Beef

Beef

Grass is Good

There seems to be quite a bit of meddling that goes on before your steak makes
it to the table. We love steak–especially seared to a crisp on the outside with pink goodness on the inside–but we’ve learned to ask where it comes from before
buying it.

Today, the top four beef packers in the country control 80% of the market. (Compare that to the 1970′s, when the top 5 packers controlled 25% of the market.) Beef essentially comes from a factory now, not a farm.

Cows are traditionally herbivores, yet corn has been introduced to the feed to fatten them up faster; hormones and protein supplements, too.

Cows are penned up in such close quarters that they must be given antibiotics. Pesticides and fertilizers also enter into their food stream.

Various countries have implemented bans on the importation of U.S. beef due to the presence of these additives.

Now I’m sure cattle farmers would argue that without antibiotics and pesticides their cows would get sick in such close quarters and they can’t make a profit by scaling back or allowing cattle to feed in an open pasture, etc., but this is when we need to vote with our dollars and buy meat that is better for us.

If the demand is there, the industry will adapt and change the supply.
You get to vote for the food you want three times a day.

PROS: GRASS-FED BEEF

  • Cows are herbivores. All cattle start out eating grass, but in the U.S. three-fourths of cows spend their last years eating corn, which fattens the meat and produces a richer flavor. (Cattle in South America and Australia are generally grass-fed.)
  • Corn has been proven to multiply the presence of E. coli in the cow’s system, increasing the chances that it will be transferred to the meat during the slaughter process.
  • Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and a leading food advocate, argues in his book that there is an overwhelming presence of corn in our diet–be it the corn that fattens the animals we eat, high-fructose corn syrup, corn oil, or any number of surprising ways corn turns up in almost everything we eat (maltodextrin, xanthan gum, di-glycerides, ascorbic acid, etc.).
  • The corn monoculture is a leading cause of obesity (overconsumption of sugar) and serious health problems (diabetes) in this country. Essentially we, as taxpayers, allow the government to subsidize corn, which leads to overproduction (guess how ethanol became a viable option for cars), which leads to food producers adding it to everything–not to mention what makes up lunch menus in public schools is almost all farm surplus, and often corn-based. It’s no surprise that obesity starts young these days (1 in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early onstage diabetes). It’s also no surprise since a double cheeseburger costs less than a head of broccoli.
    We are subsidizing the wrong calories.
  • The subsidies on corn are actually causing financial distress for many farmers. They have to produce more and more corn, whose abundant supply in turn pushes down the price of the crop, the farmers need the subsidies to stay afloat, and many end up in debt.
  • Because corn has by now become a monoculture crop, the land is never rotated and it requires more fertilizers and pesticides.
  • Going a step further, Mad Cow Disease is a result of altering the feed by adding animal byproduct, or leftovers from the slaughtering process, including the remains of sick animals.
  • Altering cattle feed is not natural, and nature is telling us so.

CONS: GRAIN-FED BEEF

  • Some will argue that grass-fed beef can have, well, a “grassy” taste; and that it doesn’t have the marbling that grain-fed meat has. Like everything on LTBB, we provide the guidelines, but the decision is yours in the store.
  • If you prefer a fattier cut of meat, we advise finding grain-fed beef that you know has been treated in the right way. Perhaps it comes from a sustainable farm (they use the land without depleting it, cause no damage to the environment or animals, and use humane employer practices), or the cattle is given organic grains (a stretch, we know, but it happens sometimes! A farm in San Diego grows organic vegetables and grains and gives a portion of those crops to
    their cows).
  • Also, to be fair, “grain” can mean more than just corn, if it’s the right producer. Grain can be beets, potatoes, and sorghum, too. However, this still goes beyond the traditional grass diet, and corn is by far the most prevalent grain when we talk about industrial beef producers.

Shopping Tips

Buy grass-fed beef. If they don’t sell it, request that they start ordering it. If they don’t order it, find another butcher or order it online. If your family eats a lot of meat, you can order a whole side of beef and have it delivered to a local butcher where he can slice it up and you can freeze what you don’t use for later.

If you buy grain-fed beef, find out who the producer is. Is it a sustainable farm? Do they use organic grain in the feed? Do they use grain other than corn?

Consider where the beef comes from. If it’s local, it will be fresher; you will likely
be supporting a community farm, and you can brag to friends about your smaller
carbon footprint.

Ask when the beef arrived; make a point to demand freshness (meat with dark streaks may have oxidized from sitting too long). Avoid meat with yellow or
gray fat.

“Organic” beef: this label indicates that no pesticides were used on the pastureland, the animals did not receive antibiotics or growth hormones, they had unrestricted outdoor access, and were treated humanely. Keep in mind that unless it also says “grass fed,” the cows still probably ate corn in their feed–though it should have been organic.

“Natural” beef essentially means nothing. It indicates that the food contains no artificial ingredients or colors, but it doesn’t guarantee humane treatment or an organic diet. 

Common Questions

What should I look for when buying ground beef?
We hate to ruin your weekend barbecue, but there is a significant possibility that your ground beef could be carrying the E. coli bacteria. Meat producers and grocers have been banned from selling meat tainted with E. coli since 1994, but there is no federal requirement that they test it; and in three years, there have been 16 outbreaks of E. coli in ground beef. Besides the lack of self-regulation, another complication is that a serving of hamburger meat is often a mixture of different cuts from different slaughterhouses, and–even if the meat is tested–it is difficult to pinpoint the origin of the tainted portion. Not to mention that some producers cut corners by treating the beef with ammonia to kill bacteria. Take note of the term trimmings, or areas of the cow that are more likely to have come in contact with fecal matter, which is then inadvertently transferred to the meat mixture. There is legislation in Congress right now to demand better testing of trimmings, but, like many food items these days, you must do your own research to ensure you are getting an untainted product.

Is the high price of Kobe beef really worth it?
Most steak lovers would probably say yes, but we think it’s subjective. If you like tender meat with a high fat content, then this is the meat for you. The Japanese
beef–which is highly-prized and has a price tag to match–comes from Wagyu cattle, which are genetically predisposed to have a high fat, or marbling, content (though, like veal, they are also restricted from moving too much and building muscle). They are fed sake mash and beer and are sometimes massaged, producing meat that is extremely tender and fatty (20-25% fat as opposed to the U.S.’s 6-8% fat). Kobe beef is often sold frozen; it does not tend to affect the flavor. 

What’s dry-aged beef?
Dry-aging is a slow process where the meat is conditioned through controlled temperatures and humidity for weeks, forming a moldy “crust” that is cut away before eating. The flavor is uniquely musty with an intense beef flavor that some meat eaters swear by. Since it often loses half of its weight through dehydration
and trimming, dry-aged beef has a concentrated flavor that comes with a higher
price tag.

Why do men eat so much freaking meat?
Have you ever met that guy who can’t order a pizza without sausage or pepperoni (or both) on it? I’m sure there are some mean, meat-eating females out there, too (and, yes, vegetarians, we hear you, too!). But for you red meat eaters: you might want to think about cutting down your consumption. Sometimes our prosperity as Americans can have its detriments–having meat as a staple on restaurant menus has lulled us into a meat coma. The Mediterranean diet says to eat red meat once a month. The average American eats 200 pounds of meat, poultry, and fish per year! And just in case you’re not convinced, we politely offer two scare tactics: cardiovascular disease, and the fact that meat stays in your intestines for 48 to
72 hours. Don’t get us wrong–we love our red meat, but let’s think about reeling
it in a bit.

  • Buy grass-fed beef
  • If you buy grain-fed beef, buy from a sustainable or
    organic farm
  • Avoid meat with
    yellow or gray fat
  • Be very careful about the origin of your ground beef due to E. coli
  • Order local meat 
    when possible
  • Insist on high quality
    from your butcher
  • “Organic” beef has many qualities, but corn was likely used in the feed
  • “Natural” beef doesn’t guarantee humane treatment or an
    organic diet
  • Remember the Mediterranean diet
    says to eat red meat
    once a month!
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