While not perfect, cattle ranching has benefits

There’s a lot of good to be said about a meat-free diet. Vegetarianism can be beneficial for your health and for the environment, and you don’t have to kill an animal to eat. But critics of cattle ranching on Maui are making the “perfect” the enemy of the “good.” With an estimated 2 to 6 percent of Americans practicing vegetarianism, a lot of meat eaters clearly have no intention of changing their diet.

Ranching has a long history on Maui and has preserved vast tracts of green Upcountry land. But because of unpredictable rain and the high cost of imported feed, ranchers for many years sent young cattle to the Mainland for finishing. What comes back to local markets is beef probably fattened in some muddy feedlot, resulting in high-fat meat and a degraded environment. Plus, moving Maui cattle to the Mainland and then returning meat from who-knows-where produces additional carbon emissions.

The ranchers raising grass-fed cattle on Maui have been working to keep cattle on the island, using best-practice modern ranching methods. Because they live here, they care about the long-term health of the land. Ranching means we are a bit more food secure in this isolated place. While Maui needs various kinds of food production, and we’d all be better off if we limited our intake of animal products, I disagree with those who say Mahi Pono’s plans should not include ranching. Ranching may not be perfect, but any local food product beats imported.

Jill Engledow