Should We Eat Yak Instead of Beef?

yak farming meat photo

Image credit: bdearth, used under Creative Commons license.

When I wrote about goat as a less destructive alternative to beef, the responses ranged from supportive to outright disgusted. So I'm sure this latest suggestion will land me in equally hot water, especially with the rather scary looking vegan zombie. But with meat consumption continuing to grow worldwide, it is only pragmatic to look at both reducing demand and finding more sustainable ways to raise meat. And one of the most promising ways of doing the latter is to start farming, and marketing, alternatives to beef. So what about yak burgers, anyone? While some cattle ranchers are working hard to develop sustainable methodswhy we should eat yak instead of beef:

Cows are terribly destructive creatures, especially in arid climates. Livestock are considered by a quorum of scientists as the No. 1 cause of species extinction, topsoil loss, deforestation and desertification in the American West. They muck or stomp or gorge out of existence streams, whole watersheds, rare grasses and shrubs, entire ecosystems in micro. Their big heavy hooves trample the soil, eroding it often beyond repair. Just as the cow is an invasive species, an exotic in the West--an import of Spanish missionaries in the 16th century--it brings invasive weeds that triumph in its midst...

While I've yet to meet a cow that reads TreeHugger or TruthDig, I do feel like these much maligned creatures deserve a response to Ketcham's critique—it is not the cows that are "destructive creatures", it is the species that has chosen to breed them well above the earth's carrying capacity, and then to place them in ecologically inappropriate environments. But, semantics aside, it is true to say that cattle ranching is a problem.

That's where yaks come in. While Ketcham acknowledges that reducing demand for meat, and bovine meat in particular, would do a world of good, he too believes that we must take a two-pronged approach: reduce demand and find alternatives. And while some farmers are using bison to regenerate a North American breed, others are turning to another close relative—the yak. Ketcham talks to his friend Rob Williams—media guy and part-time yak farmer:

Domesticated 10,000 years ago in the cold harsh high country of the Himalayas, yaks survived by moving lightly on the land. They are small in stature, nimble. "Because they evolved in the mountains, they're efficient," says Rob. "They consume less grass per acre per animal than a cow, and get the same amount of nutritional energy. You take a single acre of pasture, you can deploy one or two cows that are larger in size. But on that same acre, you can deploy three or four yaks. Even though the yak is smaller in stature, because they consume less grass per yak, you can pack more yaks on that acre and maximize your meat production on a per acre basis."

We have plenty of bison farmers herein North Carolina, and I can attest that it is indeed both delicious and lean. Whether yak is similarly tasty is beyond my experience—but I'll be looking out for yak on restaurant menus, alongside plenty of fake meat and a heavy dose of daily vegetables.

More on Sustainability and Meat
Meat-Loving Chef Eats Mostly Vegetarian. We All Should Too.
Even Anthony Bourdain Says We Should Eat Less Meat
Is Goat Meat an Ethical Alternative to Beef?
Farming Bison to Regenerate a North American Breed (Video)
The Vegan Zombie Cooks French Toast (Video)

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