You may have seen the shiny green packages accompanied by their somewhat breathtaking prices or heard about it on Good Morning America: grass-fed beef is making its way back into the mainstream supermarket after living over 50 years in the shadow of conventional beef. You heard it right: grass-fed beef isn't a new-fangled, hippy fad- this was actually considered the norm before Big Agro moved in. Rising back to the spotlight after biding its time at farmers markets, grass-fed beef is becoming more and more prevalent in grocery stores today as some stores such as Wegmans have begun buying grass-fed beef from various countries, processing, and packaging it under their own label which actually lowers the premium price on grass-fed beef. Of course, if the green labeled beef you pick up in Syracuse comes from Japan it begs the question of just how "green" it really is. Buying local from either a farmer's market or straight from a farmer found at eatwild.com is the best way to avoid racking up a hefty carbon footprint score and to support your local farms that are fighting an uphill battle against Big Agro.
Another word of caution before we move on to the nutritional boons of eating grass-fed. Organic is a term that has been used fast and loose in the grocery stores these days and when it comes to beef, confusing grass-fed with organic can leave you with a mouth full of corn. Organic beef can come by the label by merely switching their conventional, genetically modified grain (GMO) with organic grain which on one hand does reduce your exposure to GMOs but on the other it still leaves you eating the same basic beef in the Club Pack that just happens to cost up to 3x as much. If your going to break out the Benjamins for organic, make sure it's grass-fed to boot.
All of this of course begs the question: Why go grass-fed?
If you've ever driven by a feedlot and seen the rows of inert, penned cows straining through their bars to reach just another morsel of GMO grain you may already have started to wonder if there wasn't a better way. To understand why eating cows that eat grass ultimately benefits you it is important to first delve into the biology of cows. Cows, like bison, sheep, and goat, digest their food by a process that is called rumination that is designed to break down highly fibrous grass, plants, and shrubs. When cows are moved from pasture to the feed lots and are instead fed grains with low fiber to fatten them up many of them become ill. In order to keep conventional cows "healthy" until slaughter they are given antibiotics mixed in with their feed to stave off bacteria growth. This excess treatment with antibiotics, some used to treat humans, contributes to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that has already become a problem for humans. Furthermore, feeding cows a grain-based diet creates a more acidic environment in their intestinal tract which can lead to growth of E. Coli which in turn can make its way into our diet if that club pack burger isn't cooked well-done.
Another thing you may have noticed driving by that feedlot, especially if your window was down, was the nostril-burning "fragrance" that pervades the air. I grew up in West Texas for a good portion of my life and every time the weatherman predicted winds from the south we knew we would be getting a good whiff of the feedlots that sat just outside of town. What was worse was that this was considered "normal" for cattle ranching areas. Of course, it does make perfect sense that a bunch of cows shoved together would create a heck of a lot of concentrated manure but this starts to get scary when you think about where this manure is getting filtered in to. It ends up polluting our streams as well as releasing large quantities of methane gas that contributes to global warning. It is estimated that the agribusiness, especially from feedlot cattle, accounts for 15-20% of these gases.
If E-coli scares, images of cows spending the last 3-4 months of their lives knee deep in their own waste, and global warming seem a little scare tactic to you then this next section is for you. Grass-fed beef is nutritionally better for you body regardless of whether the cow died happy and could pave the way to making sure you die happy as well. Of course, we're speaking on the cell level here because no amount of grass-fed beef is going to make getting fired or dumped less painful. It does, however, provide the following boons over its conventionally raised brethren:
-Lower total fat, including saturated fat*
-Better omega 3 to omega 6 ratio: 1:3 vs. 1:20+
- 7% of total fat is Omega-3 in grass-fed vs. 1% in grain-fed
-Increased load of vitamins and minerals such as E (4x higher), C, and beta carotene
-3 x higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) which is being studied for its potential cancer-fighting properties
*this is not to say that saturated fat is bad. I love saturated fat, but what I don't love is saturated fat filled with antibiotics, hormones, and by-products of grain feed that results in the higher low quality fat, marbled beef chefs often desire.
The next time you roll up to the meat counter or your favorite steak restaurant take a look at the selection in terms of what it has to offer you not just in price value, but something a little harder to put a price tag on: your health.