Natalie Kovarik & Tara Vander Dussen: A Unique Perspective on Agriculture

Watch the full interview below or listen to the full episode on your iPhone HERE.

Stu: This week I’m excited to welcome Natalie Kovarik and Tara Vander Dussen to the podcast. With backgrounds in dairy farming and cattle ranching, Natalie and Tara co-host the Discover Ag docuseries, as well as the popular podcast, Discover Ag. Collectively, they advocate for agriculture and help consumers understand how their food is actually made. In this episode, we discuss their thoughts on cattle and climate change, the nuances of regenerative agriculture, the importance of animal protein, and so much more. Over to Natalie and Tara.

Audio Version

Some questions asked during this episode:

  • We’re told that cattle are heavily contributing to climate change, what are your thoughts
  • Please explain the difference between monocropping vs regenerative agriculture.
  • How important is animal protein compared to plant-based alternatives?

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The views expressed on this podcast are the personal views of the host and guest speakers and not the views of Bega Cheese Limited or 180 Nutrition Pty Ltd. In addition, the views expressed should not be taken or relied upon as medical advice. Listeners should speak to their doctor to obtain medical advice.

Disclaimer: The transcript below has not been proofread and some words may be mis-transcribed.

Full Transcript



Hey this is Stu from 180 Nutrition, and welcome to another episode of The Health Sessions. It’s here that we connect with the world’s best experts in health, wellness, and human performance, in an attempt to cut through the confusion around what it actually takes to achiever long-lasting health. Now, I’m sure that’s something that we all strive to have. I certainly do.


Before we get into the show today, you might not know that we make products, too, that’s right. We’re into whole food nutrition, and have a range of super foods and natural supplements to help support your day. If you are curious, want to find out more, just jump over to our website. That is and take a look. Okay, back to the show.


This week I’m excited to welcome Natalie Kovarik and Tara Vander Dussen to the podcast. With backgrounds in dairy farming and cattle ranching, Natalie and Tara co-host the Discover Ag docuseries, as well as the popular podcast, Discover Ag. Collectively, they advocate for agriculture and help consumers understand how their food is actually made. In this episode, we discuss their thoughts on cattle and climate change, the nuances of regenerative agriculture, the importance of animal protein, and so much more. Over to Natalie and Tara.

Hey, guys. This is Stu from 180 Nutrition, and I am delighted to welcome Natalie Kovarik and Tara Vander Dussen to the podcast. Ladies, how are you?



Hi. Thanks for having us on.



Thank you.



Yeah, we’re-



I’m super-



… excited to be here.



Yeah, super excited, as well. Because it’s one of these topics that I think we haven’t spoken about at much length on this podcast, but I’m really, really interested, because this whole crazy narrative seems to be changing in terms of how we view agriculture and what we should be doing and eating, and how we should be thinking. So I think that you’re going to frame that quite nicely for me with your perspective, in quite a different lens. But first up, for all of our listeners that may not be familiar with you or your guys’ work, I’d love it if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself, please.



Yeah. I can go first. Tara, here. So I am a dairy farmer in New Mexico within The United States and I actually got my degree in environmental science. So backing up a little bit, I grew up on a dairy farm. I’m actually a fifth-generation dairy farmer. Got my degree in environmental science. Ultimately, married my husband, who is also a fifth-generation dairy farmer, and came back to his family farm, and then started practicing environmental consulting for dairy farms throughout New Mexico.


Along that journey, I had two daughters, and when my daughters were young, I was just seeing a lot of misinformation and kind of what you just alluded to a minute ago, just we are constantly being bombarded with information about food and farming and a lot of it is not factual, and just a lot of misconceptions in there. And so, I started building a platform around being able to share about what dairy sustainability looked like, and just kind of my work of what I was seeing on farms that I was going to, on social media and just kind of opening up our farm to people on the internet.


And through that journey, I ultimately met Natalie and we launched our podcast and docuseries called Discover Ag, and I’ll let her jump in with a little bit of her background, and then kind of where we have taken that podcast.






Yeah, so like Tara, I also grew up in agriculture. I actually grew up on a cattle ranch in southwest Montana, also in the United States. And unlike Tara, I guess my introduction to social media was a little bit different. I actually launched a direct-to-consumer beef business, and so that was my first kind of how I started sharing online, specifically about agriculture. My degree is actually in pharmacy, so like Tara, I also kind of got a degree outside of agriculture, and just kind of found my way back to the ranch.


But when I was sharing online for the direct-to-consumer beef business, I was ultimately, obviously, trying to sell beef, but I kept seeing, as we’ve been continually alluding here in just these first few minutes, a lot of misinformation. And so, I really felt called to share more broad scope about agriculture and kind of be a larger voice for things going on in the industry, instead of just selling beef. And so, I ultimately pivoted out of that direct-to-consumer beef business, and then like Tara alluded to, that journey of sharing online ultimately led me to her and launching our podcast Discover Ag.



Brilliant, brilliant. Wow. Beef and dairy. Well, it’s going to be a good conversation. Those two components make up almost every meal that I consume. And over the last 15 years, in this business, I’ve been riding the rollercoaster of dairy’s good, dairy’s bad, beef’s great, but reduce your beef, and all of this kind of crazy, crazy, crazy information that seems to change all the time, and is very sketchy, in terms of the foundations of where this information actually comes from.


So we are told, then, that cattle, at the moment, are problematic for climate change. And it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to me that cow farts are causing this kind of crazy climate that is changing. What are your thoughts, in terms of this big narrative about, “We’ve got to reduce the consumption of meat, because it’s killing the planet”? Where do you go from there?



Yeah, so a few things. I think it is very much rooted in misinformation. Back in the day, I think it’s been like 10 years now, that we had the UN FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow that came out, where they said that agriculture, specifically cattle, was this huge portion of greenhouse gas emissions. That has since been kind of debunked, that essentially, when they looked at cattle, they took the entire carbon footprint from beginning to end, every piece of it, and when they looked at transportation, they took only tailpipe emissions. So you were not comparing the same thing. They weren’t taking into account what went into building the car or when the car decomposed, so you literally were just comparing two different forms of metrics.


And so, I feel like once that bell was rung, it has been very difficult to unring it and bring back some of those statistics that got put out there. You see Netflix documentaries, all sorts of things that still reference that original report, even though it’s been rolled back and they’ve released new data. In that same theme, I think that sometimes when we talk about cattle’s impact on the environment, we very much have carbon tunnel vision. Cattle cannot simply be put to, “This is how much carbon they produce,” and that’s it.


They play such a more nuanced role in our food system, and our entire ecosystem whereas cars are more of just a carbon conversation. Right? It is carbon that we are tracking from the earth, and that is ultimately going into the atmosphere, whereas cattle, and I’ll let Natalie jump in here, have a role in soil health and the consumption of byproducts from other things. There’s so many other things that cattle contribute to, that we can’t just be so focused on just the carbon number.



Absolutely. Makes sense.



Yeah, I think as Tara was mentioning, that carbon tunnel vision is actually, I would use the word, almost dangerous, too. Because she mentioned all of the nuances that were kind of missing in that conversation, and you pair that with the result that we would ultimately be ending up cutting out meat from our diet, and I think when you pair the trade-offs of what these studies show, that around less than 3% is what our greenhouse footprint would be decreased by if we all went to that vegan, vegetarian diet. So we’re not denying that there is an impact there, but it’s pretty minuscule.


And then, you think about the opposite end, which I said is cutting meat from our diet, and that’s a pretty high protein diet, or pretty nutritious piece of protein that we’re consuming. And so, if you think about that trade-off of what we’re gaining for what we’re losing, I think it’s pretty dangerous to recommend.



So if we decided to take that information to heart and heavily reduced the consumption of meat products in our lives, I’m guess then, that that would shift over to a monocrop focused agricultural system, largely based on corn, wheat, and soy versus, perhaps, regen, which I’ve had lots of conversation around regen, and maybe our listeners are not quite familiar about what that term actually means. So let’s get into the conversation then, monocropping versus regenerative agriculture, and how that might be important to completely understand that, before we even consider to make any dietary changes. So what is the difference, first up, monocropping versus regen?



Yeah. There’s such a good study out there, actually, about making our diet, quote unquote, more sustainable at the risk of making it less nutritious and less diverse, of having all these different foods. I do think there is a misconception that if you give up animal ag, that you are suddenly eating all of these different types of vegetables, when in reality, our diet, currently, here in the United States at least, is a very, quote unquote, plant-based. I think it’s over 60% of our diet is already plant-based, but it is, as you alluded to, this monocropped cultures.


I mean, if you’re eating a plant-based meat, you are not consuming the broccoli and asparagus of the world, you are consuming the soy-based products, which are those monoculture crops. And yeah, that goes into what I kind of alluded to about the soil health and the cattle consuming byproducts, which I do think is a part of the regen conversation. And getting into the regenerative ag, Natalie and I always look at it as a spectrum, that it is not just simply like, “Yes, I’m a regen farm,” or, “No, I am not.” Both Natalie and I ultimately ship our products into the conventional beef, for Natalie, and dairy, for me. But both of our farm/ranch have a lot of regen practices that we implement, that I think would surprise people, even though it’s a part of the conventional food supply system.



Yeah, going back to your question, I think what people don’t realize, if we went, like you said, we followed the guidance, the misinformation to go all plant-based, what that would mean, in my eyes, personally, is almost a removal of an ecosystem that we have naturally intact, right? And that’s what you’re asking about with the monoculture, because monoculture is going to be one big crop over and over and over again.


If you look at a cow out at pasture grazing, that’s not what you’re getting. You’re getting plant diversity, and you’re getting intact ecosystems that are actually working together in system. And so, if we really shifted to that different model, I feel like we’re losing, essentially, almost a piece of nature that was intended to function, at its root, how it was created.



Yeah. Well, it seems to me, it’s an integral part of the ecosystem that has always been there that has been uniquely designed to support and sustain life. And to take that out… I don’t know whether you guys have seen the movie Interstellar, and it’s a Matthew McConaughey movie, but apparently they have to leave the earth, because it’s unsustainable anymore, and the fields are just dust bowls, because they’ve been farmed and farmed and farmed and tilled and tilled, and there’s no life left in the soil.


And I kind of feel that they’re so different, there’s such contrasting visual images of beautiful, lush farmland with pastures that are populated with animals and plants, doing what they’ve always done since the dawn of time versus this very, very industrialized agriculture approach that it’s stripping the earth of vital nutrients and minerals that are required again and again and again and again and again. So from a scalability perspective, regen agriculture, with the growing population, how scalable is it?



Yeah, so we are actually a larger sized dairy farm here at our, still family-owned and operated, I live right here on my dairy, my backyard is our close-up pen. But we’re a larger farm and I feel like there are still things. So our cows are not out at pasture. Being dairy-based, our cows are in large open lot pens, but one of the things that we do is we actually compost all of our manure. So that way, even though we’re collecting that manure there in a pen, instead of it being out on pasture, we’re ultimately taking it back to other farms, other soils. I mean, one of the best ways to improve your soil is to include cow manure, which improves organic matter and all these other things, all these principles of soil health.


And so, we’re still trying to emulate that and put in those more regen practices, even on our larger scale farm, of being able to send those nutrients out to the farmers’ fields that are growing the crops to feed our cows. And so, making that system kind of like a closed loop system.



Yeah. I think when you think about scaling regenerative agriculture, I think what would be most important is people need to be open to the idea that regenerative agriculture isn’t a check the box, every single farm and ranch is going to look the exact same way, every single practice is going to be the exact same way, and we’re going to scale it all the same. Like, “Right. Here’s your blueprint. Every rancher and farmer now go forth and scale your system to these plans,” because that’s just not how agriculture works. Your guys’ practices in Australia, New Zealand, are going to look much more different than in the United States, it’s going to look different than in Canada, than in Mexico.


I mean, that’s just a global aspect you can narrow down on how, within the United States, practices here in Nebraska would look completely different from regenerative practices in Georgia or Florida or Texas, because you have to deal with soil and weather and a lot of different things that are going to be very diverse when it comes to the landscape. And so, I do think, quote unquote, regenerative ag is scalable, I just think it has to be understood that it’s going to be scaled in different ways, and there are going to be different practices that are scaled for farmers in different areas.



Yeah, absolutely. So let’s talk about soil health then, because we’re told that the foods that we consume, whether it be fruits or vegetables, are less nutritious than they used to be 50 years ago, because of the minerals in the soil that we continue to over-farm, for want of a better phrase. Is that correct or do you guys have a different opinion?



Yeah, I have kind of dived into this topic and have found no substantial evidence to prove that. I mean, as a soil scientist, one of my main jobs was sampling our soil every single year. We would sample it at one feet, two feet, and three feet, so we could know exactly what was going on through the entire soil profile, because when you think about that root system on a crop, you want to think about where the roots are at throughout the soil profile and what nutrients they’re able to pull from.


And so, I think that is one of those things, I’ve seen it everywhere, that it’s like you have to eat 10 apples for it to be the same as it was 50 years ago, and there’s just not a lot of truth to that. It is one of those things that has kind of, taken, I feel like, social media and has really gone viral without a lot of substance or research to prove it.



That’s interesting. Yeah. I mean, it’s funny isn’t it? In the light of social media, everyone’s an influencer, everyone has an opinion. Food is like religion now, and how do we know what’s true? How do we know? It’s just this dividing scale. Similarly with diet, veganism, vegetarianism, all the way through the myriad of different diets to carnivore, at the other end of the scale, everyone’s got an opinion, and they’re all medical professionals. I just scratch my head.


Where do you sit in the current plant-based agenda? Because again, we’ve been through the low-fat message, we’re kind of now into more the low-carb message, and very much being berated by the plant-based messages. Everything’s plant-based, like milk with a Y, I mean, it’s just ludicrous. Oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, whatever. I mean, it’s not milk, but it seems to be healthy for us, so we’re told. What do you think about that?



Yeah, I feel like this pendulum continues to swing in all the different directions, and I do feel like, maybe, the pendulum right now is swinging… I feel like the food era that Natalie probably grew up in, that our parents and even grandparents, it was convenience. Right? We ended up moving to this very packaged, processed food. You had the TV dinner that you just were able to give your kids, and even the Lunchables that you were giving their kids in their lunchboxes.


And now, I feel like we’re swinging in the opposite direction of whole foods, whole ingredients, but within that, a lot of food choice. Like you said, I mean, the dairy section, quote unquote, dairy, dairy alternative, we are slapping this plant-based label on things and just calling it healthy, calling it nutritious, calling it more sustainable. I mean, I think people see plant-based, and their mind goes to sustainable, healthy, even though those two things may not be true, they’re not proven. There’s no basis for those two things, except for that we’ve been kind of marketed this label.



Yeah. It’s very interesting, and very hard to understand, still, which direction is the right direction. But I think whole food always, and probably protein-focused, given the fact that we’re all growing and we’re under more stress, as well. So question then, in terms of animal protein, we’re told that plants can give us all the protein that we need, and if we eat enough legumes or nuts and seeds or whatever it may be, that we get the full spectrum of amino acids and the building blocks. Although I’m not too sure that that’s quite right. How important is animal protein, do you think, in comparison to the plant-based alternatives that we’re currently offered?



Yeah, so we actually interviewed a registered dietitian on our podcast this summer. We actually did a debunking series. It was kind of a fun summer series we did, where we debunked some of the anti-food, anti-ag documentaries that we felt were kind of portraying our food system in the misinformation light. And so, we brought on a registered dietitian to debunk, was it Game Changers, Tara? Is that right?






And she had a really interesting perspective. I really loved that episode with her. And she did confirm what you said, you can get all the protein you need from a plant-based diet, but what I think is really important when it comes to that conversation that is always left out about it, if you are talking to someone that is promoting the vegetarian or vegan diet, is that it is going to be kind of a challenge to do that. You have to supplement, you have to understand what you need, what you’re missing, the amounts. You really have to be almost super food intelligent. Right? And I think that’s promoted across the masses, whereas people maybe aren’t paying attention or maybe they don’t even have access to all the supplements you would need, and maybe they don’t have the money for all the supplements you would need.


And so, I think a really important thing about the animal protein is that it’s really simple. It’s very straightforward, you do have easy access to it, and you don’t have to supplement, and it has everything you need in it, so it’s just a much more simpler, straightforward, I feel like, careful option to promote to the masses when you’re trying to get all the essential proteins and amino acids you need, compared to trying to go through almost the rigmarole of almost orchestrating your diet when you’re on the plant-based diet, where you’re adding in different segments to equal what you need, whereas the animal protein is whole and complete by itself.



So tricky, and visually it makes a lot of sense that you’re eating these plants, and they’re beautifully colored and they’re flowing as the wind blows in the pastures and there’s a rainbow in the background, and the farmer comes out and he’s got a big smiley face versus animals and slaughter and everything. They’re two very, very distinct and quite contrasting images. But I think the reality is, I mean, you guys are farmers, that it’s probably not like that, and there a lot of industrial intervention, irrespective of whether you’re eating one diet or another.


In terms of things like food quality, there are so many buzzwords now that… regen is one buzzword, but grass-fed, organic. Everybody avoid grain-fed, because we don’t want any of that. Is there really a big deal, a big difference between grass-fed and grain-fed or these are just nuances that we don’t really need to be concerned about?



Speaking from a beef lens, and then Tara can add into the milk, if she wants to. I think you’re kind of getting Tara and I on one of our favorite soapboxes, which is food labeling, and how kind of off course we have gotten as a nation, as a globe, when it comes to food labeling. I think it started out, obviously, with really good intentions, where we were trying to bring more information to consumers. They are now three generations removed from where food is grown. And so, of course they’re going to have questions, concerns, and we need a way to answer them. Right? Readily in the grocery store. So it makes sense to label our foods.


Somewhere along the way, I think we have pivoted from information to our consumers, to basically a marketing tactic and a marketing ploy. And that’s really how I see food labels now, it’s just a way for a company to sell something, unfortunately, and not really have, I guess, the consumer’s best interests in heart. So when it comes to grass-fed, grass-finished, grain-fed, when it comes to a nutrition standpoint, there isn’t going to be a big difference. If you are looking to get the protein and all the essential macro and micronutrients that you want from beef, right now, it’s shown, I mean, there are minute differences, but nothing that would want to steer you to purchase that grass-fed over the grain-fed when it comes to a nutrition profile of the beef.


Now, there are going to be differences when it comes to the on-the-ground practices on the operation, which would maybe be important to some people. Obviously, if an animal is grass-fed and grass-finished, they are going to consume only grass for their entire diet, which means… well, and again, I think sometimes people see that grass-fed label and associate it, maybe, with animal welfare or even how the animal was raised, and it’s not really that, it’s literally just nutrition labels, so it just means the animal ate grass.


That could mean they could eat it in a field or a barn or a pasture. They could eat that anywhere, and I think people just assume that it’s going to be out on idyllic green grass grazing, and that is the case sometimes, but that’s also not the case. You could have a grass-fed, grass-finished animal that as in the feed lot, right? Because it only has to do with what is in their diet. On the flip end, grain-finished are going to enter what we, in the States, call a feed lot, and so that is where some people have a concern about maybe the practices there or what that means for the food system, and they would choose the grass-fed option in opposite of the grain-fed.


So I think it’s really important to remember that when you see those grass-fed, grass-finished, it’s really just a diet label. All it’s telling you is what the animal is eating, it is not telling you anything else about how the animal was raised, how it was cared for, anything else about its lifestyle. It’s literally just telling you that the animal either ate grass for its entire life or it ate grass for three-fourths of its life, and then the later one-quarter of it, it ate grass along with grain.



I wonder whether we should be more concerned about organic produce versus industrialized, nonorganic produce, just in terms of the volume that we’re expected and advised to eat, and perhaps the pesticides and everything along that comes with that, as well. Because broccoli, for instance, it’s not an apple, it doesn’t have a shiny skin. It’s not so easy to give that a good rinse under the tap, and get whatever we might think is on there off. Do you have concerns or an opinion over nonorganic vegetables and fruits?



Yeah, so I’ll start by saying neither Natalie or I are organic farmers, so definitely can’t speak to everything, but I will say I think there’s a misconception that organic means pesticide-free, and what it actually means that organic has a different… There is approved pesticides for organic, but they are not synthetic. You cannot use synthetic pesticides on organics, but you can still use pesticides, they just have to be on the approved… Here in the The United States, it’s obviously regulated by our USDA our US Department of Agriculture. It’s different in every country. You’re going to have what is approved and what is not approved for organic use.


For me, personally, on leafy greens, this is something we studied a ton in college, you mentioned that you cannot simply just wash things off, there is a lot… and there’s a new documentary on Netflix called Poisoned that Natalie and I are going to cover on our podcast coming up in the future. But it kind of gets into some of the concerns more about contaminants and maybe foodborne illnesses, and that is something we studied a ton in college versus the pesticides like you mentioned. I had a teacher who would not feed her kids, under 12 years old, leafy greens, because of how difficult it is to wash off, and that can be organic or not.


Organic can still use different types of manure and if there was a pathogen in there that you could transport that, obviously, into your house, into your kitchen, into your refrigerator, and then ultimately onto your plate. And so, I feel like while I do have some concerns about leafy greens, it’s not necessarily in the pesticide category, it’s more in the overall issues of some foodborne illnesses around leafy greens, and that’s, obviously, an entirely different conversation, but I think that sometimes people confuse pesticides or organic and nonorganic with healthy or safe or all of these different things, when it really comes down to actual farming practices. Organic versus nonorganic is more of the actual on-farm management practices than anything else.



Yeah, that’s interesting. So question that I really wanted to ask you, given your background in dairy farming, raw milk. So we’re in Byron Bay, we live in an area where raw milk is only available in containers for bathing or pets, so it’s not allowed, so it’s not safe according to the powers that be, but it is available. There are many farms around here that you can go and you turn up with your bucket and you can get raw milk. I know that it’s a little bit different over in the the States. Some states, yes, and other states are definitely no. Where do you sit on the raw milk conversation, in terms of what you know and maybe even what you do on your particular farm?



Yeah, so in the States, some states, like Texas, it’s only allowed for pet food, as well. Other states, it is legalizing. A lot of states, it’s up for debate right now of whether to legalize it. I’ll give a little bit of background myself, and then I’ll come back around to the question. I actually drank raw milk for most of my life until I was pregnant with my first child and while I was going to college, I did not drink raw milk, I just bought it at the store. Since having my first child, I have switched, pretty much, just to conventional, regular milk from the grocery store.


I don’t necessarily buy into the camp that I think raw milk has super food powers, I think milk, in general, has super food powers, that it is a great source of protein, you can consume it in a lot of different forms, it’s a great… Every day, in my meals, I try to incorporate dairy, no matter what type of dairy it is. But at the same time, I really believe, Natalie and I both believe, we talk about this a lot of Discover Ag podcast, that we believe in food choice, and that people should have the choice they make.


At the same time, I think they have to, if they make a choice, need to accept a certain amount of risk. I think, as a society, we have gotten to a point where we want to assume, when we walk into a store, it is a safe food. This even goes back to the leafy greens. We want a safe food. So I think the powers at be set up a system that meant it was safe, which meant pasteurizing milk. Pasteurizing milk makes it a safer product. It is still a nutritious product, there’s some conversation of if you lose some of the nutrition when you pasteurize it. I mean, I think it’s similar to steak or if you cook fish or any of things, you may have some changes in the nutrition, but you’re overall getting a really nutritious product.


And so, I think, ultimately, if you consume raw milk, you have to accept that risk. I always compare it to I probably wouldn’t pick up sushi on the side of the road in a part of town I had never been or I didn’t know the restaurant or all those same things. If you’re going to to choose raw milk, make sure that your bottles are sanitized. You talk about bringing your own container to the farm, a lot of times foodborne illnesses can actually come from the container itself.


And so, making sure you’re sanitizing your containers or you’re keeping them in a sanitized place until you’re filling it up with that milk. Making sure you’re consuming that milk in a certain amount of time, a very quick amount of days. It’s not going to be like that ultra-pasteurized milk that can sit on the shelf for six months and be fine. You need to be consuming that product right away. And so, there’s just, I think, certain precautions that people need to take, if they ultimately choose to consume a raw product like dairy. And so, it’s not that I’m necessarily for or against it.


I think my hard part is, when someone contracts a foodborne illness from raw milk, which is more likely, I mean, it’s not an absolute, it’s still a minimal risk, but it’s obviously more likely if you consume a raw product, is they ultimately blame all of dairy. So if they have a bad outcome, they ultimately are turned off of all dairy, and they tell everyone they know that dairy is dangerous, and that’s not true. You are accepting a certain level of risk that’s associated with drinking raw milk, and so you need to be cautious of that.



Yeah. It does seem that the foods we’ve been consuming since the dawn of time are suddenly dangerous, yet all of these Frankenfoods that are coming out are supposedly safe. It doesn’t-



I mean, I kind of compare it to if you want a safe food, you could go in and say the cereal box, the ultra-processed cereal is going to be, quote unquote, safe. Right? There’s probably going to be very little chance of you getting a foodborne illness, even if it’s stale. Right? You’re not going to necessarily get sick from stale cereal, but whole foods that are in their natural state, we have to be more conscientious of that, and I think that it’s someplace in society we really got lost along the way, is confusing health and nutrition of what those whole products actually offer as far as nutrition.



Yeah. I completely agree. Have you changed your perspective on nutrition, diet and nutrition, the foods that you eat over the course of what you’ve been doing at the farms and also the deep dives that you’ve been doing in all of your social stuff, as well?



Yeah, I think that Natalie can jump in, I know, for me, the more that we have learned on Discover Ag, the older I get, the more I learn about farming, I am turning again, to those whole foods, and I’m trying to consume more animal protein. I have really made it my goal in the last nine months, to try to consume 30 grams of protein at every meal, complete protein. And I have just noticed, the older I get, you kind of even said, we’re always constantly growing, we’re changing our bodies, and that need for protein is not going anywhere. And so, trying to have that focus. And I would say, I think Natalie feels similarly as far as that, as well.



Yeah, I was going to say, I fortunately grew up with a pretty, I don’t want to say health-conscious mom, because that’s not the angle she was coming from, but I definitely think she was doing a lot of these food practices before we were doing them now. She made her own homemade bread back then. We couldn’t have any sugared cereals in the house. She, I think, really instilled pretty good food practices from a very young age. And so, fortunately, I haven’t had to go on a food journey that maybe the typical, average American goes through, looking at what our average, standard American diet is.


So I feel very blessed from that standpoint that I’ve always kind of grown up in a household that it was whole foods is the most nutritious. And usually, animal protein was the first thing on our plate, and then we built our meals out around that, which is still how I eat to this day. But like Tara, the more we have deep dived on Discover Ag, and the more I talk to registered dietitians and just kind of gone into, I guess, maybe the more nutrient side, as you’re aging, especially for women.


It’s just really important that we’re retaining muscle mass. And so, I have, like Tara also, tried to be more conscientious of getting protein at every single meal, hitting larger protein numbers, so that hopefully I can carry more of that muscle with me into older age.



And it’s amazing what happens when you do start the day with protein, as well. I think it releases you from this hunger prison where you’re constantly scratching for something that keeps you sustained and satiated. But-



Yeah, I was going to say that is actually one thing that we have changed, too. We’ve become pretty rigid about starting our day with an animal protein, from a meat standpoint, and then also mixing it with eggs, and that’s pretty much how we start all of our breakfasts. And I will say there are days where I don’t feel like I need to even eat lunch at lunch. And I can remember, when I used to start the day with something else, let’s say it was berries and granola or something, which still it’s not a terrible food choice.






But I definitely felt like you were having hunger pangs earlier on in the day, so there is something like that satiety point of meat and protein, how it really does fill you up.



Back in the day, I used to start my day with a bowl of oats and a banana mixed in, and it was delicious. And I would cycle to work, which would take me about 40 minutes, and I would be so hungry when I got to work, I’d be shaking, like hypoglycemic. I was scratching for my next fix, and it would invariably a muesli bar or a piece of fruit or something along those lines.


And nowadays, I do actually eat quite a lot of minced beef and I like to put eggs in that and get some avocado and veggies, as well. And it’s so satiating, so filling, and so sustaining that 2:00 will come and I won’t even be thinking about lunch, and it just goes to show that, perhaps, it’s always important to question a lot of the advice that we’re given, irrespective of where it comes from, because there may be other, perhaps, maybe other things at play, which-



Oh, sorry. I was going to say, when you had alluded or had mentioned social media and information out there, there’s actually a study I came across where they had shown, basically, that if you can invoke a negative emotion, so anger or outrage, whatever it is, the virality of the piece increases by 30 to 40%, and I think people are aware of that. Right? And so, I think that’s why you see these diverse stances in society now. It’s almost like we go to extremes. Right? One extreme on one side and one extreme on the other, because we’re rewarded for those extreme stances. Right?


If I take this extreme stance, it’s going to upset and invoke that percentage of people on the other side that feel opposite of that, which then, as a content creator, gets my piece to go viral. Right? The more conflict we can create online, I feel like the more viral the piece, and like you said, food has now become religion, and so when you put all of that stuff together, it’s just the perfect recipe and medley for almost recommendation disaster. Right? Because you’re taking extreme stances, trying to paint it in a way that is going to evoke conflict or discussion or outrage to get the virality portion of it. And then, there’s typically misinformation just coming from maybe who’s sharing it or taking about it, or maybe there’s bias placed into it.


And so, I do feel like it’s really important to take that initiative. Unfortunately, to see a headline and dive deeper, and that’s really actually why we started our podcast, Discover Ag, is because we felt like there were all of these headlines and all of these, maybe, social media influencers or food influencers that were putting out all this information and all these pieces, and none of it was ever coming from the perspective of a farmer or a rancher, even maybe including a conversation with a farmer or a rancher in the article. And so, we thought, maybe we’ll take these headlines and just give our perspective on them, because that’s not being represented anywhere else in media very typically.



Yeah, it’s tribalism 101. And one of the things, before we dive into Discover Ag, that I wanted to ask you was the topic of cholesterol, because we are told that we need to reduce animal-based protein, because it can lead to high cholesterol, and the way to do that is to introduce more plants. And again, it makes sense visually. Clogged arteries with animal fat and things like that, but then when you dig deeper, you realize that it’s a radically different message, and there’s a lot more going on, and far deeper nuance than you could ever have imagined.


And also, there is lots of vested interest in the agenda that dictates where we consume our protein and the foods that we eat. Have you dived into the world of cholesterol and asked the question, how does red meat play a part in a truly healthy diet, where longevity is the main goal?



Yeah, so I saw something on the internet, it probably went viral, but it actually really resonated with me and made me kind of look into it more, and it was that we are blaming modern diseases on a food that we have consumed for tens of thousands of years. And I think that was so well-said, that we have been consuming red meat and dairy for a really, really long time, when you go back in the record books and look back at all the science there, and yet, these heart diseases and things that are all on the rise, are modern diseases.


And I think another piece of that, as well, that the meat does play into it, is a lot of the studies we look at here, at least in The United States, and I think this is similar worldwide, is when they study a diet, they look at the standard diet, and then they compare it to someone that has decided to maybe be vegan, who is then incorporating [inaudible 00:40:33] fresh vegetables into their diet. And instead, I would love to compare a person who is eating whole foods, whether that is animal proteins or fruits and vegetables, to a vegan diet, and then to the standard, classic diet that we see.


I think those are three vastly different things, and I think it even goes into some of it that when someone changes to being a vegan they say they, quote unquote, feel better. Well yeah, you may also be giving up sugar, you may be giving up alcohol, you may have quit smoking, you may have quit all of these other things in your health journey, and yet you are blaming meat for the reasons you didn’t feel good. And I think that is a problem with studies, I think it’s a problem with anecdotal evidence. I think, in so many different things. And so, it just goes back to that… I just don’t see a world where if you are eating a steak, you’re butchering an animal and having it in its most pure form, that that is the root. That doesn’t say that I think a hot dog is healthy for you.






Maybe not all the time, at least. And so, there’s so many other factors that we’re not considering, and we know that it’s really hard to study nutrition in people, because people ultimately end up telling researchers wrong information, they end up saying they’re doing better than they really are, all these different things that go into these research studies that have led us to this high cholesterol is caused by red meat conversation, when there’s so many other layers we’ve got to peel back in order to get to the root cause of these.



Absolutely. Don’t blame the butter for what the toast did. Don’t blame the burger for what the fries and the soda did, it’s context. When you dig into those studies, you realize that epidemiology is very, very open to interpretation, in terms of asking people what they have consumed and what kind of lifestyle and bundling red meat in with hot dogs and all of the other processed meats, as well, it’s kind of crazy. Yeah, interesting times. Very interesting times.


So tell us, then, about Discover Ag. So I was blown away by the production quality that you guys put into that. It was really quite unexpected. What can our viewers expect if they go and dial in and want to find out more from Discover Ag?



Yeah, so we are an every Thursday podcast, and thank you for your kind words, by the way. And we kind of alluded to it earlier, but we basically take the top three trending topics or headlines in the ag and food space that week, and we really break them down. So we’ll cover everything, we’ll cover worldwide news. We’ve covered farmer protests going on in the Netherlands, we’ve covered plant-based agendas going on in Italy, we have covered things here in the States, so really anything that is a trending headline, we cover and break it down. So there’s a lot of fun, exciting, diverse topics that we cover in our podcast, all related, basically, to the food and ag space.


In addition to that, as Tara said at the very beginning of this interview, we are pairing that with what we are hoping will eventually be a docuseries that could be the visual component that’s picked up on screen, where we’re actually going out to farms and ranches across the nation and kind of exploring our diverse food system and what it takes to get from out at pasture onto plate. And yeah, we have filmed two episodes now. We have filmed a cotton episode, and then our most recent one, which we’re pretty proud of and excited to get into the hands individuals would be one that we did on sheep and wool production in Montana.


So we try and pick maybe lesser-known parts of agriculture and kind of show what it really takes and discover the world of ag. And so, we’re hoping to bring both a visual and auditory component for people who enjoy both.






Yeah, we talked a lot about the grocery store fear, misinformation, and I think one of the things, our goal with our podcast was is you see a headline that can really pull at your heartstrings or make you feel some emotion or another emotion, and we wanted to kind of take that fear out of going to grocery store. We want people to go to the grocery store and feel confident, whether they’re choosing the organic strawberry or the conventional strawberry or the grass-fed beef versus the regular beef, that they’re making a choice based on knowledge and information, and that they don’t have to make it based on fear or unknown or misinformation, that it’s really rooted in the facts and straight from the source. And we try to bring that in a fun and relatable way, including just a lot of relevant topics to what’s going on in the world today, and that’s really our goal.



Love it, love it. Yeah, I’d love to see that on Netflix in its entirety, because I think the message is so important and there are so many misunderstood concepts out there, everything from the question of plant versus meat, the question of I don’t want to eat meat because I don’t want to put on too much muscle, from the female perspective, all needs to be covered by people that are living and breathing and passionate and actually understand what’s happening from a grassroots perspective. So yeah, unbelievable. Wow. Good on you. Troopers.


So we’re just coming up on time. Interested then, from a farming perspective, which is often viewed as very wholesome and back to basics, perhaps just three top tips that you could share that you may think may have the biggest impact on our overall health. And it doesn’t have to be food related in any way, shape, or form, but just perhaps the things that you guys have adopted that have driven you to feel your best, which then allows you to do the great stuff that you’re doing at the moment.



Yeah, I can start, I know kind of what Natalie’s going to say, so I’ll try to say something different, but it’s probably going to be kind of similar. You talked about agriculture being kind of back at its basics, and I think that that is a lot of it. I mean, my top three tips right now for what I’m doing, I mentioned I’m trying to get more protein, I want to do that. I’m trying to lift weights, so Natalie mentioned the adding muscle. And then, movement, preferably outdoors. Getting outside, getting out there, and whether it’s just a simple walk with my daughters, that’s really important to me. I feel like those three things have become top priority for me, and I am framing the rest of my day around how I can ensure that those three things are happening.


And then, it does, it feels like the rest of things kind of fall into place for me, and I feel better, I sleep better. All of those other things that I also want, seem to all be tied back to kind of good nutrition, getting outside, and getting good movement. And that’s the basis of it.



Brilliant. Yeah, love it.



Yeah, my number one, for sure, even I think beyond diet, at least for me, personally, is the outside portion. I think we have become radically disconnected from spending time outside, from connecting to nature, and I think it has taken more of a toll on us as a society than people have realized. We have always been really food and exercise focused, I would say, as a society, from the standpoint of those are very important for mental health and overall health of our body. But we lost somewhere, in that conversation, I think, nature, and I really think it plays more of a role than people are aware of.


And if you think about how some people wake up and they’re inside, and then they get in their car, and then they walk inside to their job, then they get back in their car, and then they go back inside to their house, and they’re having no connection with natural sunlight or soil on their feet or even noises. I think just being in nature with sometimes it being silent or sometimes experiencing the natural noises of nature. I think we will get to the point where we realize, “Oh, wow. That actually maybe is just as important as some of the food we’re putting in our body, and maybe some of the movement we’re having for our body.”


So I, for anyone listening that is maybe feeling called out right now by me, I think if you’re wanting to do something to feel better, I would try implementing more outside time into your schedule, whatever that looks like, whenever you can get it. I mean, there’s a lot of studies that show just even waking up with sunlight, first thing, can do drastic improvements for your mental health. And so, I really think that that outside portion, we need to get back to that as a society.


And then, kind of paired with that, I think one thing I have actually really been trying to focus on is consumerism and less. And so, I mean, I know that’s not really totally tied to health and wellness, but again, I think that is something we’ve become really skewed in as a society, and I think getting back to being content with less could actually go a long way for mental health and wellness, as well.



All right. Thanks. Yeah, I’m totally down with that. I’m very interested in the minimalism movement and how it frees up the mind. I mean, being surrounded by so much clutter and possessions and being free from that, it’s like Feng shui for the mind. It’s like an awakening, a rebirth. I love it. I love getting rid of crap. That’s great.



I have been getting crap is exactly how I describe it, and I feel like the more you do it, the more you want to get rid of stuff. It’s so nice you walk in your house with less stuff, it feels so freeing. I think that’s the word you used is freeing, and it is. It’s like a freedom when you have less things that are needing to be organized, needing to be put away, needing to be… I mean, just in every sense of the word.



Yeah, no, I’m with it. That’s fantastic. Well, we’ve come up to the end of time. I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation. Great stuff, and really looking forward to our listeners finding out more about what you guys are doing, as well. So what’s next? What’s next for you guys? What have you got in the pipeline, perhaps, for the next 12 months?



Yeah, so I think focusing more on Discover Ag, our podcast, that is definitely a focus for us the rest of 2023 and going into 2024. Some big things planned there, as well as wrapping up the episode on wool that we have been editing, we are currently editing. Really excited to get that out there, and you mentioned wanting to see it on Netflix, that is our goal, as well. We’d love for it to be on a streaming platform, and hopefully see that going there with more episodes of agriculture that you may not see every day, beyond the cows and the tractors, what else is out there, as far as what is feeding and clothing us. So I think those are our two big goals here coming up.



Fantastic. And for all of our listeners, then, that want to find out more and dial into all of your social channels, where can we send them? What’s the best place?



Yeah, so as we’ve said multiple times now, you are listening on the podcast platform, so the first place you could find us is our podcast Discover Ag. And then, when it comes to our social channels, we’re under just our names. So I’m going to be at Natalie Kovarik on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. And Tara is going to be Tara Vander Dussen on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn, and Twitter, as well.






So you can usually find us under our personal names.



Fantastic. We will share that in the show notes. And Natalie and Tara, loved the conversation. Fantastic. Really appreciative of your time.



Thank you for having us on.



Thanks. Yeah, thank you so much. It was a lot of fun.



Good stuff. Thanks again.




Natalie Kovarik & Tara Vander Dussen

This podcast features Natalie Kovarik & Tara Vander Dussen co-host the Discover Ag docu-series as well as the popular podcast Discover Ag. Collectively they advocate for agriculture and help consumers understand how their food is actually made.

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