people involved in that chain that have to have a whole standard procedure for communication and timing. All of a sudden, the restaurants stopped buying. So, millions and millions of pounds of meat all of a sudden did not have a buyer. Okay, great, grocery stores. There's lines at the door. Bacon in shortage, people already elbowing each other about eggs. But that business that's making the pork loins or whatever for barbecue restaurants, they can't get that packaged as a pork chop fast enough. So, they can't pivot around the supply chain to make it funnel into a new channel. That makes sense?
Melanie Avalon: It does. The actual shortage that we experienced at the grocery store--
Anya Fernald: It was a shortage of retail packaged products. It wasn't a shortage of what goes in the package. It was a shortage of the processing to the small retail package.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, because people were basically panic buying and depleting that, and then even though there was lots of meat still, there was a shortage of a system to get it.
Anya Fernald: Yeah, let's just say like pork bellies and-- bacon was a huge shortage, remember? Everybody is buying bacon. But then there's millions of pounds of pork belly out there, but then somebody has to salt it and smoke it and slice it and put it in a one-pound package or a six-ounce package or whatever it is. That whole supply chain that does that stuff and packages it, that can't move very quickly. So, there is no absolute shortage of product. There is actually an excess of product because the restaurant channel didn't consume anything for three months. What there is, is a shortage of the capacity to produce other types of products from those base materials.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, gotcha. While we're talking about this, because I still have some more questions about the future of regenerative agriculture, but just specifically about this for people who are buying meat, storing meat, literal, practical question. Storing meat in your freezer, for example, how long does it last? I've read technically it lasts indefinitely.
Anya Fernald: You just want to be careful. From a safety perspective, it last indefinitely. Freezers are dry places. So, what's called a freezer burn is just an actual slow drying of the exterior crusts of meat. Why don't you ever get freezer burn on bacon? Well, there's very little moisture in it. High-fat products are never going to suffer from freezer burn. But any lower fat products like a steak or ground beef, if it's in a bag that does not seal properly, it's going to get a slow, slow drying of the exterior crusts of that product, which will then not be redeemable by cooking, so it'll always be hard when you cook it. So, that's the key thing. Let's just make sure it's packaged appropriately, which means a very tight bag, no water in it in the bag ideally or just a little bit, but not like a cup, and that there's no pockets of air where water crystals can accumulate.
Melanie Avalon: Okay. And then also to that point, because I was telling you before we started recording, I received a wonderful package from Belcampo, really excited. The thing that made me most excited was it had a pastured organic Cornish chicken that just looks fantastic. But for listeners who are ordering meat from places like Belcampo online, so is that a pretty safe system as far as the shipping and the ice while it shipped and then receiving it?
Anya Fernald: Absolutely. We do everything with two-day air and we have a shipping system. We actually spent about six months developing it. That's all ecological materials, but that will hold probably, I think, up to four days chilled. Even if it's outside in like 95-degree weather, it'll hold. So, you're fine with the product. Obviously if for some reason, you get product and the inside is warm, I wouldn't eat that. But broadly, that's never going to happen with a Belcampo ordered. It's always shipped with a really good amount of insulation.
Also, my rule of thumb is that, you can usually refreeze-- if you have a package of meat that shows up that's like maybe the bacon's a little bit bendy or the steak’s a little bendy, refreezing it doesn't have a qualitative impact. I wouldn't want to be fully thawing and refreezing it two or three times. Then, you're going to start to have some real degradation, not in safety, but in the texture because what happens when meat freezes is that the water and the meat expands and gets angular, like the ice crystals form. Those ice crystals have jagged edges, and those jagged edges actually rip the protein of the meat. And that ripping will make the meat mushy. You’re talking about the chicken-- you've had experience of mealy chicken?
Melanie Avalon: What causes rubbery chicken? I don't know maybe there's not one cause but--
Anya Fernald: There is. There are two major causes. I gave you the stories about beef, 16 months to 26 months roughly. On our farm at Belcampo, our chickens take about 10 weeks to fatten, to come to weight. In a Tyson farm, it's two and a half weeks. Whereas a Belcampo beef is about 80% longer lifespan, a Belcampo chicken is five times the lifespan of a conventional chicken. That's scary. That's terrifying. I don't want to eat something that's grown in one-fifth of the natural time. It's not like we're starving our chickens, we're feeding them grain. They've got buckets of grain and food around them all day long. That's nuts. Why is that happening so fast? That's a combination of antibiotics and stress, actual really, really dense feeding operations. It's a brutal, brutal, awful system. The way that chickens are raised is the most disgusting of all the conventional animals.
I also think there's a totally energetic connection. Think about how many women in the US suffer from anxiety and how much chicken women eat in America. I feel like we're eating these like highly anxious, strung-out birds. They cut their beaks off because they're under so much pressure that they'll peck each other to death. That's why they debeak them. That's horrifying. You're under so much stress that they'll literally pull the feathers out of the other birds until they kill them because they're just too tightly packed. They're responding in the only way they know how. You've got real, real brutality. I would say the biggest change you can make to your health as a woman in the US to me is like, find a damn good chicken, eat that chicken. Don't eat rubbery chicken breast.
Now, why is it so off-putting—the actual consistency of chicken, I think, is really unappealing in the conventional industry chicken. And the reasons why is, fast-growing meat tends to be more rubbery. It kind of makes sense. Like if you build a house fast. You're building these protein structures really quickly, actually in an extreme case, there's something called woody breast, which are these tough, big fibers that when customers find them, they think there's a piece of wood in the meat.
Melanie Avalon: Wow.
Anya Fernald: It looks like a splinter and it's actually something naturally, but it's protein that's growing so fast, it almost calcifies while it's growing. Horrifying. Anytime, there's an extreme version, there's probably more subtle versions. So, I assume there's some kind of like, just propensity towards these like dry, rough, big, jaggedy fibers of meat in this really fast-growing product. So, that's part of it.
Then the other part of it is, chicken is a small animal. When you kill it, there's a lot of contamination potential. If I kill a beef, all of its guts and its insides and all of its manure are in really thick bags of intestines. When I kill a beef and I hang it up, all those intestines are on the floor within like five minutes. You move all of that out and then the animal itself-- beef is covered in skin. It's got this thick hide with fur on it. There's no way that the inside of those guts are getting onto that meat very easily. It happens but it's a lot harder.
In chickens, you have small, fragile intestines. There's a big potential for contamination between all the feathers and the size of the animal and the delicacy of the animal. In chickens, you can google this, but there's a horrifying statistic that I think more than half of chickens sold in the US have fecal matter on them. Now, the way that we manage that in the US is we mandate a sanitation after killing, which makes sense. I get why they did it, but I also just rather that we killed in a way that was clean and slow, [chuckles] radical idea. How about we not make it disgusting to begin with instead of making it disgusting and then dipping in bleach. But what we do is we mandate typically either-- different types of treatment.
Most of the chicken in America 99% after slaughter, it's dipped into ice water with bleach and lactic acid in it. Now that increases the weight of the chicken by 15%. Have you ever had the experience of cooking chicken breast and this white liquid comes out, like a little bit of residue of white?
Melanie Avalon: Probably. I've been having like really good chicken recently. [chuckles]
Anya Fernald: If you have really good chicken, you won't have this, but some of your listeners might resonate with this. You cook chicken breast and you'll see a little bit of water come out of it. And that's typically the soaking liquid is a bleach solution.
Melanie Avalon: Oh man.
Anya Fernald: The problem is that if you freeze that chicken, it's been pumped up with this water. And that extra water increases the propensity for the meat to get mushy as it's frozen and thawed. Because the more water in the meat, the more likely that the formation of ice will break the protein structure and then mushier the product will be.
Melanie Avalon: So, whenever you see at the store and it says retained water, is that what it's referring to? Sometimes, you look at the chicken and it'll say may contain up to this percent--
Anya Fernald: Yeah, that's what it is. It's water and chlorine and lactic acid. There's actually been a lawsuit by the Physicians’ Association of US against the USDA for how contaminated the chicken is in America. What you want to do is just look for air chilled. That's a good first step. Air chilling takes longer, and it doesn't add any-- chickens are sold by weight. It's in the industry's benefit to advocate for the water chilling, because it actually bumps up the weight.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, yeah. I've been eating air chills specifically for quite a while now. To that point, I was mentioning earlier, Teri Cochrane’s work. Her main thing that she focuses on that involves all of this is how conventional raising practices create amyloid proteins in the animals. Those truncated proteins, when we take them in exogenously through conventional chicken, conventional beef, our body just can't break them down, so it's contributing to all this inflammation. It's like we literally can't digest it.
Anya Fernald: Really? That's really fascinating. I've never heard of that. I'm going to look that up. She sounds like a podcast I should listen to.
Melanie Avalon: I'll send you the link to the interview I did with her because we dived in deep. Yeah, it was just really, really fascinating. Here's a really random question for you. I love what you said about how women-- the stress of these animals might be contributing to our stress as well. And there is this idea of our stress hormones stored in the animals and do we eat that. And I was wondering, so toxins and stress hormones and all that is stored in the animal’s fat? Do you think there would be a different implication, if for example, you only ate female cows versus male cows? This is like a hypothetical question.
Anya Fernald: I really don't know. For myself, having eaten a lot of wild animals and steers and bulls, females, I have never noticed a very different, like somatic effect for myself. I don't know-- I can't speak to that.
Melanie Avalon: It's just something I've been pondering. I'm like, “What if there are implications there?”
Anya Fernald: Yeah, I don't know. There's definitely some glandular differences, if you're going to eat prostate,there's things you can eat that have tons of testosterone and more male hormones in them, obviously. If you're interested in supplements around that, that's probably easier to come by than actually eating the meat. There's indicators. Boar meat and bull meat tastes very rangy and musky, which suggests when I think tastes different, there's going to be something different nutritionally in it. That's not a surprise. I would be surprised though-- if I would hypothesize like you're asking me to do about the gender differences, keep in mind that conventional animals and free-range animals now are still killed far younger than their natural life cycle. Those types of subtle sex differences tend to be very far postpubescent and most livestock we eat right after puberty. It’s like we eat young adults. That's sadly a result in the case of beef. In the US, we have a lot of mad cow disease in the American beef herd. We manage it by mandating that you really can only eat animals that are under three months old. We don't have a lot of older animals in commerce. I think the sex differences in flavor that I personally can speak to, from my own experience, are really only showing up in older animals.
Melanie Avalon: Okay, gotcha. Can I ask you an extremely naive question? I just realized I haven't thought about this and I don't know the answer and it's a very naive question. Cows raised for dairy versus cows for beef and steaks. Is there overlap there? Do dairy cows-- are they eventually slaughtered for steaks or is that completely separate?
Anya Fernald: That's a great question. In today's agriculture, we have very distinct breeds. We have milk breeds and we have beef breeds.
Melanie Avalon: Oh.
Anya Fernald: In the past, up until the start of this century, we had what were called dual-purpose breeds. The Gloucester cattle will be example or Belted Galloways are an example of a dual purpose. They have pretty good tasting meat, but they also produce a decent amount of milk. In the past, you actually even had tri-purpose breeds because beef used to play a big role in agriculture because they were used to draw plows, actually as oxen. In the past, you'd have dual-purpose breeds that might be labor and beef. Cows had three functions. They were the tractor, they were meat, and they were milk. So, breeds were selected for usually doing well at two out of those three things back when people maximum had 6 or 10 cows. They would have a mix of different types of animals for different functions.
In the modern world, we have very, very hyper-specialization, so nobody farms commercially a dual-purpose breed anymore. It would be commercial suicide. You just couldn't make money because even the bad dual-purpose milk breed produces a fraction of what a proper milk breed would produce.
Melanie Avalon: This is fascinating. I didn't know that.
Anya Fernald: Yeah, they're totally different. Our animals-- of course, our beef produce milk, but they’re just producing it for their babies. Beef cattle, you'll notice when they have a full udder, but it's not like a milk cow where you see these ginormous udders. They're very, very different physiology.
In the actual handling of a dairy animal at end of life in America, it goes into the meat channel, but it's the cheapest meat and the reason why is the average dairy cattle in the US has a productive life, I think, of 18 months to 3 years. In Europe, it's 15 years, which is sad. The reason why is that we have extremely aggressive milk production schedules. We do year-round lactation in the US, so we cause the animals to lactate constantly and never stop. Whereas in Europe, they're mostly season lactation, so they'll let them produce milk for six months, then take a break, and then produce it. They cycle them.
The European steak world, there's a type of delicacy of a steak from a dairy cow that's like over 15 years old. It's a really special food. It's pretty fatty. It's got very big tender muscle fibers. It tastes of mature beef. It's really delicious.
Melanie Avalon: Does it have a name?
Anya Fernald: They're just in Spain and in France, so I don't know what they'd be calling, but they call them-- it's like when you have a classic big beautiful steak, it's from an older dairy animal. In Italy, it's typically from an older labor animal from a Piedmontese or Brahman cow. You basically have these big steaks from animals that because-- Back in the day, you would take your tractor and use it for 10 years and then you'd eat it. Or you take your milk cow for 10 years and then you'd eat it at the end of its lifetime. There's a taste for that type of meats. It's very special. It's a large steak. It's really tender.
In the US, people have tried to do that same type of products because it's so special and people will go to Europe and forget about it. But the problem is, we push our dairy cattle so hard here that their meat is not very delicious. Because basically if you're lactating and you're a cow, you're always pushing all of your fat out into your milk. And so, dairy cows are actually quite lean. You think about it, in all of our evolution, this is the same thing like how breastfeeding women will lose teeth and lose your hair and have dry skin. All these things happen when you're breastfeeding, because your baby is your priority, your body makes your baby the priority, so all your best nutrients go out of your body into your milk. The same thing is true for cows. They end up having fairly impoverished meat by the end of their life in the American system. So, really the dairy cattle industry in the US, all the meat basically goes into like the school lunch program, and it goes into the very cheapest channels for meat.
Melanie Avalon: I just learned so much. That is so interesting. Another one question going back to the whole regenerative agriculture and you're talking about the barriers to the system being-- the price point would go up pretty high. An ideal dream situation, if we could just flip the switch and the US was now all practicing regenerative organic agriculture with a system like at Belcampo. I know that's not going to happen, but if that was possible, would the price point still be high if it was that entire system, or is it only going to be high as long as it's not the prevailing system?
Anya Fernald: No, that's a great question. I would phrase a little differently where I'd say like, what benefits will we have with scale? And the answer is there will be some efficiencies with scale. This will get cheaper. But there's one thing that scale will not solve, which is that the confinement system, the primary foods that are using the confinement system are subsidized crops, whereas we pay for every blade of grass that we grow and manage and farm, not actively but maintaining our pastures at Belcampo. Every dollar that goes out, we pay for. Somebody feeding corn to their beef, they pay like 30% of the actual cost of raising it because it's a subsidized crop.
Melanie Avalon: Gotcha. So, the change has to happen from almost like a legal subsidy?
Anya Fernald: It's the same reason why cereal’s too cheap and all this junk food that we eat in America is too cheap. When you have as a primary ingredient-- it's the same reason why corn syrup. Why should corn syrup be cheaper than sugar? Corn is complicated. It's a very chemical, expensive complex product to extract syrup from corn, but it's cheaper than sugar, and it has been since the start. And that's because of the subsidies. I can't say that we'd ever get close to the subsidized price of beef. It's just not possible. You think about it, it's crazy to me that it's way more expensive to take a cow, let it out on a patch of grass, move it around a couple times during its lifetime, and then slaughter it.
The other system is, take a cow, put it in cement, you have to wash down the cement pretty frequently. You had to get a guy to walk in with a bag of corn every day, dumping it in a trough, that corn has to be shipped from somewhere. And that place it’s shipped from, it was grown, sprayed with chemicals, harvested, dried, packaged. That should cost way more. Right?
Anya Fernald: Yeah.
Melanie Avalon: That should cost way more. Processing, transport, human labor, complexity. That sounds like the more expensive thing, but not in America. And that's where-- you see this like, “Oh, Australia and all their grasslands,” and “Argentina and grass-fed beef.” There's some countries where grass-fed beef is the norm. And I laugh when people are like it's somehow that they're more virtuous. It's like, no, it's not that they decided to do the right thing. It's that they don't have subsidies and so it is more expensive to feed corn to cows in absolute than it is to feed grass, but as long as we're subsidizing corn, we're not going to ever win. There's no way we can ever compete because their product is effectively close to free, their biggest input, and ours is not.
Anya Fernald: Do you foresee in the future, if there's more and more of this regenerative agriculture and consumers speak with their dollar and start purchasing from these type of farms? Do you think there could be a shift in the future where different things are subsidized and you switch over?
Melanie Avalon: I don't know. I wonder about that. I'm not the most optimistic about some of these things because the subsidy system is very entrenched. I think every presidential candidate talks about dismantling it at some point and then it never happens, because it's obviously like Iowa and everywhere, they want it to stay. But I think economic factors will break it. I think ironically, the thing that's close to breaking the subsidy system is the genetically modified crops because genetically modified crops, the seeds are actually more expensive and the inputs are more expensive. So, you have a lot of farmers who have been convinced to grow GM corn and then between the amount that they owe Monsanto for the patented seeds and then the chemicals they buy from Monsanto to manage that corn, they don't make money anymore. So, I think economics might break things more than we can.
I feel like if I'm looking at ways to increase my health, my vibrancy, my immunity right now in America, and I'm looking at my diet, I would start with the item that I share 99% of my DNA with. If I was like, okay, what am I going to spend up on? I have all my different things I eat in the course of a day. What am I going to get the nice version of or the healthy version of? I think it's a logical choice to say, I think I'll start with the thing I share the most DNA with, which is an animal that I'm eating and find the one that's raised in a way-- I mean animal wellness should support human wellness. I'm looking to optimize my human wellness, I'm going to start with the animal wellness of the animals that feed me. I think that to me is an intuitive choice. Now, I hope that more people will make that connection and just say, “Yeah, I don't really want to choose to eat something from a system that's damaging earth and damaging animal’s bodies.”
Melanie Avalon: I know now the larger grocery stores, they'll have their version now of organic. It seems like it's a conventional approach to potentially good change, but I know it's hard to know with labels and what's actually going on. Do you know what I'm talking about? Like when you go to the Publix, Kroger or even Whole Foods, should we “trust” that or do we need to be going direct to farms that we specifically know like Belcampo and direct farmers, local, co-ops, things like that?
Anya Fernald: Organics, third-party certified-- when it says organic, it's organic, so there's no problem with people misleading you about organic, it's very regulated. The problem with organic is it doesn't tell the story. Organic is just a piece of that picture. You can have organic feedlot cows. You can have organic feedlot or organic confinement pigs in crates. They keep the pigs in tiny cages. You can have organic confinement chickens with thousands of chickens in single boxes in the dark, and it's awful. All those things can be certified organic. There's not a welfare component to organic, unfortunately. That just has to do with the timing of when organic was developed. Confinement agriculture was not as big as it is now. Organic is a little piece of it. It means that no nitrogen-based fertilizers, chemicals were used in the production of whatever feeds were used in animals. It’s a piece of things.
What I'm looking for, if I'm a grocery store shopper and I'm at Kroger's or Wegmans or wherever I might be, what I'm looking for it depends by category. For beef, I want grass-fed and grass-finished. A lot of animals are grass-fed, but they're not grass-finished, the health changes radically when it's grass-finished. So that's what I would start with. If you can also get organic, great. If you can also get the name of a farm, great.
For pork, I want to look for a certified humane, no farrowing crates. And I would also opt for an organic product there or at least a GMO-free in the feeds. If you get the name of the farm, great. Lamb same as beef
Chicken is a little different. Chicken I would say, because that's the most consolidated industry and it's also frankly the most egregiously bad industry. I think the five biggest chicken producers in the US were all recently indicted just in the past week. There's a lot of scandals in the chicken industry. It's not a high-integrity industry. With chicken, I would actually look for the name of a farm. I wouldn't look for Rocky or Bell & Evans, that level. I would look for a smaller farm that you can google and find out. And look for pictures of chickens that are actually outside and some documentation that the chickens are actually outside. When you say free range on a chicken package, that means that the chicken has to actually just have access to a door to go outside. In the case of a chicken house, that's like 90-feet long--that can be 118-inch wide door on a length. And you’re a tiny chicken, how are you going to find that door? That's not free range. With chickens, I want the word pastured.
And I also look at price. Really good beef, you can find at 30% more than the really bad beef honestly, 50% more soft, that much more expensive. There's a pretty scaled supply chain. Not the best stuff, but there is some good stuff out there. Chicken, if it's a really good chicken, it's going to be three times the price. It's crazy how much more its costs to do it right, which is an indicator of how bad the bad stuff is. I would look for the name of a farm, the word pastured, organic, free range. Okay, it doesn't mean very much, but if pastured trumps free range. And then also look for a certification. Certified humane, Animal Welfare Association approved. Those are some good certifications that have to do with the animal handling practices.
Melanie Avalon: I love that. I do like at Whole Foods, for example, where they have this step system, so you can see the criteria that were used for everything. Do you guys supply to grocery stores like Whole Foods locally?
Anya Fernald: We do. We're just really rolling that out right now. We've been in Erewhon grocers, which has been an incredible partner for us . So awesome.
Melanie Avalon: I love Erewhon. Okay.
Anya Fernald: Yeah, we do great there. We're starting in just a month in Met Market, which is up in Metropolitan Market in Seattle. So, that's going to be a great account for us. We're also starting in Northern California with Nugget Markets. And we're doing small selections. It's like ground beef and ground lamb, ground pork, sausages, chickens. So pretty low-- our bone broth, which is world-famous. We don't have a very big geographic footprint yet. For people looking for really the full range of steaks and everything, brisket and pork ribs and that kind of stuff, our website is really the place to go. We've added a ton of products to that. Most of our power users are buying from the website and then just dropping it into a chest freezer or something at home, and then using that as a supply
I'd love to be in more grocery stores. Grocery stores are hard for expensive products like mine, because there's a lot of fingers in the pot. There's a lot of distributors, fees and things associated with that, especially as many grocery stores are doing delivery. That's something to think about for you as a consumer and for your audience. It's like when you buy on Instacart, it's great. I buy on Instacart or Amazon Prime Now or something. A chunk of that, 10% of that or something goes to that platform. So, it's less money going to the retailer. And it's not to say like, “Oh, have a pity party for the retailer,” but it means that they actually can't bake into that margin, more expensive providers, if that makes sense.
Melanie Avalon: No, it does, completely.
Anya Fernald: Now with so much grocery moving to online fulfillment and just-in-time delivery kind of stuff, it's like the margins are just getting smaller and smaller. And that means that less groovy, local, high-cost products are going to make it in groceries I think because, bless their hearts, but the grocers, they've got huge rent bills, they have very high costs for staff, they have to maintain a huge inventory. So, they ought to make it work too and it becomes harder-- a product like ours has a relatively small margin because you can only charge so much for chicken or for your ground beef, and our costs are higher. It's a problem right now coming out of COVID, is how many grocers are going to be able to stick with their cool, local procurement programs.
Melanie Avalon: This is so illuminating for why it's so important to speak with our dollar when we're making our purchases. It's just so evident to me. One last question. Normal, everyday, non-farming people like myself, we have a yard and stuff, how do you feel about growing your own plants? I know people are getting chickens now with COVID and quarantine. Can you actually practically from that create a lot of “nutritious food” or is it more just to get the experience and the beauty of it and connecting with nature? I'm just talking about like the practicality implications of it.
Anya Fernald: For actually vegetables or chickens?
Melanie Avalon: Both. [chuckles]
Anya Fernald: I would argue that you can grow enormously nutritionally dense food in your garden. And I would recommend getting heirloom varieties, get some stuff from seed, get some horse manure or cow manure delivered to your house. You can grow amazing products. You can really, really get nutritional density there. You can get back to the way things used to be because in the small garden, you're not having to generate this many pounds of green beans a day, it doesn't really matter. So, you can actually do amazingly well for yourself nutritionally with a backyard garden.
I also think that backyard gardens are a great place to have just a ton of herbs which are super stimulating for your digestion, great for your overall health. Things like fresh mint for teas as well as--fresh mint is amazing thrown in an Asian beef salad. I would advocate for gardening all day long. It's a great way to get really high-quality food.
I agree that sometimes, you read these stories where it's like, “I spent $800 on my garden and I got four tomatoes.” So obviously, doing it, you have to have some scale where it makes sense, and I would say if you have less than like 10 square feet, just do an herb garden, just keep it simple, that’s something you can do. But I think it's terrific. I also think if you have kids, it's a great way to get appreciation for food. But you can grow super high nutrient density food, you can grow rare varieties that are hard to get elsewhere that have really unique characteristics and then try growing things. Red-green beans are delicious. Red lettuces, the red [unintelligible [01:11:40] have more nutrient density. Grow things like tomatillos, at least for here, in California, grow fantastic and they're great for salsas and that kind of thing. Making a garden if you've got the time to do is epic and a great use of time.
Backyard chickens are awesome for eggs, definitely. It's also a really nice way to handle compost and food waste, in terms of full circle. I think it's something that a lot of us became aware of during COVID is that we didn't want to waste food, most of the common sentiment. People were feeling like all of a sudden like, “I used to throw stuff away like this all the time and now I'm afraid to. I don't want to.” You know that feeling? Chickens are-- they're like a living compost metabolizer.
Melanie Avalon: What about a pig? Can you have a pig in your backyard?
Anya Fernald: Yeah. You could. Pigs need space. I would not take on a pig if I had less than an acre. And the reason why is that pigs will root around, so they'll dig and they'll really tear things up. If you keep a pig in a confined area-- this is why pigs are kept on concrete in confinement operations. They'll dig and dig and dig, and it'll just turn to a mud pile. We move our pigs very frequently, because if we leave them for too long in one place, they'll just make things into big dirt pits. So, it's not going to be the most aesthetic.
But yeah, if you have an acre or two, get a pig, no problem, get a couple pigs. And goats are also fabulous in that. But pigs are also natural omnivores, just like chickens. The pigs in our farm had been known to hunt and kill rattlesnakes, for example.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, wow.
Anya Fernald: Yeah. They're real predators. They’ll get out there and get it done. Could be helpful. Pigs, they are carnivores, they will nip at you. If you had kids or visitors, dogs, pigs can be pretty nasty. They can be aggressive. Some of them are sweet and docile. There's a character to them. I can handle backyard chickens. I have a big vegetable garden. I have enough animals in my business I wouldn't mind in my house other than my dog, but I would never recommend a pig for any anybody with less than an acre plus. But it's really, really beautiful and amazingly efficient.
Here's a fun story for you is that-- you know piggy banks, I never understood the metaphor of the piggy bank until an Italian farmer explained it to me. And he said the piggy bank, if you put a penny into it every day and then after a couple years, you crack it open and you have much more money than [crosstalk] and that's-- It wasn't just that pigs are cute, so they made piggy banks look like pigs. The reason is, as same thing as a pig [crosstalk] leftover because pigs will eat leftover bones, they’ll eat chicken broth, they’ll eat pasta, anything. Back in the olden days, you scrape your plates full of leftover, watermelon rinds and whatever else you didn't eat, bean husks, and that pig would eat them. And after a couple years, you'd crack it open and it would be wealth.
Melanie Avalon: That's incredible. I love that. That's going to stick with me. That’s like one of the little fun facts that you learn. It's like-- Wait, here's a mind-blown moment, speaking of chickens, do you know the whole thing about why did the chicken cross the road?
Anya Fernald: I mean, I've heard the joke.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. I’m sorry, I get really excited about this one. It's actually a joke. So, why did the chicken cross the road?
Anya Fernald: To get to the other side.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah. The other side. So, what happened to the chicken?
Anya Fernald: I don’t know.
Melanie Avalon: The other side of the road or the other side, the other side?
Anya Fernald: Like the dark side?
Melanie Avalon: It died. Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side, to get hit by a car.
Anya Fernald: Oh.
Melanie Avalon: The other side. Well, the reason I think it's such a mind-blown moment is everybody thinks it's like a throwaway, but it's actually a joke. Like, it's actually a pun. It's actually like one of the most brilliant jokes. And nobody realizes.
Anya Fernald: Yeah. Why did the chicken cross the road? Because it would get killed and then go to the other side.
Melanie Avalon: To get to the other side. [chuckles] That was a mind-blown moment for me when I first realized that. It's like, “Oh, my goodness!”
Anya Fernald: I never thought it about that way. [laughs]
Melanie Avalon: So, on that note, well, thank you. This has just been-- [chuckles]
Anya Fernald: [crosstalk] have a grand discussion, but I appreciate your questions. Those were amazing.
Melanie Avalon: Yeah, this was absolutely amazing. The last question I ask every single guest on this podcast, and it's just because I realize more and more how important mindset is surrounding everything, what is something that you're grateful for ?
Anya Fernald: Oh. The privilege to change the world with what I do, the ability to create change.
Melanie Avalon: That is so incredible. And I just want to say I am so grateful for what you're doing. I was already feeling this, but after this conversation, I'm just like, “Everybody needs to hear this, like everybody.” We just need to be making these changes. And I'm so grateful for the work that you're doing and spreading this awareness. It's just really, really incredible.
For listeners who are interested, who want to follow your work, you have a cookbook as well called Home Cooked and then listeners can order from Belcampo. What are the links and all the resources for all of that?
Anya Fernald: Belcampo.com, and I can give you a code. You can post with a story to let people have a discount.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, awesome.
Anya Fernald: And then you can follow us on Instagram at @belcampomeatco, and then me personally, I'm at @anyafernald.
Melanie Avalon: Awesome. So, we'll put all of that in the show notes. So, for listeners, the code will be MelanieAvalon, thank you. I did not know we're going to do that. I'm really excited about that. Again, for listeners, the show notes will be at melanieavalon.com/belcampo, that's B-E-L-C-A-M-P-O. I'll put links to everything there
Thank you again, Anya. This was so incredible. I'm so appreciative. I'm really excited to try this Belcampo that showed up at my door today. Thank you for that as well.
Anya Fernald: Enjoy. I hope you feel the vibrancy in your body when you eat it too.
Melanie Avalon: Oh, I'm sure, I will. I know that feeling. When you have an actually nutritious, properly raised animal, you feel it intuitively. It's like this is nutritious. Thank you so much.
Anya Fernald: Terrific. Okay, we'll talk soon.
Melanie Avalon: Bye.