Monday, March 24, 2008
sustainable living: going grass fed
They're very excited to be here.
(picture c/o Natural Wellness)
As I mentioned in my post on the farmer's market, one of the things we found in Elkhart last weekend was a booth selling pastured, or "grass fed" beef, pork, and poultry. I was also pointedly reminded that Sap did not eat 3 different things to my 1, that I had neglected to mention the apple fritter that tided me over while she had her quiche, but that's beside the point. Pastured meat is obviously the original way to raise livestock, but it's rarely done these days because, frankly, the game has been rigged against it and in favor of industrial feedlots. FDA protocols and regulations originally intended to protect the food supply have been retooled by industry lobbyists and political cronies to make industrial feedlots more cost-effective and make slaughtering meat so horrifically expensive than only the CAFOs can afford the facilities to do it.
The reason I still wanted to search out pastured meat, however, is in its health benefits for myself and the land. Grass finished beef-- that is, from cows that weren't just reared in the pasture but actually spent their entire lives in it-- has half the overall fat of skinless chicken breast, and yet is significantly higher in omega 3's (that's the "good" fats that come from fish and walnuts), almost as high as some fish, in fact, and it lacks the growth hormones and antibiotics of its industrially-produced counterparts.
(c/o Fair Oaks Ranch)
Despite the lack of antibiotics, pastured beef is also cleaner than CAFO beef in terms of food-borne diseases (spongiform encephalopathy, or "mad cow disease," for instance, is a product of CAFO cows being fed beef fat. And yes, most of them are fed it).
There's also my concern about CAFO's from an ethical standpoint. I eat meat, and animals are killed to feed me, and I'm okay with that. I'm comfortable with my omnivorous nature. What makes me less comfortable, however, is stacking animals in a giant, smelly building so close to each other that they can't even turn around, standing directly over a giant lagoon filled with their own festering shit and being fed a food they weren't biologically designed to eat that makes them sick (generally a mix of corn, soy, growth hormones and beef fat-- remember, cows are ruminants, meaning they're strictly grass-ivores). The unhealthy food and unsanitary conditions means they have to be pumped full of antibiotics while the lack of space to move necessitates the hormones. The cattle are slaughtered mechanically or via low-wage labor, often still alive when they start to get chopped up, and are dressed so lackadaisically that frequently the intestines are punctured or burst in the process, covering the meat in its own shit. And yes, some of that does shit does get shipped in the chuck; where do you think e. coli comes from? Pigs live in similar conditions, while chickens have it even worse: chickens are kept in quarters so cramped that they go mad and start trying to peck their neighbors, and themselves, to death. Consequently, industrially-raised chickens have their beaks removed, and often sport open wounds on that spot.
Meanwhile, the prodigious amounts of feces produced by these feedlots can't be broken down by nature because it's too concentrated and has to be sequestered in artificial, sealed lagoons or sprayed over farmland from shit sprinklers, whence in either case it eventually drains into the water supply, taking its diseases and bacteria hormones and antibiotics with it.
I still eat industrial meat, however, because like many people I'm appalled by the ethical and health-related implications of CAFO's, but not enough so to stop eating meat. That has historically been my only option since, like a mere 99% of Americans, we shop for our food at the grocery store, and I've never even heard of a grocery store that sells pastured meat. The farmer's market finally offers a chance to indulge my carnivorous cravings more safely and healthfully.
So to test it out, I bought a package of frozen hamburger meat, which cost me about $3.50. It's expensive for hamburger meat, no question. It's wrapped in simple white paper stamped with a meat inspector's stamp, and when I opened it, I found that the meat was noticeably darker than store-bought beef. It also has an odd odor to it, not an unpleasant one, perhaps reminiscent of buffalo meat (probably because buffalo tends to be pastured, too). It's a damn lean meat; I had a hell of a time flattening it into patties with breaking pieces off, and very little fat drained from this meat when I cooked it, especially when compared to store-bought hamburger. That odd odor was reflected in the flavor as well. With other high quality meats, like free-range chicken, for instance, it usually tastes a little better than regular chicken, but it's a subtle difference. If someone gave you a cooked chicken breast and told you to identify whether it's free range, you'd probably be hard-pressed to give the right answer. There would be no such difficulty telling this meat from regular beef, though. It's almost a sweeter meat, less savory, which makes sense if you think about the strong, slightly sweet flavor of grass and clover, especially compared to corn. I'm not sure if I'd say it tastes better than store-bought beef, but if I got used to this I'd probably have a hard time going back.
And I do intend to get used to it. I bought my second pound on Saturday.