The Great Food Revolution of 2012: Making the switch to grass-fed beef or pastured poultry and pork

by Melody on July 19, 2012

Welcome to the Great Food Revolution of 2012.  You can read more about where our food journey started and resources we have used along the way to make our decisions.  I have also started a Pinterest board called Clean Eating Resources with links and resources that have helped on our journey.

There are two ways I could spin this post.  First off, we could focus on industrial animal farms and why they are inhumane, how grain-fed beef is inferior to grass-fed and what these farms are doing to the environment.  On the other hand, we could focus solely on the nutritional and ecological benefits of grass-fed beef or pastured poultry and pork.  However, I feel that these are so intertwined that I will touch on both sides of the coin.

So what’s wrong with the meat I buy at the grocery store?

Cows are biologically born to graze and eat grass.  To save money (I imagine) and to get things done quicker and cheaper, cows in industrial farms are fed grain.  Grain-fed cattle fatten up faster, which helps the bottom line and is available all year round, as opposed to grass.  Being raised in such close quarters, they are prone to infection.  This means they are given antibiotics to prevent rampant spread of disease, which in turn leads to antibiotic resistance.  They are also given growth hormones to speed weight gain, which can link to a hormonal imbalance in humans.  Cows, pigs and chickens raised on industrial farms are severely crowded, prone to infection and aggressive, not to mention a host of other problems.

I love the idea of a traditional ecological farm, where animals provide the “labor” by converting indigestible grass into high-quality fat and protein, fertilizing the land, increasing plant diversity by grazing, eating insects and grubs as a form of pest control, keeping weeds down.

Until reading Real Food, I honestly didn’t realize the damage these types of industrial farms are doing to the environment, with the use of nitrogen and pesticides, not to mention the huge amount of fossil fuels they are using.  I will definitely be doing more research on this aspect.

But is grass-fed or pastured really better for ME?

For beef farmers, raising cattle on grass does not fatten them up as quickly as grain.  This means the turn-around is not as quick, which is going to drive the cost of beef up a bit.  However, grass-fed beef contains more vitamins, more antioxidants, more omega-3 fats (and the right balance of fats) and is one of the only natural sources of CLA.  CLA is an omega-6 fat that helps aid weight loss and increase lean muscle, along with a host of other benefits.

On the other hand, grass-fed beef is generally not raised with any types of chemicals or pesticides in their food.  They are also in open air and can move away from their manure, which means they are not as prone to infection.  The same goes for poultry and pork, when they are raised in an environment that is conducive to foraging and they get some exercise, they are less prone to disease and the meat is tastier and more nutritious.

So what do we do?

In the interest of full transparency, we aren’t anywhere near perfect in this area.  While I’m writing this post, I’m trying to do more research so we can determine what we want to do.  This is a big budget-buster if you let it, so it’s important to get all the facts.

We get a significant amount of meat from my parents, who have raised cows off and on for the last several years.  Both of my younger brothers were involved in FFA and showed both cows and pigs.  The animals are raised on a local farm and the cattle are almost 100% grass-fed.  My parents know the butcher and have raised the calf from near-birth.  My youngest brother graduates next year, so we will have to look into some different options.

I haven’t made the switch in poultry yet.  We’ve been getting the majority of our chicken from Zaycon Foods, which is made without hormones, additives or artificial ingredients, but I would like to look more closely into a local farm.

This has been a tough switch for me, as there are so many facts and information to wade through.  We’re lucky in that we have the option to buy from my parents, which takes a lot of thought out of the equation.  We honestly don’t eat a lot of meat (mainly ground beef, if at all), so it hasn’t been super high on my list yet.  I will share with you the links and resources I have found to help make your decision.

Please note that labels on beef can be misleading, just like with all foods these days.  Grass-fed does not necessarily mean that organic practices were used, although I would imagine it’s more likely.  Organic does not necessarily mean that the animals were raised on pasture, it could just mean that the cows were fed organic grain.  The best you can do for your family is learn where your food comes from.  Talk to the farmers if you can, check out their website.  Find out what is most important to you and do your research.

Where do I find what I want?

Ask your friends.  No better resource to find a trusted, reputable farm than from people you trust.

Ask around at your local farmer’s market.  I have seen a few grass-fed beef vendors at our local markets, but you could also just talk to some of the farmers and see if they have any insight.

Talk to a local butcher, I can almost guarantee they know of several local farms willing to sell.

Check out some of the resources I’ve listed below.  Google “Grass-fed beef” and the name of your city or county.

Links and Resources

  • Eat Wild – Search for meat, poultry, pork and more in your local area

A quick note about fish

There is a chapter in Real Food about fish and I was pretty shocked at what I read.  We don’t eat a ton of fish (although we should!), so I didn’t know much about fish farms.  It turns out that they create the same problems as an industrial dairy or poultry farm.  The fish are fed antibiotics, get far less exercise than a wild fish so are greasier and flabbier and some salmon are even dyed to look more like wild fish.  There is also ecological problems, with pesticide runoff and excess feces that can’t be contained.

We’d like to incorporate more fish into our diet, as there are a host of nutritional benefits, so we are on the look out for wild fish.  If you can’t get super fresh, I believe the best choice is to find fish that has been frozen immediately on the boat to capture as many nutrients as possible.

Please, please share your knowledge and experience with us.  This is a whole new animal for me (pun totally intended) and I’m learning as I go.

I’m excited to share our journey with you!  In the next post of this series, I will be going through all the simple pantry swaps we have made along our journey.

In case you missed it:

Sources:

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Lynn July 19, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Loved reading your blog Mel. As long as we live in LaCrosse, I can assure you, we’ll be raising grass fed beef for your table ;) I love all the research you’ve done!

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Clarice July 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm

There are two additional reasons for feeding grain to cattle, reasons which have been consumer-driven. One, grain fed beef has a different taste from all–grass-fed beef, something that consumers have desired in the past. Obviously, this is personal preference, and the trend toward all-grass-fed taste is changing now. Second, feeding grain creates a marbling effect in the meat–these tiny lines of fat running through a steak are one of the biggest reasons for a tender steak. Consumers in the past have looked upon tender steaks as very desirable. Even hamburger needs a certain amount of fat, or the meat won’t hold together as it is cooked. Butcher shops often add extra fat to hamburger to get the right ratio for a good burger–this can be true of grain-fed or grass-fed beef. Just thought I’d share this information, since you invited us to. :>)

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Larry August 16, 2012 at 6:15 am

Clarice,

The fat marble in beef can be found in grass fed beef too. I think there is an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there regarding grass fed beef. The reason for feeding grain is 100% speed and yield. The industrial farm process has changed even the genetics of beef that are raised that way.
America has gotten used to grain fed beef, because this is what we have been supplied since WWII when raising beef switched from open range to factory farming. Yes you can taste the difference, but please don’t settle for any grass fed beef, based on that merit alone. The farmer needs to allow the animals to “finish” and develop full fat cover before harvest. When this is done routinely, the grass fed beef will show marbling, tenderness and smooth clean flavor. When it isn’t done, you get no marbling, chewy texture and a gamy flavor.

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maile November 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm

I recently purchased grass fed local beef. Yes, expensive, but boy do we savor it when it is prepared! No waste and a lot of appreciation. I’ll be going organic grass fed next with a rancher in Chehalis WA. I’ll do the drive.
I’ve seen Genetic Roulette so emailed a bunch of producers to inquire if they FEED the animals GMO’s. To my dismay, my tried and true Foster Farms stated they provide GMO feed to the flock. I emailed Tillamook and they have not responded (heard they were bought out so no longer “local”).
The more I learn, to more I’m disgusted. What I can say though is that my house serve clean food.

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Lora January 31, 2013 at 3:26 pm

Melody – have you found any place local that has organic grass fed beef, chicken or pork? I’m searching the internet but it would be nice to know someone who’s tried it before. I know they have vendors at the farmer’s market and they carry some at the Hub. But I think it’s cheaper if you buy it directly from the farmer. They also have organic ground beef and chicken at Costco. Don’t know if they’re grass fed though.

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Melody February 2, 2013 at 2:05 pm

We have been lucky enough to get beef and pork from my parents, because my brothers have raised both for FFA. Now that my last brother is graduating, we’ll be out of luck. :) We haven’t made the switch to organic chicken yet, still trying to make it work in our budget. My best advice would be to head down to the Hub and talk to the people who work there. I’ll poke around and see what I can find.

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