A Conversation on Raising Meat for Optimal Health

A Conversation on Raising Meat for Optimal Health

The following are excerpts of a conversation from Doctor’s Farmacy, a podcast hosted by functional medicine doctor Mark Hyman, MD with his guest, our Co-Founder, Anya Fernald.

  

Dr. Mark Hyman: 

[Anya] your whole work and your effort has really been to link both flavor, deliciousness, and nutritional quality with the health of the animals, the health of the planet, and the health of humans. It reminds me of a quote from Sir Albert Howard, who wrote Soil and Health—which I read 40 plus years ago—where he said, "The health of soil, plant, animals," and he said “man,” but I would change it to “humans,” "is one great subject."

I think you have nailed it with your work at Belcampo and understand those linkages and have created an extraordinary thing. I just like to dive into your background a little bit, because you grew up doing all kinds of interesting things and went to work on a dairy farm in Bavaria. You lived in Greece and parts of Europe. You saw a different way of raising animals, a different way of cooking. Getting in there, you really had a different view of really what we need to be doing in terms of agriculture and, particularly, in terms of how we raise animals.

Because now you actually are running one of the largest meat production companies in the whole regenerative agriculture space.

How did you get started? Because you were a vegetarian. All of a sudden, you're running a regenerative ranch raising animals.


Anya Fernald:

I think I was driven by curiosity around food that was fundamentally motivated by feeling well. We all have an origin story for our passions in life. For me, being a good cook was a way that I helped my family. Early on, my mother really struggled with anxiety and would get overwhelmed easily. I remember diving in as a young girl and it was a way that I could just... I had this ability to hustle and to think on a lot of different levels and plan out and get a lot of different things done.

The initial genesis for me around cooking was absolutely the role that you play in your family unit. 

I had been a vegetarian on and off... I actually had stopped being a vegetarian. Because when I was a competitive rower, it was difficult for my body to get the energy that I needed with a vegan diet. I started eating eggs and some meat. I moved to Europe and dairies, initially.

I started eating not just a little meat, but a lot of meat. This is a place where I would get up at 2:00 in the morning, typically, for my dairy jobs and have some espresso or coffee and then milk animals until about 5:00, and then make cheese till about 11:00. Then eat probably like 2000 calories of animal products.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow.


Anya Fernald:

It was a mix of introducing intermittent fasting, introducing all sorts of different patterns, and then a very, very proto keto diet. When I was eating bread, it was locally made in small-source. I had this really, really powerful transformation in my mood, my attitude, my overall health, lots of different things. In that time, also, it's like, when you look back, my desire to stay there was as much about learning as it was about continuing to feel good.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

You connected to food and your health in a way that you hadn't.


Anya Fernald:

Absolutely. I wanted to continue to feel that way. I didn't want to go back to America. I felt like I had more to learn. I also was like from a health perspective, it was like this is amazing.

Then from there, I moved to Northern Italy and did a similar set of works but a little bit of a larger scale with a larger group of producers via a foundation funded by the region of Tuscany. I ended up having a very professional progression after that year of cheesemaking, starting from that base knowledge and the how to of actually working in dairies.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

We've lost 50% of our livestock species. The homogenization of animals and breeds for human consumption is just staggering. What did you learn there about the type of animals and the way to raise animals that resulted in better food and better nutrition?


Anya Fernald:

...There's a different quality to the actual product they produce. Everything is slow growing. In my experience, in the animal world tends to be... of a different caliber. You see this in density, the way that's been documented as protein density in a free range, slower growing animals.

There's a really solid data point that's pretty well documented, which is that animals that grow slower have higher protein and have general higher micronutrient density. In all of these low and slow, I think, of them animals, it's the Tyson chicken that's coming to full weight of close to three pounds in two-and-a-half weeks for being a chick to a chicken on our farm taking 8 to 10 weeks to achieve that same market weight.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

Wow. Wow.


Anya Fernald:

That tradeoff in speed is what I saw again and again, is that these products made from local breeds that produce at shamefully inefficient levels, producing great taste quality and then offering farmers much more resilience and flexibility on a small scale.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

You basically took all these insights from being in Sicily and Italy and all these different farms and practices you saw and the different animals, and something inspired you to create this 27,000 acre regenerative ranch in Northern California. 


Anya Fernald:

...We're trying to create key aspects of how an animal exists in the wild...what we do is to focus on diet, breeding, and mothering. Those are the key life points for animal wellness. The diet is what we talk about the most.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

I just want to stop you for a minute there. You just said something that I don't think anybody talks about, animal wellness, animal wellness. That's a very new idea that brings into the conversation a different way of thinking about how you raise animals for their health and for our health and how they're connected. It's very important. Thank you for pointing that out.


Anya Fernald:

Well, I think animal wellness is a crucial part of human wellness. Not just what goes in our mouths, but when we have unwell animal systems, the impact on the environment, and that's not even just the big picture—your grandchildren, polar bear stuff. That's, literally, if you live two miles from a confinement agriculture farm, you have something like double the chance of having a miscarriage or low birth weight baby. It's also quite near term here and now and wellness issues.

It's a message that's so radical in terms of the modern thinking about protein, that animal protein, that it's difficult what you say. People are like, but can I really believe this? This is so different. Mark, in the past, what? Five years, we've seen a radical shift in people's understanding of the role of fat in their diets. There's still plenty of holdouts with margarine in their fridge out there, but the tide is turning. I'm optimistic that good data and good advocacy can make that shift. I know and I do what I do with integrity, because it's the right choice for the planet.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

It would improve our entire ecosystems, increase biodiversity, conserve water, help deal with the droughts and the floods and the fires, and the weather instability and climate. It's an interesting concept.

It seems like this is a model that's going to regenerate rural communities, that's going to reinvigorate farmers, that's going to actually increase profits for them, and have all these side benefits just as our traditional farming system has all these negative benefits. It's the opposite. Better food, better for the animals, better for humans, better for farmers, better for climate, better for biodiversity, better for water resources and the soil. It's all a win, win, win, win, win.


Anya Fernald:

The key thing we've done is to build a direct relationship with the consumer. That's another thing, where although with small farms, there are farmers markets. Those often require a lot of driving, getting up early on the weekend. If it's raining, you don't sell anything. The problem is there's really no consolidated market. Where if you have a differentiated product, you can sell it into. There's not really the channel to support any scale of regenerative. I'll be clear too, that our farm has cost a significant investment.

 

Dr. Mark Hyman:

That's a big idea.


Anya Fernald:

That's a big idea. That, to me, would say, we're going to incentivize food production and interests of food security, which I agree is a national priority. We're not going to specify that it has to be these specific eight crops that also happened to be pretty unhealthy.


Dr. Mark Hyman:

It is. It is.

  

Doctor Mark Hyman is the founder and of the UltraWellness Center, the Head of Strategy and Innovation of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, a thirteen-time New York Times bestselling author, and Board President for Clinical Affairs for The Institute for Functional Medicine. He is the host of one of the leading health podcasts, The Doctor’s Farmacy. Dr. Hyman is a regular medical contributor on several television shows and networks, including CBS This Morning, Today, Good Morning America, The View, and CNN. He is also an advisor and guest co-host on The Dr. Oz Show. Learn more about Dr. Hyman at drhyman.com.


Anya Fernald is a pioneer in the field of regenerative agriculture and the Co-Founder and CEO of Belcampo Meat Company. She has been a judge on Iron Chef and the Food Network since 2009, and recognized as one of Inc. Magazine's 100 female founders, 40 Under 40 by Food and Wine, and was named the Nifty 50 by the New York Times. For more from Anya, check out her recipe collection and how-to guide Home Cooked, as well as more recipes on our site here.