When people ask me if I eat meat, I cringe, knowing that my answer of “it’s complicated” is eye-roll inducing for many people. Although I was a vegetarian for quite some time, I gradually added seafood back into my diet, and within the last few years, began incorporating meat and poultry occasionally. As for beef, it’s an indulgence I enjoy a couple of times a month.
I eat only 100% grass-fed beef. That means I never eat beef in a restaurant unless it’s labeled 100% grass fed, and that rarely happens. I don’t eat beef at other people’s houses unless my host tells me it’s grass-fed. I buy grass-fed beef from a local farmer I trust and keep a stash in the freezer all year long. Although I cringe when I have to explain my preferences to others, I also enjoy the opportunity to explain why in the hopes of raising some awareness about how meat is raised.
The vast majority of beef raised in the US comes from concentrated animal feedlot operations (CAFOs) where cows are fed a diet of genetically-modified grain (corn) and soy mixed with all sorts of cheap fillers and even ground up municipal trash. Cows are ruminants and were not designed to eat grain let alone ground up garbage, so they get sick. In fact, they get so sick that they need to be fed a steady dose of antibiotics and other drugs to keep them alive until slaughter.
CAFOs are designed with profit in mind rather than animal welfare or even quality of meat. The animals are kept in filthy pens filled with their own waste and they barely have room to move. They grow at an unnaturally-fast rate because they are fed growth hormones to fatten them up for maximum profit. Because the feedlots produce so much animal waste in such a small area, the disposal of that waste creates pollution of groundwater, air and soil. All of this exists so that Americans can eat large quantities of relatively cheap meat year-round.
Marketers would like for you to believe that your meat comes from happy cows grazing on rolling hills of pasture, but this isn’t true unless you opt for 100% grass-fed beef. Farmers who raise grass-fed meat sometimes call themselves “grass farmers” because they focus on growing high-quality forage on which their cows can freely graze. The cows don’t need antibiotics and chemicals because they don’t get sick when they eat what nature intended. In turn, the cows fertilize the pasture with their waste naturally and no synthetic fertilizers are needed. Nothing is wasted on a good grass farm and pollution isn’t a problem. Grass-fed cows roam freely, are rotated to fresh pasture regularly, and they live a low-stress and healthy life that’s consistent with their nature.
Grass-fed beef is not just better for the cows and the environment, it’s also better for our health. It’s been proven that grass-fed beef is lower in overall fat, cholesterol, and calories than grain-fed beef. *It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin E, beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, potasium and conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a cancer fighting nutrient. Conversely, conventionally-raised beef is higher in omega-6 fatty acids which Americans consume in quantities sufficient to cause diabetes, cancer and obesity.
Of course, the debate about whether it’s ever OK to take the life of an animal so that we may eat will always exist. I’ve struggled with my feelings on both sides of this fence for decades. What I do know is that if I choose to eat meat, I want to know that I am not eating misery – the misery faced by factory-farmed animals. I vote with my dollars, and I cannot and will not buy into that system of suffering. It’s bad karma.
Grass-fed beef is becoming much more widely available thanks to consumer demand. I am fortunate to have several local suppliers from which to choose. Many Whole Foods Markets are now selling a good variety of grass-fed beef, too. When cooking grass-fed beef, especially steaks, consider cooking them for a shorter time than grain-fed beef. Because grass-fed beef contains less fat overall, it can become tough if overcooked. Braised meats like brisket, can be prepared the same way, however, since they only get more tender as they cook.
*This information comes from the studies referenced on Eat Wild which is a wonderful resource for everything you need to know about pastured meat and dairy, including trusted sources.
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