Posted On 18 Aug 2012
Grass-fed beef is part of the answer to the factory food that is sickening us and killing us prematurely.
The topic here is an alternative to the mass-produced food that is the result of factory-style efficiencies introduced into the food production system. If you still eat factory food, I have a simple suggestion: stop.
The paradigm of such food is feedlot produced beef, which is quite unlike grass-fed beef. It’s not only less flavorful than its natural counterpart, but it’s far less healthy for us as well as for our environment. The natural alternative is also more sustainable as well as resilient.
Cattle are ruminants that are well-designed to eat grass. In the northeastern United States where I live there are plenty of natural grasses and legumes that are splendid for cattle. Plants such as johnsongrass, fescue, orchardgrass, timothy, bluegrass, switchgrass, Dallis grass, fall panicum, red clover, white clover, lespedeza, plantain, and other forbs provide a natural salad bar for cattle.
I’ve actually been doing research about ranching and looking to purchase a small ranch myself to raise grass-fed beef. I know an organic farmer who himself raises grass-fed beef; he assures me that it’s not difficult once you learn how to rotate the grazing cattle in the pasture. Soon, nature will bring in the best and most adaptable plants and, every year, your pastures will become more productive. Daily rotation (using inexpensive electric fencing) can be coupled with multi-year rotation to stimulate even more diversity and productivity.
The main idea is to use natural plant and animal diversity to increase stability and productivity. Flora and fauna increase in diversity from the edge effects where forest, open land, and water intersect. Water is recycled with proper watershed protection. (Joel Salatin: “every single desert in the world is man-made.”) This minimizes disruptions from weather, disease, and pestilence.
It works well, too, on small farms. Since that’s the only kind I myself could afford, that’s excellent news for me.
Furthermore, according to my farmer friend as well as Joel Salatin, “salad bar beef can be produced cheaper than its grain-fed counterpart.” In fact, I go to my farmer friend’s farm weekly from about May to October in order to pick up a personal supply of organic chicken; this year, though, he’s begun talking about doing away with chicken farming because it’s too labor intensive! Small-scale farmers who are flexible and knowledgeable can add a lot of value to stocker calves by grazing them properly for six months.
It seems that more and more consumers want grass-fed beef. That, too, is good news. Why? There are several major concerns.
Feedlot or factory-produced beef (and pork) is not as healthful as grass-fed beef. Feeding cattle corn and antibiotics is unnatural and unhealthful. It changes their meat. Obviously, compared to grazing naturally on open grasslands, standing stressfully ankle-deep in muck that is filled with manure and germs is terrible for the animals. Cattle should eat forages—never grain. Natural herbivores don’t eat grain. They thrive moving around in herds on sun-soaked grasslands in the open air.
Furthermore, we then eat that fatty, unnatural meat, which isn’t good for us. The second agricultural revolution about a century ago set the stage for the dramatic changes in food production that have occurred in just the last half century. They are a major cause of our present epidemics of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and hypertension. Think of the enormous advertising, marketing and social costs required to get us to purchase and consume that unnatural meat.
Furthermore, the whole feedlot system degrades the environment. From the fertilizer to the transportation system, it all runs on oil. Think of the huge farms required to grow the corn, which then must be transported to the feedlots. Think of the meat packers working in dangerous, unsanitary conditions in slaughterhouses. Think of the oil required to transport factory-produced beef hundreds or thousands of miles to consumers. Think of the manure and other pollutants from the feedlots that require treatment.
Furthermore, think of the political corruption required to run the centralized food system. Think of the massive political donations to politicians to pass laws to keep the big agricultural companies thriving at the cost of the small, independent farmer. Think of the legal fees soaked up by lawyers working for the big agricultural companies fostering their monopolies.
Furthermore, while the factory-produced beef system is efficient, it is neither resilient nor sustainable. It’s a human-made system that is unnatural. As the saying has it, “Nature bats last.”
What’s the cure? Education.
It’s working already. More and more restaurants and grocery stores are again making grass-fed beef available. If consumers stop purchasing factory-produced beef and begin consuming grass-fed beef, the factory-produced beef system will either collapse or dramatically alter itself to survive.
So, do you still ever eat factory-produced beef? If so, I encourage you please to cease and desist. Replace it with grass-fed beef or eat some other natural food instead.
One way fast food restaurants and others encourage us to keep consuming factory-produced beef is to package it with sugar. For example, hamburgers are sold inside buns. Buns come from wheat, another unnatural food. All grains are unnatural for humans to eat. All grains come from grasses, and the digestive systems of our successful ancestors did not evolve eating grasses. Even though we are able to digest them, they are difficult for us to digest and, in fact, they make many of us ill (just think of gluten-intolerance) as well as rampant obesity.
What’s the solution? Stop eating so much sugar, too! More and more sugar consumption is being implicated in our ever-increasing rates of heart disease, obesity, type 2 diabetes, hypertension and cancer.
So, instead of a fast food hamburger on a bun, eat something natural — perhaps some baked sockeye salmon or a venison steak or some ground meat from grass-fed beef from a local farm. Throw in a vegetable or two and you’ll have a very healthy meal.
Too expensive? Only if you ignore everything except the cost of the food itself. However, what about your lifetime healthcare costs? What about the costs of environmental degradation? What about the political, social, and legal costs required to sustain the unnatural factory food system?
A common theme in many of the posts in the spiritual well-being category of this blog is paying greater attention to how we do what we do. How is it possible to eat factory-produced beef mindfully? If you pay more attention to what you are actually eating, you’ll quickly begin realizing the benefits of eating more natural foods such as grass-fed beef.
For example, if you significantly reduce consumption of sugar and unnatural foods, you will lose body fat. Then you’ll begin feeling better and more energetic. As your body composition improves, you’ll begin looking better. Your odds of suffering from such chronic diseases of civilization as type 2 diabetes will diminish. You’ll feel better about yourself, too, because the gap between what you would like to happen and what you actually do will decrease.
There’s a lot of good news about grass-fed beef and similar foods. If we all just improved our daily choices about what and how we eat, we’d soon be much better off – and so would the animals and the environment.
Nobody is forcing us to eat grass-fed beef. Why not take advantage of our freedom to do better?
As always, if you know someone who might benefit from this post, please pass it along.
Recommended resources: Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Joel Salatin’s Salad Bar Beef, James HowardKunstler’s The Long Emergency, Charles Walters’s Eco-Farm, Bill Mollison’s Permaculture, and “Food, Inc” [a 2008 DVD documentary].