I was reminded of the importance of meat in cultures all around the globe by my Namibian friend Mbinao. She showed me pictures of herself dressed in traditional Herero costume, notably the horizontal horned headdress called an otjikaiva.
Herero people, who are historically cattle breeders, measure their wealth in cattle, and this headgear pays homage to that part of their identity. Beef and sheep account for around two-thirds of agricultural production in Namibia.
Yet in Anglophone countries, a persistent narrative from ‘eco-modernists’ like George Monbiot sees livestock farmers pushed off their land. From Welsh hills to Southern African desert, they denounce them as enemies of nature, dismissing their track record in feeding and clothing people reliably as redundant.
A timely rebuttal to this reckless, neo-colonial doctrine has come from the Dublin Declaration of Scientists on the Societal Role of Livestock. It came out of a major conference in Dublin last year and has now been signed by over 900 scientists worldwide.
These scientists remind us human civilisation has been built on livestock for more than 5,000 years, and that animals continue to be the bedrock of food security globally.
Livestock has long provided the most readily available source of high-quality proteins and essential nutrients, clothing, manure, employment, income, and social status.
I saw this with my own eyes in Darjeeling, where I learned that the dream of every family was to own a cow, first for the milk and manure it would provide, and then the meat, leather and horn.
The Dublin Declaration notes farmed and herded animals are irreplaceable for recycling the large amounts of inedible biomass generated as by-products of production of foods for humans. For every pound of plant-based protein, there are four pounds of fibrous waste that can be fed only to ruminant animals and converted into more nutrient-dense protein for people.
The Dublin Declaration also acknowledges well-managed livestock systems that apply agro-ecological principles sequester carbon and improve soil health and biodiversity.
I’d love to sit down my friend Mbinao with the demagogues of the English-speaking world who would impose their ethnocentric, one-size-fits-all agenda of drastically reducing livestock numbers globally. She would shake her head in disbelief.
Joanna Blythman is a food journalist and author of Bad Food Britain.