I WASNâ€™T EATING A LOT OF BEEF ANYWAY, but after reading Fast Food Nation, I stopped eating beef altogether. Then, a few years later, I read The Omnivoreâ€™s Dilemma. It put a light at the end of the beefless tunnel by describing Joel Salatinâ€™s grass farming methods at Polyface Farms.
At the time, I couldnâ€™t get grass-fed beef anywhere nearby, but now I can get it through my CSA, from two farms within an hour away, and from both local Whole Foods Markets. So weâ€™re back to eating some beef.
BUT WHY CHOOSE GRASS-FED BEEF? Is it just some fad or trend? Is it some status thing for wealthy or pretentious people? Is it really better? And if so, what does â€œbetterâ€ mean?
Itâ€™s hard to separate quality of food from impact on the environment and treatment of the animals, (and, in my opinion, we shouldnâ€™t) but those concerns aside, there are real health and quality reasons to choose grass-fed.
Here are the top three:
- No antibiotics needed. Cows are ruminants. They are designed to eat grass. To digest corn, they need to be given antibiotics, otherwise they will get sick. Being fed corn messes with a cowâ€™s digestive system, leading to more parasites and E. coli. Corn-fed cows spend most of their life on a crowded feedlot, standing in E. coli-filled feces, so they need even more antibiotics.
- More omega-3 fatty acids. Also, more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) (associated with lower heart disease and cancer risk), vitamin A, and vitamin E. Meat from feedlot cows will have half as much as much omega-3s as grass-fed meat These nutrients come from the grass. What the cow eats ends up in the meat ends up in you.
- Less saturated fat and less overall fat. Corn-fed beef has the marbling that many people see as desirable. But the marbling is just saturated fat that canâ€™t be trimmed off. Because grass-fed beef has less fat, it also has fewer calories.
As a bonus, it tastes better. I didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d be able to taste any difference, but the grass-fed beef is definitely more flavorful and has an almost buttery texture.
MAYBE YOU THINK YOU CANâ€™T AFFORD GRASS-FED BEEF. But donâ€™t write it off as unaffordable yet. Sure if youâ€™re buying steaks every week, grass-fed can get way pricy. But to buy ground beef, stew meat, or bottom round roast, itâ€™s fairly affordable (I pay between $5.99/lb and $7.99/lb for these cuts at Whole Foods). And if you buy just one cut per week, you might be able to fit it in the budget.
Another way to make it affordable is to buy in quantity direct from the farm. When I do a 25lb buy, I get a wide variety of cuts, from soup meat to filet mignon, all for about $5/lb., about $1 less than the cheapest cut at Whole Foods.
The bottom line: Grass-fed beef isn’t some fad for wealthy city-folk. It has real and serious health and quality advantages, and it doesnâ€™t have to be cost prohibitive.
More information about the nutrition and safety of grass-fed beef: