In a previous post (A cow named grass-fed) it was noted that animals raised with a significant part of their diet as grass will have a taste quite different from corn-fed (conventional) beef. Why is this? Doesn’t USDA Prime labeled beef mean “taste great”? One would think that the highest level of a grading system for beef would indicate better tasting beef.
Does the grading system take into account taste? Not really, maybe because it depends on individual preferences? I would argue that when the grading system was originally established in the 1920’s, PRIME beef did relate to great tasting (grass-fed) beef. The grading system is based largely on the amount of fat displayed by the carcass. In the 1920’s almost all beef was grass-fed or at least a large portion of their diet was grass. A PRIME animal was a fat grass-fed (grass fat) animal. The taste of beef in the 1920s was probably much different from the beef found in stores today.
So what happened to our beef in North America? With the advent of the grading system and the market now providing an incentive for beef considered PRIME, farmers adapted production to find the quickest and cheapest way to get cattle fat (remember, higher grades based on amount of visible fat). This production mode continues to this day. This model today usually involves:
- Early weaning of large framed calves implanted with growth hormones
- Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO)
- High startch diet – grains (corn)
- Short animal life span (harvested as early as 18 months), on grass for as little as 90 days
- Numerous inputs to maintain animal health, sometimes involving antibiotics and chemical wormers
Compare the above process to what a PRIME beef would have looked like in the 1920’s:
- Small framed calves raised on grass with their momma for up to 10 months
- Forages as a large part of the animals diet over the entire life of the animal
- Harvested at 2 years of age or older
- Little use of inputs such as antibiotics or chemical wormers
Folks today really only know the taste (or lack of taste) of corn-fed beef. When the original grading system was established, those folks really only knew the taste of grass-fed beef.
Does that mean that taste is related to fat? I will cover that in a future post.
So what do you think? What kind of beef would you rather consume comparing the two options above. The good news today, we have a choice between corn-fed beef or grass-fed beef. We encourage you to find a local farmer that you can visit with concerning their production practices.
Considering a change in your diet? This seemed a little overwhelming when I began my journey. Luckily a friend advised me to go slow, keep it simple and just do what you can to alter where you spend your food dollars. Not sure where to start? Below are some steps to consider when looking to increase the quality of food you are buying and consuming. Consider these options on how to shop for a healthy diet as you begin your journey to better food.
Shop the edges of your grocery store for the least processed foods.
A. Fast food part of your diet?
- Start tracking the amount of money spent each week eating out.
- Internet search for fun ways to pack your (or the kids) own lunch.
- Decide what you would do with the money saved by eating out less.
B. How to make better selections at your current grocery store:
- Shop the edges, stay away from the center of the store.
- When you venture into the center, check ingredients! I try to avoid products containing:
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Sugar (at least not as the first ingredient)
Be careful as you shop the center of your grocery store!
Ingredients listed as “enriched, refined or bleached”
Items you cannot read
Look for produce displayed as “organic”, the price difference may be less than you think.
Some stores may have an area devoted to a “health mart”, explore your options.
If your current grocery store does not carry organic items talk to the manager or try another store.
Take your time with the changes suggested above. Track your dollars and see the difference in food quality. Consider keeping a log of how you “feel” from these little changes in your diet.
C. Ready to adventure a little further?
Look for a specialty health store in your area.
Specialty stores labeled as “organic”, “natural”, “holistic” or “raw”.
Again shop the edges of these stores, adventure in to the center more freely but keep checking ingredients.
D. Seasonally watch for Farmer Markets or local farm stands.
- If you haven’t tried interacting with real farmers before you may feel a little un easy, but give it a try, the food quality is worth it!
Quiz the individual sellers, learn their lingo and start to build relationships.
Ask them to describe their production practices.
Find out if you can visit their farm.
Ask how else they sell their products:
E. Ask others for leads.
Someone at church selling farm fresh eggs or know someone who does?
Co-worker maybe buying his meat directly from a farmer?
Watch for Fresh Eggs or Fresh Honey signs as you drive through the country.
F. Search the internet.
Please share any other ideas you may have, and here’s to good eating!
How can soil, grass, animals and sunlight equal healthy people?
There are many pieces to this puzzle. When you begin to look at the big picture it is quite simple and natural. Take time out from your busy schedule to do some reflection and study on this topic and we think you will agree that it makes sense.
From Healing Quest, a nice 7 minute introduction to the Grass Fed Movement: