Here’s the Beef
by Michael Braunstein
If you’re like most folks in America, you’re still a carnivore and this time of year nothing excites you more than the thrill of the grill. The temperate weather and the longer days serve well to whet the appetite for sizzling steaks, bountiful burgers and yummy yardbird over the hot coals of the barbie. For me, meat has to be sensibly sourced and rationally raised or it’s not on my menu.
I get wrangled into a discussion about meat — beef especially — about three times a week. It’s a discussion I love, mostly because I know a lot about it and from many angles. Those include the origin of the infamous E. coli HO157; the diet cows are really supposed to eat; the craziness of multi-sourcing hamburger and the infamous “pink slime”; food chain safety; nutritional profile of beef; environmental impact and of course, flavor.
Toward the end of my years in Los Angeles, I was happily vegetarian. I honestly do feel that humans should not have to kill anything, plant or animal, in order to eat and survive well. I believe that. I’m just not that evolved yet. But that’s a column unto itself. Be it said, I did return to carnivore country and thankfully, learned the right kind of meat to eat. And that’s the topic of this column.
Grass Only. Let’s start with this: Eat less meat but eat better meat. In a nutshell, that means eat only beef from animals that have dined on only grass for their entire lives, never on corn, grain or grain byproducts. And to do that, you will probably have to make friends with a farmer or two and learn to trust their ranching methods if not go see their farm for yourself, something I’ve done on many occasions. Note this: rare is the grocery store that touts grass-fed beef that provides anywhere near the advantage that a small, local, “boutique beef” operation (as I call them) can.
There are way over a dozen reasons to choose only grass-fed and let’s start with nutritional profile. We won’t detail here but look it up yourself. You can start with the National Institute of Health research at this link. And that tells only a small part of the story. Grass-fed beef has more important nutrients, a better “good fat” to “bad fat” ratio, lower overall fat and surprise, better taste.
Grass-only beef is safer from the standpoint of that pathogenic scourge, E. coli HO157. Notice I named it specifically. That’s because there are scores of strains of E. coli. Billions of E. coli live in your gut and are in fact, beneficial. But that HO157 strain and its brothers can make you very sick and even kill. There’s a long and complex story behind how HO157 evolved but the fact is, we never saw the HO157 strain that kills until 1982. Now, you may be asking yourself why that is. Well, it’s just theory but knowing me, I’m likely correct. It wasn’t until the federal government under Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz blew up the corn industry by telling farmers to plant it “fencerow to fencerow” that we started feeding cheap, fattening corn to critters. Currently, livestock feed (and ethanol) account for about 75 to 80 percent of our corn. (Hello!) Now the punchline. A diet of corn causes E. coli HO157. It’s a detailed story but know this: cows are not supposed to eat corn. They are four-stomach ruminants. They are designed to eat grass, not corn. (Remember the nursery rhyme, “Little Boy Blue, come blow your horn. The sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn.” Why the alarum? Because, if left to their own devices and appetites, cows will eat corn until they get sick and die. Fact.) Ruminate on that.
A shorter food chain is a safer food chain. That’s just common sense. That industrial hamburger in a supermarket cooler likely contains parts of hundreds of different cows, from several different countries, processed in several states then combined into that one package. The burger I’m cooking today is from one cow, processed in a small, USDA-inspected facility in Table Rock, Nebr. One cow goes in. The hamburger (and steaks, roasts, etc.) comes out. The meat is handled by maybe three or four people from the time the farmer(1) loaded it onto his truck, processed (2&3) to the time I open the package (4). That’s not an exaggeration. Now, think about how many people from all across the world may have handled your burger. Getting the picture?
Treehugger? Dig it. If you’re a radical, Prius-driving, push-mowing, Save the Whaler and still a carnivore, eating grass-fed should top your “to do” list. Here’s the short story from no less than the Environmental Working Group at EWG.org: “Well-managed grazing and grass-fed operations are better for the environment.”
Oh, did I mention “Modified Atmosphere Packaging?” Oh, well, guess not. Look it up. It’s disgusting.
Finally, cost and cooking. I actually find the cost of local, grass-fed to be competitive with what I would buy for myself in the supermarket. I don’t buy the Tube of Whatever version of burger, anyway. Plus, as nutrient-dense as grass-fed is, you’ll eat less and feel sated from the nutrition. I cook it rare, use a little olive oil rub and just salt and pepper.
Okay, enough already. Here’s a little help from your friend. I consider three sources as my “go to” for grass fed beef, with Pawnee Pride as my main one. PawneePride.com, RangeWestBeef.com, and Marlowe Family Farm. All three make arrangements for either local purchase or drop-off. There, you have no excuse.
Heartland Healing is a metaphysically based polemic describing alternatives to conventional methods of healing the body, mind and planet. It is provided as information and entertainment, certainly not medical advice. Important to remember and pass on to others: for a weekly dose of Heartland Healing, visit HeartlandHealing.com.