SUMMER SERIES | Grant Hilliard: The Ethical Omnivore, Feather and Bone, and the Power of Our Choices Around Meat Introduction
Today, we are going to explore the world of being an ethical omnivore. And I think it is fair to say that for most of human history, that’s been pretty well what we have been as a species.
We’ve had an intimate relationship with animals over millions of years and for Homo sapiens, certainly over 300,000 years. And certainly, since the agricultural revolution, we’ve formed a much more intimate relationship with animals. But they have always lived in a natural environment. And we have always honored those animals because let’s face it, they have provided us with some very important nutrients.
Somehow we seem to have lost our way, particularly over the last 40 or 50 years of industrial animal agriculture. Well, my guest today is Grant Hilliard. And Grant is not only the co-author with Laura Dalrymple of this wonderful book, The Ethical Omnivore, but he’s also the owner of together with Laura of a bespoke provider of meat, feather, and bone, who champion regenerative agriculture and whole animal consumption.
I mean, literally honoring the whole animal through their journey through life. And as we have said many times on this podcast, it’s not the resource which is the problem, in this case, the animal, but the way in which the animal is managed. And there are just so many issues we cover in this episode. Look I won’t spoil it out for you. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Grant Hilliard.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:00:07] Welcome to Unstress my name is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Now, before I start, I’d like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which I am recording this podcast, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
Now, today, we are going to explore the world of being an ethical omnivore. And I think it is fair to say that for most of human history, that’s been pretty well what we have been as a species. We’ve had an intimate relationship with animals over millions of years and for Homo sapiens, certainly over 300,000 years. And certainly, since the agricultural revolution, we’ve formed a much more intimate relationship with animals. But they have always lived in a natural environment. And we have always honored those animals because, let’s face it, they have provided us with some very important nutrients.
Somehow we seem to have lost our way, particularly over the last 40 or 50 years of industrial animal agriculture. Well, my guest today is Grant Hilliard. And Grant is not only the co-author with Laura Dalrymple of this wonderful book, The Ethical Omnivore, but he’s also the owner of together with Laura of a bespoke provider of meat, feather and bone, who champion regenerative agriculture and whole animal consumption.
I mean, literally honoring the whole animal through their journey through life. And as we have said many times on this podcast, it’s not the resource which is the problem in this case, the animal, but the way in which the animal is managed. And there are just so many issues we cover in this episode. Look I won’t spoil it out for you. I hope you enjoy this conversation I had with Grant Hilliard. Welcome to the show, Grant.
Grant Hilliard [00:02:17] Thank you, Ron. Pleased to be here.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:02:19] Grant. We met at that wonderful event in Fairlight a few weeks ago called Soil to Stomach. And I met and realized that we’ve met before. But your book, which is The Ethical Omnivore, isn’t just such a wonderful read and the message is such an important one. I wanted to get you on and hear a bit more about this book, the story I wanted to share with us. Because butchery didn’t come to you through the family, did it?
Grant Hilliard [00:02:52] No, not quite. Yeah, it came really as a result of an interest in wine and I would visit vineyards and in that same sort of quite ordinary to visit vineyards, to see wine being made and where they’re grown. And the idea that that wine might represent a place in some well at various levels of faithfulness, depending on the method of production. So visiting vineyards was really sort of instructive. And I was sourcing wine mostly to a number of restaurants between insurance and a runner in Bondi and
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:03:33] a great, wonderful restaurant of produce, not just food, but produce.
Grant Hilliard [00:03:37] Yeah, that’s right. And he had a real focus on that. And so was a very big influence on me, really, and gave me scope to try and find things. And so I’d been sourcing sort of olive oil and garlic and other things that the restaurant used as well as wine. And it didn’t actually seem like such a big jump to sort of say, well, what about if I got sort of a few lines or three lines in this case and you bought one of them and we see how that goes.
And because the parameters of sort of selection are quite similar, really. I mean, wine is sort of gussied up somewhat, but essentially it’s just agriculture, and or at least the first part of the process is maybe not the winemaking, but the first part of the process is no different to growing anything else. And on that, if anyone was particularly interested in it, I would recommend a woman called Mini Castiel, who is an Oregon winemaker, who has a very deep sort of understanding of producing.
You know, she would argue that winemaking gets a free pass and a lot of ways in terms of regenerative agriculture, and I think she’s right, she tries to account for all the productive capacity in her farm, in winemaking, just as much as we would be looking for in any other form of production.
That is a really good series of podcasts called I’ll Drink to that. And there’s an interview with her on that. But is she turns up in various things. But that particular interview is really, really good. She’s the most articulate winemaker I’ve heard in terms of trying to wrestle with the dilemmas of modern cultural production and that that for any sort of agricultural practice is really sort of pertinent at the moment.
How can we continue to produce when we can’t really continue to produce more cultural product? We have to find ways to diversify the production while still producing growing while still producing legumes while still producing. All those things that are currently done is an exclusive monoculture and a simplified ecological system. So which takes us back to the vineyard.
I was interested in the vineyards that were not simplified, systems that were actually really quite complex, productive systems, and it seemed that animals could also represent that they were born on that farm. They eat the grasses and range of perennials and all sorts of things that did occur on that farm.
Why wouldn’t they, with their genetics and their expression in that particular place, expressed something quite powerful as well in the same way that we might think that one does. And I was interested in genetic diversity because one of the key things that struck me in sourcing wine, obviously the specifics of great varieties is really important and bit in line at least 15 years ago.
And in Australia, it was virtually never differentiated by breed. And yet there are hundreds and hundreds of varieties that federal breeds of land. But we never bought it by breed and it was never marketed by breed. And that to me was sort of curious.
I was thinking, why why does this sort of this particular market not insist on naming what it is? And I’d heard an interview with a woman who I don’t know who I can’t recall that it was on Radio National. And it was about she just I just happened to catch a line of it, which was you haven’t lived if you haven’t tried eating south down lamb, I sort of did a bit of research is a very old variety of Southern English lamb, sort of the grandparents, essentially all the English brains of lamb that we would be familiar with, but in their own right. Not very. Certainly not now. Very popular.
They had been the backbone of the program industry in Australia in the 60s, but in the swing away from fat in the 70s, they got dumped because I carry a little more fat and they’re quite short-legged. So they sort of tried the western district of Victoria, which is prime lamb growing area, used to be built from south down, but they were largely gone in New South Wales there’s just one grower that I eventually found.
And he I convinced him to buy three lambs from him and Showman’s bought one and two restaurants, bought each of the others. And it was a curiosity. Are these rare breeds of lamb and going to be any better than what we would ordinarily buy when I really didn’t have a fixed sort of idea or position on it. I was just sort of what’s was there to say about this? But we’ve got a very strong response from those three lambs and the rest is sort of history.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:36] Well, that’s quite a jump from buying three lambs to now running feather and bone.
Grant Hilliard [00:08:42] Well, it
Grant Hilliard [00:08:42] is. 15 years now Ron. So it is
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:08:45] still a very relatively short time. And when you, as you have done, come into contact with people on the lamb, this goes back generations and generations. In fact, coming at a new with a new perspective may be an advantage.
Grant Hilliard [00:09:00] Yes. Well, I think I think there’s a lot of people in various industries that would say that that you don’t actually have to have a flat windscreen, you can have a curved one.
You just have to convince the glassmakers that it’s possible to make one side of the apocryphal story about Henry Ford goes anyway, that that he bought to it a different way.
Actually, very interestingly, he also looked at the way animals are broken down in an abattoir as a disassembling plant. And then so this is how if you reverse that process, this is how you produce cars. So it was an interesting sort of idea. And that’s what we do.
We disassemble the elements of production and assemble them in a way that promotes connection between all the people that are engaged in any form in that process. So that’s sort of where it’s finished up after 15 years. We didn’t realize we’re doing that at the beginning.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:09:55] Well, there’s so much of what you do that we want to cover, but it’s back on that diversity issue because I don’t think it matters whether you’re talking about animals or plants. The industrial agricultural model has really. And what’s the opposite of diversifying?
Grant Hilliard [00:10:14] It’s a simplified simplification.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:17] Yeah. Because, like, I was surprised to learn that there was something like three hundred varieties of cauliflower, for example,
Grant Hilliard [00:10:26] which I am six are now routinely grown from.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:28] I think
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:10:29] that’s exactly right. And I think absolutely every thing that we see in the in our food retail offering has been dumbed down to be the most simplest form. And yet had this connection with how our food is grown, it’s just so fundamental to so much.
Grant Hilliard [00:10:51] Well, yeah. And it is. It’s yeah. So it isn’t just about livestock, the loss of different breeds of livestock, as you pointed out, cauliflowers, all the fruits and vegetables that we have access to. There was a vast range of them and they were valued for all sorts of different reasons. And this is sort of the issue with the commodity market is that it simplifies the system, the production system, but it also simplifies the consumption of it, too. It’s a very linear model.
It can only can really conceive of simplified production, simplified consumption. And what we’re trying to promote is the idea of a multifaceted, complex system. And the more complex it is, you get your resilience from that.
We truly believe that resilience and diversity creates capacity and in ways that we actually don’t really understand.
But it’s sort of one of those things you don’t need to understand the process completely to allow it to facilitate its occurrence, which takes an act of faith. It also it’s about humility at some level that you can never know anything.
All you can do is see the small part that’s in front of you. And so you what we. Firmly of the belief, and you are clearly, too, is that complex systems produce complex food as well. And that in that complex food, which has all the micronutrients that you need, which are the triggers for enzyme action, enzymatic action, which the trigger is for all sorts of metabolic processes, that we are now seeing the cost of that quite clearly, that the metabolic disease, the not the non-communicable diseases, they’re all their lifestyle-related. And it’s a term I sort of hype.
And in fact, it applies beautifully to the commodity market. It is a lifestyle to a style of emptiness, essentially. And so everybody suffers from that simplified system. There aren’t winners in that system from a microbial level.
Everybody is disenfranchised and disconnected, not least the producers themselves. And what we’re seeing is a great emptying out of rural communities right through the Western world. And it’s starting to happen in the developing world where everybody’s flocking to the cities away from systems that actually were multigenerational and multi-species production systems to see, again, a very simplified system, which is essentially a colonial impulse. It’s you know, it’s in the service of very big money. And AG is very big money.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:13:39] Well, another concept that I think is the way it is marketed to the public is that this is cheap and accessible. And I think another word you talk about, you mentioned complex. Another word that I like to use is holistic, because when you look at the holistic impact of this supposedly cheap food, it is actually not cheap at all. It’s actually really costly to when you factor in health and environmental costs into it, which is a little more nuanced.
Grant Hilliard [00:14:13] Well, yes, it is. I suppose this is where I would say that it is crucial that government gets involved. I mean, a lot of people in this space would say the last thing we want is government to be involved because they will stuff it up and the wrong farmers will get the benefit from it. I sort of don’t believe that.
I think that actually has to be made very much. Well, it’s one facet of it. Already consumers I had to use that word. People who are part of the production of food and happened to buy meats are demanding difference and that their customer base and quite clearly supermarkets are also being pressured by that. Hence, they sort of desire to sort of try and reposition themselves in relation to free-range eggs and sell still free pork, which still means they may decide that it’s sort of just a way of just smoothing that over. But at least you can see that that demand is having an effect.
The next step is for the government to then recognize that you can’t have coherent food policy unless you start to think about it in terms of water, water, ecological services, biodiversity, generally, these are all considered a siloed sort of concerns.
In fact, they consider it as hostile concerns where you can have one or you can have the other, you can’t have both. But that’s you can only think that if you think that you’re outside of the system that produces it. And that’s where the humility comes in. You have to understand that we are embedded in the system inextricably. There is no way that we can step outside it and that our continued survival is highly dependent on it.
We take it totally for granted, but it’s sort of interesting to me and instructive that recent events in terms of extended drought and then fires following that and then floods and then climate, but underlines just how sort of fragile those systems are. It really is an illusory sense of abundance because it’s not built on anything solid. It’s built on a superficial layer of fertility, which is only gained through the addition of increasingly expensive chemicals.
Now, as soon as you do that, you then start winding down the fertility declining of production. And if you’re what if you’re working on an diminishing fertility plan, which which is a way of describing ninety-five percent of Australian farming, your only option, once your creativity declines to a certain point and you’re still trying to maintain output, is to add it.
And at a certain point, that’s going to cost you more than it’s worth to produce. And most farmers reach that point earlier. And that’s why the banks say to them, you need to get bigger, because what they’re really saying is that that point where it becomes uneconomic, at least you can push it out for 20 to 30 years, rather than having it confronts you now.
So instead of thinking of this, as we commonly referred to farms just in surface area, we say it’s a two hundred hectare farm or whatever it might be. Really, that’s just such a it’s well, it’s a thing we’re thinking about and certainly two-dimensional work.
But more than that, it was actually thoroughly misleading as to what a farm is. It’s a productive enterprise that operates certainly in three dimensions. And when you think about its operation three times, certainly four dimensions, the colonial impulses that I’ve got, two hundred acres, I’ve got diminishing returns.
I’ll buy another two hundred acres to supplement what I’ve done. And the American experience is a classic experience where it was cheaper to buy new land in America than it was to keep the land that you had in any decent condition.
Within 20 years of white settlement in America, they were talking about the problems of erosion. I mean, these things are this is not sort of new stuff. This is the old stuff. And it’s always sort of said, oh, well, this is caused by drought. Well, it’s not caused by drought. It’s caused by mismanagement that is then subjected to periods of extended dry conditions.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:18:26] You know, I’ve really always been fascinated by the similarities between holistic health care and holistic land management. And so often in holistic health care, our diet is reduced to calories.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:18:40] Calories.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:18:41] Which is in the same sense as the value of the land being reduced to its acreage. But if we looked at it three-dimensionally and were able to assess a block of land and its carbon profile, wow, wouldn’t that change land
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:18:59] values
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:00] if we took a literally a three-dimensional view of the land and said it’s not just length and breadth, but its depth as well, quite in the same way that food is not just calories, but it’s nutrients within those calories
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:19:14] that are important.
Grant Hilliard [00:19:15] And in fact, it’s probably the calories that is the issue, because if we have excess calorie content and reduced and sort of almost negligible amounts of nutrients in much food, I mean, there’s a lot of commercial carrots that they are a dollar a kilo because really you could use them as a doorstop.
You could use them for anything, I suppose they use conducing or something, but they’re not in terms of nutrient worth, very little. I mean, it’s an interesting thing that if you measured the brix and plants and it’s a measure of sugar in the plant, most plants sit at around commercially produced film sitting around between four and seven on the Brix scale.
At that level, they will survive, but they won’t thrive. But if you get over eights on the Brix scale, then all of the secondary metabolites start to start to kick in the secondary processes. And that’s where the micronutrient comes from.
That’s where the where the perfume comes from. If you should be able to walk into a room with a bunch of basil and if everybody doesn’t turn around a moment or in fact, before you’ve even walked into that room, it says that the BRIX level of that wasn’t high enough to produce the perfume that it should have had. And now we look at you go to most stocks and basals when you really you have to put your head in the bag. And that tells you totally about the health of that plant. It’s just alive long enough to harvest. That’s all it is.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:20:44] And I know you mentioned Fred Provenza in your book and that wonderful book, Nourishment. And I had the honor of talking to Fred on the podcast a little while ago. And this whole story of the phytonutrients within food, natural food is extraordinary.
And interestingly, I’ve just recently heard a podcast about growing meat in the lab and how this is really the future of agriculture. And I just think about the humble strawberry that Fred talked about with its 5000 phytochemicals, phytonutrients in them and thinking, my goodness, now I’m sure that person has got a PhD in whatever in their lab. But, gee, I’d love to know how they’re going to reproduce the complexity of natural food.
Grant Hilliard [00:21:35] Well, they won’t because they have no humility in the face of production. So it’s in a simplified system. You can replicate endlessly in a complex system. You can
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:21:49] Grant. One of the things that I really was so looking forward to talking to you, because you as you said, oh, you’ve only been doing this for 15 years. And I’ve actually been interested in holistic land management for 15 years. But you have gone out there and developed really close relationships with growers and seen firsthand some of the. The challenges and some of the successes and some of the resistance to those changes, what do you what’s your perception of how it happened, how that’s happening out there?
Grant Hilliard [00:22:24] Well, they were people who most of the families, the way that we work with and that would be at any one time, this could be 40 different farmers production product in the building on any given week.
Over time, we’re probably one hundred and twenty different farms that we’ve worked with. And most of those people that have come to it because they’re dissatisfied with the production systems that they’ve either inherited or they’ve seen.
So we’ve got a real mixture of people who are, fifth, multigenerational farmers and people who have come to it late in life. And I suppose it’s a bit like me coming to butchery and that if you don’t know that you’re breaking the rules, it’s sort of if you’re completely ignorant, it actually protects you in some ways.
A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. And I think that’s probably true. I wouldn’t started doing this. I think if I knew the difficulties involved in sort of butchery and setting up the systems that the logistics that you need to be able to manage that.
But if I sort of one step in front of the other and all of a sudden that’s where you get to. So for farmers, I think. Most of them, and it’s an interesting thing that most of all of the families that we’ve worked with have never had a neighbor, an immediate neighbor, who farms the way they do.
Yes. And that’s really quite shocking because there’s a photo in the book there which is a very telling fence line in the middle that was taken late in the drought so early 2020 or late 2019. And it shows one of our farmers would-be farmer. We’d still if the grass is quite dry, but it’s standing and it’s covering. And then the next door is largely just dirt with a few sort of dead plants every six hundred million or so for that farm. And he’s thinking.
That grass should be in my cows, not that’s a waste of food, they only seize it from thinking that the product of what he’s doing is the cows that he’s selling. That’s what he thinks he’s farming. But the farmers that we work with don’t think that they think that there’s a salable product of what from what they do that’s their enterprise or maybe multiple products. But they’re resaleable products from the enterprise. But the actual productive capacity and what they marshaling and orchestrating is far, far greater than that.
And most of the wealth of any farms under the ground. We keep coming back to the same thing over time without that microbial activity, without that engine of decomposition, things eating other things and things in symbiotic relationships with other things.
Without that, you’ve got very little because you haven’t got the air. You have looked like you haven’t got the sugars and you haven’t got the sort of the products of photosynthesis. So you’ve got the product of photosynthesis, but not not the consequence, the positive consequence that generates with the exchange of sugar and minerals and everything else. So the farmers. So what does that say?
It says that there is still a tremendous amount of resistance within rural communities. Most farmers will say that they can’t afford to farm that way, even if they would like to. And I think the risks are too high. Some farmers refuse to eat the food that they produce. I mean, that’s what this is about.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:26:03] Well, yes. Yes, that’s so interesting. And again, to draw the analogy with health and land management, often people don’t make big changes until there’s a significant trauma they have experienced. Droughts are often that trauma or bankruptcy or facing that kind of thing. But some
Grant Hilliard [00:26:23] of the details that he says that there’s a sort of crisis point, which is to a change of pattern,
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:26:30] but ultimately there’s a philosophical point at which the farmer either accepts that they’re their main job is a commodity or their main job is to nurture the soil on which that commodity is grown, who to protect that crop in the future crops. It’s the soil that’s the big one. And I know, you know, you’ve got one of the chapters in your book says, Never, Never Bear the Earth Stories from the Soil. Tell us a little bit about the role of animals in that process.
Role of Animals
Grant Hilliard [00:27:03] Well, never bear in the earth is to maintain your ground cover. That’s the first that’s the first step. I mean, obviously, when it gets really extreme, as it did at the end of the three-year drought, a lot of farmers had completely destocked because they simply didn’t have it was a choice between feeding their animals or burying the earth on their farm. And they weren’t prepared to do that, saying that the investment in topsoil and holding up topsoil together and still provide and even though it’s dead, that those grasses still provide really important habitat for a whole range of insects that benefit the benefit the ecology of that of that system.
Even in it’s sort of, as I say, what’s the word sort of crisp and dry state is still going on just and they would be when you add lots of water to that system. So, yeah, a lot of people do start to completely start getting access to things which was more difficult to southern in Victoria and Wisconsin. And around it, they did it pretty well, like they often do. It’s a it got for them. It was dry that it’s not dry by any measure that anywhere in New South Wales would have recognized. So we were still able to get stock from that farm.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:28:24] We were you then casting your net much further. I mean, Australia is a pretty big country. Where how far would you go?
Grant Hilliard [00:28:32] Well, we’ve only going outside New South Wales for really particular reasons.
Generally, it’s searching for a particular it has to be a distinct genetics or production system that would make it that would make it worthwhile to do that well. Having said that, we’re probably just as close to sort of Victorian farms as we are to get closer than, say, the northwest of New South Wales.
So having a New South Wales own policy isn’t really the sort of thing for us. What we’re looking for is ideally someone who’s as close as possible. But if the production system is good or the reservoir of genetics is important to maintain, we source 90 percent of what we buy comes from New South Wales. We get a little from Victoria. We’ve just started getting some rare breed beef in Tasmania and we get a tiny bit from Queensland.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:26] And what sort of like if we’re talking you mentioned Southdown. LAMBS, what sort of diversity, how many different species of lambs are there that you draw on?
Grant Hilliard [00:29:37] Probably throughout the year, maybe 12 to 15.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:42] Right, okay.
Grant Hilliard [00:29:43] Or blends of those and
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:29:46] in a commercial butcher shop, what would that be?
Grant Hilliard [00:29:49] Well, mostly it’s sort of one. Essentially, they’re probably working with the with the first cross ewe like, which is a merino cross ewe with a dose of ram over the top. So what they’re selling is second, second cross on the whole. And that’s really because the wool industry has determined the generic to a very large extent, determine the genetic makeup of the national flock.
It’s so I’m sort of generally looking for animals that are. Really will either not wool shape the hair sheep or shading shape and or with the value of the wool is not one of the first considerations. So they’re the breeds that I’m looking for, particularly because the focus is on the quality in that case.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:30:41] And what about the other standards like beef and pork.
Grant Hilliard [00:30:47] All the pork that we buy is and this is sort of crucial. There are two sort of things that really make us different. I think one is that we only buy from farms that we visit. So three things. The other is that they have to be growing outside, that they’re not grown in sheds at all. And three, that there’s a preference given to diverse genetics.
So, in fact, when we started, we’ve had so Tagline was rare, breed probador. But we sort of move past that because we saw it as just an aspect of what we were doing, not not the whole reason of what we were doing. So genetic diversity is still incredibly important, but it isn’t the only reason where we’re here. So those three things and that we buy the meat on the bone, which changes the relationship to the producer completely.
So instead of going through a third party or wholesaler who might draw on meat from a whole range of different farms, now, some of that could be very good meat and very well produced. The thing is, you would never be able to know for sure and you would never be able to repeat the experience. So what we were interested in was a very transparent model that could be repeated and also not really saying this is super high-quality meat.
I mean, I think that sort of argument is circular and not very helpful because what we’re really trying to sort of say is account for the account for it in a way which is in a sense quite so dry and objective. It was this aged animal with these words genetics.
It was growing on this farm by this person and it was killed at this abattoir. And now it’s been aged in our current society for weeks. And if you think that’s delicious meat, then I’m very pleased to hear that. But it’s not why we bought it. We bought it because it represents an investment in that ecology.
And, of course, as Fred Provenza would make, it makes very clear, it’s no coincidence that that meat taste is delicious because it’s so far chemically active because it’s eaten all of these grasses and perennials, which are probably sitting at between eight and 10 or 12 bricks, which are themselves expressing themselves to the fullest potential genetic potential that they have, which that allows the animal to express itself to its full genetic potential, which, of course, allows us to express ourselves, but for its genetic potential.
So, you know, these things are connected, but everything is produced in the battle that we have is that people say, well, that’s too expensive because it’s assumed that an apple equals an apple or that this egg is the same as that egg. It’s come out of a completely different production system, but there’s nothing to differentiate it.
And I think the science being done at the moment, which actually will be able to quite rapidly and cheaply demonstrate nutrient density of different foods, is going to change everything.
Then people will be able to not just buy a story and say, OK, well, I like what all that detail you’ve told me and I’ll take that piece of meat home or that cauliflower home, but it was particularly delicious and it also contained all these things so delicious. This directly relates to nutrient density. They’re not just not separate activities
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:34:28] And not just nutrient, not just that, but safe, safe. I would say that’s the hard way. It’s a hard word, but that it but if it was nutrient-dense, we wouldn’t be as hungry as perhaps we are. And that’s an interesting part of the equation that’s often overlooked as well.
Grant Hilliard [00:34:47] Well, definitely. And it also explains why animals that only receive rations, standardized rations in a state of either excess or not having enough, because that idea of an average animal having an average diet is simply not true.
There is no average there is a continuum of need, and that changes day to day. It also changes in me in if you depending on your gender, whether you’re sort of in childbearing age or all of these things will have an impact on the requirements of the system. And anyone who’s got teenage children will understand the requirements.
You know, just to someone who’s a mature adult is just astonishing. I couldn’t possibly eat that and yeah, do that six times a day somehow. I do. And I need that because of the growth, the rapid growth and they’re going through.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:35:51] It’s quite an exciting idea to think that one day we may well not that far away be able to just point our phone and food and it will give us a complete nutrient profile of that food.
Grant Hilliard [00:36:04] Yeah, well, I think that’s I
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:36:05] don’t think we’re far off that we
Grant Hilliard [00:36:07] know we’re not that far off. And I think if because that is a piece of the puzzle that we really need. So it’s one thing to tell heartwarming stories. It’s another to be able to sort of identify with committed farmers. But, you know, the other aspect is, is government-led incentives and also the science of being able to understand that this food is different for a reason. It’s not just coincidental that it comes out of a production system and it is better. It is better for a range of reasons.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:36:46] But when we see, you know, like there are all sorts of labels that are put on to foods like organic, biodynamic, free-range in terms of priority for you, when knowing what you know, what do you what’s your priority list? What what what is the priority list there?
Priority List in food labels
Grant Hilliard [00:37:07] Well, a lot of what we stock is certified organic. And I know that people use organic as a shorthand. For better-produced food and. I always get in trouble when I say this, but unfortunately, it’s not a good rule of thumb in some ways because the absence of things doesn’t guarantee anything.
Actually, it guarantees a system that hasn’t had certain influences or what really tells you what we’re interested in is, is a system where the inputs or the productive system is actually operating close to its peak. So that soil is operating at its fullest genetic potential as well.
And that you achieve that through farming methods, through you actually asked me I don’t answer it before how the animals utilize them a system like that. So it’s crucial that animals have moved across the landscape, how quickly they return to that same area where the farm is dictated by largely seasonal conditions.
So if it’s a particularly good season, you might find that those cattle will be back on that same pasture within, say, five weeks in the peak of the drought. It might have been 15 months with the farmer who understands that I think of them as orchestrated, really.
I think of them as martialing creative forces on the farm and the utilizing the creative force to achieve the greatest outcome, which is not just meat production in our case and poultry, but it’s a multifaceted, sort of holistic understanding of what that creative capacity is that the artists I think the result.
So I think it’s highly creative, observant, responsive people. And the best farmers are that. And I find them awesome, really, because they’re understanding and they’re sort of intuitive recognition of things. And to do that, you have to put yourself in a different position to where most farmers put themselves. And I think that’s sort of an artistic sort of position.
It’s also we think of indigenous knowledge, what that is in any way diminished by science, but is the accumulation of forty thousand or sixty thousand years of intense observational knowledge, which is which becomes art.
Whereas when you know something that well and can it’s part of you as much as it’s part it. And that’s a really beautiful thing to watch. And it’s also to observe it over time because there were funds that were visited now for 12, 14 years. We’ve had producers we’ve worked with almost since the start and seeing the changes on their farm through good seasons and bad seasons has been is inspiring.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:40:18] Now, you mention also you want to buy meat on the bone. And you introduced in the book you talk about meat in and out of the box. And I didn’t think a lot of people fully appreciate when they walk through the butcher, the supermarket, and all that. What the difference, differences between meat in and out of the boxes. Can you explain that to us?
What’s the difference between Meat in and out of the boxes?
Grant Hilliard [00:40:40] Yeah, it’s a change that’s really happened in the last 20 or 30 years with the sort of concentration of power largely through the supermarkets and their production. The abattoir is now the butcher shop in that model.
What happens at the actual retail outlet will be just simply apportioning of that and maybe the application of the source or some sort of value adding process that goes on that the slaughter boning packaging will happens at the abattoir, which means that the animal is boned often they don’t even bone it when it’s cold.
Now it’s boned hot and goes straight into plastic and then straight into the box. So that preserves the full weight of it, which means that from a commodity point of view, when you’ve only got one value, which is weight, then there’s no incentive to do anything else really, is there? And that’s the other thing that really sort of irks me about the commodity market, is that there is simply no room for any other quality apart from weight, which is a very sort of thin understanding of what that product is.
We’ve already talked about sort of nutrient capacity, its footprint on the land that it was growing on its ecological footprint and the benefits that it might accrue as opposed to the negative things. None of that’s embedded in there. And what we’re trying to sort of say is that we sell meat with qualities, not quality meat. And they are embedded in there through the decisions, the genetic, the genetics. Then the decisions of the farmer is Marshall, those genetics in the service of a really particular production system.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:42:26] Yeah, I actually did read through that. And now that you mention it like that, I’ve never quite hit me that putting it wrapping it in plastic as quickly as possible is a great way of preserving the weight. And it’s the weight that you pay for,
Grant Hilliard [00:42:44] but you don’t really want all that moisture. So no, no. It’s like a quality point of view. Yes. So when we age the meat it’s drawing gently and it’s allowing also an arrow change in which is quite profound, they’re naturally occurring enzymes in the meat are activated and actually break down the muscle structure when they fry the fibers that make up the muscles and in that frying produces more tend to eat in the form of dry meat.
But it also, as a result of that enzymatic action, it produces a flavor profile, which is all in earthy spectrum. And anyone who’s aged or Trotwood likes to drink red wine will recognize those flavors. You have your primary fruit characters then underneath that nice red wine or wrapped around that, you will have these earthy, earthy flavors.
So the interesting thing to me is that I didn’t recognize that when I started that when I now see my courtroom full of bodies of meat, I, I think of them not dissimilar to bunches of grapes or they’re the product of a very similar process, the same process.
It’s just been a mediation in that instead of drawing directly from the earth itself, that they’re fed on the product of the earth. But the processes that give it form are determined by its particular genetics, clearly in its flavor development and how it ages. They’re so similar.
Of course, everything is connected to that. Of course, you know, they’re all they all made of the same stuff. So it probably it’s almost sort of too obvious to say that they should actually be similar. But most people would look at a bunch of grapes in a and a steak and say, well, they had nothing in common at all
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:44:36] or even a loaf of bread. I mean, the wide sliced bread compared to a really flavorsome sourdough process that’s gone on there. It’s using it’s kind of enabling nature to take its course rather than dominating. And I thought that’s another concept that I love. The other one is using the whole animal. We’ve become very focused on just a few
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:44:59] accounts,.
Grant Hilliard [00:45:01] But it’s what’s sold to us. The commodity market really is only interested in selling. One or two cups of pellets have been severely infantilized. So tenderness is rated above everything. And it’s and you’re the perfect person to talk to this about.
We have teeth for a reason and we do not need to eat really soft things all the time unless you’re in some ways really challenged. In fact, you know, we give our dogs bones to keep their gums healthy and to stimulate their teeth. And, you know, a life of means for a dog is torture. Really.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:45:42] Will you be interested to know that Sydney University recently did a study on chewing and mental acuity? So there’s a strong connection there? Look, you know, I just thought this Books of the Ethical Omnivore, which the title in itself is so appealing and challenging, challenging for a soul. And I and I think there’s just not only so many great points raised in it, but some great recipes in it, too.
I wonder if we, as we finish up now, might just take a step back from your role as a butcher and your connection with the land because as individuals, we were all on this health journey through life in this modern world. What do you think some of the biggest challenges, what do you think the biggest challenges for people on that journey?
The Biggest Health Challenge
Grant Hilliard [00:46:29] I think probably, again, learning to listen to our own bodies is an enormous challenge for all of us and in the industrial food landscape. You’re certainly not encouraged to do that. And each of us has particular tastes that are associated with our needs.
What we find palatable is directly related to what we need if we listen well enough to it. Food technologists get in the way of that because they’re able to do a bit like people who design poker machines. They’re able to work with the trigger centers and pleasure centers and reward centers in our brain and trick them essentially. So a little bit of salt, a certain amount of crispness, all of these things which are our bodies that are designed to react to the natural, very good sort of survival reasons. Largely we do.
So being able to find food that is isn’t least adulterated as possible supposed is the challenge and then being able to do something worthwhile with it. But I mean, the trouble it isn’t hard to do good things with with with whole food. It does take more time and education is crucial. And exposure to product places where food is produced is crucial.
I think it’s been it hasn’t just been the rural communities that have been emptied out, people who live in the cities, connection with those communities has been severed.
When I was growing up, it was every second person had a relative that lived on a farm. And I visited there at holidays and they watched the sheep being shown or whatever it might be. There was a much more direct connection to rural life and food production.
Like we pretend that it sort of doesn’t exist or that we don’t need it. Or you can go to a twenty-four-hour gym, but you don’t need to see where your food’s grown. I mean, it’s sort of a. I mean, it’s easy to think that it’s that it’s insoluble, but it’s not it requires it in each little step makes a difference.
I mean, the message of hope, there are two messages of hope in among the what might be seen as a fairly bleak scenario, and that they are that soils are remarkably resilient and will recover from decades of misuse and abuse within a generation. And that in most cases, not always.
If they’re completely chemically poisoned, then that might be very hard to do. But different production systems will allow those self-organizing systems of fertility to actually function again, providing you’ve obviously got water and light. But I read Rachel Carson the other day and the first time that I actually read Silent Spring, it’s sort of one of those ubiquitous books you feel like you probably read it because it’s been cited your entire life.
I was really struck by it. I thought it was I sort of understood it to be just a tale of birds dying in spring because of chemical use. She’s a biologist who methodically pulls apart the chemical poisoning of animals.
That book was written fifty-nine years ago. It is old. It’s the same age as me. And I thought of a sort of I was. Yes, it was it was actually salutary and also highly depressing. We’ve known this stuff for 59 years. This was documented without doubt.
In fact, the chemicals we’re using now are probably more powerful than the chemicals that they were using the DDT, the 245T, the Agent Orange. These things were banned in Australia in 1984. It took the proving that I think the shells of raptors to the point where they had died of old age. But we sort of knew this anyway, that apparently you’ve got to spend fifty-five years researching that to demonstrate that. Well, widespread poisoning of the environment produces consequences for the top of the food chain. I mean, who would have thought.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:51:08] Yeah.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:51:10] So to you two things for hope soil. It’s been one of them.
Grant Hilliard [00:51:13] Yes. And the other is that your own know your own health and will recover, can recover as well. And that that through a changed lifestyle and I won’t use that word you know and exercise just like an engagement with productive sources of life is, able to produce profound changes.
It’s about connection in the end. Is it about. It’s about connection. One of the things that I’m most proud of Feather and Bone being able to do is it provides lateral connection as well as longitudinal by other means, where we connect farmers with the people that buy their major poultry or whatever they produce.
We also connect the buyers together and the producers together. And that model of it’s the same model is lateral gene transfer, which happens on the under the ground of all the time. It’s a decentered informational spread and that is also a message of hope.
You do not need a sort of hierarchical systems of immediate information dissemination to produce real change. It happens through community, it happens through people talking to each other.
It happens. And food is the ideal vehicle for that connection. Everybody must come to the table hopefully two times a day at least. And in coming to the table, you’re able to share more than just the food. You are able to share the qualities of that productive system that gave birth to it.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:52:45] Well, Grant, thank you. As a retail customer, thank you for making those connections. And thank you for making this connection today and sharing your knowledge and journey with us.
Grant Hilliard [00:52:57] My pleasure Ron. Thanks very much.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:52:58] Thank you.
Dr Ron Ehrlich [00:53:02] Wow. Well, we covered some territory there for those that aren’t familiar with it, Brix B.R.I.X. Is a measure of food, of the sugar in food. And Grant was mentioning on a few occasions there the microbiome within the soil and of course, the microbiome, the microbes within the soil, which includes not just bacteria, but mycorrhizal fungi, break down the nutrients in the soil and make them available to the plant. And the more nutrient-dense the food is, the higher the BRIX value.
And he was he drew that analogy with the ability to smell the food. And there are some foods that you have a really strong smell to. And he used Basil as an example of that. But I thought that was really interesting and a really interesting idea of measuring nutrient density within a food and how exciting to eventually be able to use our mobile phone or a device to literally pointed at the food you’re about to buy and determine whether that is a nutrient-dense food or not.
Boy, what a game-changer that is going to be, because as we go off it, we have often said on this podcast, seemingly cheap food is only cheap when you don’t factor in the health and the environmental costs by which it is grown. Another important concept, there was biodiversity. And again, reinforcing that idea that the more biodiverse landscape is, the more resilient it is and the healthier it is.
And I loved Grant drawing the fact that we should be listening more to our bodies because any regular listener to our podcast will know that’s an important thing for us to be doing.
We get report cards from our bodies each and every day and we should be listening to it. Our skin is one a report card, because 80 percent of skin problems are a reflection of gut dysbiosis. And of course, you know that episode, that golden episode, what does our poo say about you? That’s a report card we get each and every day. And we should be listening to our body. And I love those two rays of hope, that soil if it’s well managed. And again, this is where animals come into it.
It’s not the resource which is the problem. Animals, agriculture is not the problem. It’s the way that agriculture is managed. That is the problem. And if it is managed well, then well then animals are healthier. The land on which they graze is healthier than the food that they produce is healthy. We are healthier and the planet is healthier.
It takes 500 years for nature to grow an inch or two point five centimeters of soil on a well-managed regenerative agriculture farm. One inch 2.5 centimeters of soil can be regenerated every three to five years versus 500 years. And we need that soil to grow the food. So I thought when he said the two rays of hope that our soils can be rebuilt with when they are well managed is an important one.
And the fact that we are able to rebuild ourselves, you know, the human body is incredibly resilient. Thank goodness for that. And we can turn our health around by making informed decisions of also what I love about the book and what I love about feather and bone, where Grant is literally making those connections for us. And that is the connection between us, our dinner plate, what we put on our dinner table and the farmers that grow it is a really important service.
And I honestly believe that farmers should be the most revered people in our society. They grow the healthy food that we need to be healthy and they nurture the healthy soils that we need to grow. That healthy food is not just for us now, but for future generations. And I think the more that we can connect and honor and revere those people that are doing that on the farm, well, I take my hat off to them and I and I and I think they are just fantastic.
With the last century was the century of the revered financier or stockbroker. And look where that got us. Yes, I know the Dow Jones has never been higher, but big deal about that. Our environment, our health could be a whole lot better. And that’s why this century has to be the century. Look, I hope you enjoyed that episode. I hope this finds you well until next time. This is Dr Ron Ehrlich. Be well.
This podcast provides general information and discussion about medicine, health, and related subjects. The content is not intended and should not be construed as medical advice or as a substitute for care by a qualified medical practitioner. If you or any other person has a medical concern, he or she should consult with an appropriately qualified medical practitioner. Guests who speak in this podcast express their own opinions, experiences, and conclusions.