"Gypsy gold does not chink and glitter. It gleams in the sun and neighs in the dark."

~ Saying of the Gladdagh Gypsies of Galway

Monday, April 23, 2012

Decoding: Beef

I don't mean to sound like a broken record, but I am constantly amazed at the whole 'food' topic. All the things I am learning, all the things I thought were good but really aren't. All the things other people think are good, but they really aren't....the list goes on and on.

I was having a conversation with a co-worker awhile back regarding purchasing a half a cow. He was telling me the great deal he got on his and I asked "was it grass fed"? He looked at me stumped. He didn't know, nor did he really care. I made a comment along the lines of wanting to purchase 'grass fed beef' and another co-worker chimed in "GRASSFED? Why would you want GRASSFED? Grain fed is the good stuff - that's what you WANT". *sigh* I digress. Some people will only ever see their point of view, and I get that. But some are open-minded and willing to look at the flip side of the coin. So for those of you that fall into that later group, I hope this post is helpful to you.

So - get comfy and let's dig in, shall we?

First things first - all beef is NOT created equal.
In the most general of terms, you have your grain fed beef and you have your grassfed beef. Beyond that it gets tricky because you can have grass fed beef that is grain finished or 'All Natural' beef that was still grain fed! This is where you have to employ your super sleuth skills to decode those marketing labels just so you know what you are feeding your family.

Here are the definitions Wikipedia gives:

Grass fed or pasture-fed cattle, grass and other forage compose most all or at least the great majority of the grass fed diet.

Cattle called "corn-fed," "grain-fed" or "corn-finished" are typically fattened on corn, soy and other types of feed for several months before slaughter.

The later of the two definitions is the meat you are most likely purchasing if you are not specifically seeking  out grassfed beef.

So what's the big deal? Grassfed or Grain-fed...
Cows are ruminants. Ruminants are mammals that digest plant-based foods. In other words, they're designed to eat grass. I know this is hard to believe, but cows were not made to eat & digest corn! Humans are the ones who have tried to manufacture the cow into a ruminant tolerable of consuming corn and adequately digesting it. So why did we change this, you ask? 'As a high-starch, high-energy food, corn decreases the time to fatten cattle and increases yield from dairy cattle. Some corn-feed cattle are fattened in concentrated animal feeding operations.' (Source: Wikipedia) In other words, how to get the biggest bang for the buck. And this doesn't always equate to 'healthy'. I don't know about you, but that is not the motto I use when speaking in terms of my family and their health.

So how do you know what kind of meat you're purchasing at the store?
Beef not labeled with any particular type of 'feed classification', just packaged up in Styrofoam trays and plastic wrap, is generally, if not always, going to be Grain-fed Beef. However, the 'butcher' around the corner from me displays all his meat openly in glass cases and packages them in freezer paper. Nice marketing ploy and even though it tricks some consumers into thinking it is fresher, better meat, it is still grain fed beef. How do I know? Because if it was grassfed, it would say so! There is also a good chance it was previously frozen too!

You will see some beef labeled as 'prime' or 'black angus', etc ... but at the end of the day, it is all grain fed beef. It should be more appropriately labeled GMO grain-fed on a CAFO! I digress...

Beef ... otherwise known as a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation)

100% Grassfed is going to be labeled and marketed as such and most likely is going to be sourced directly from your local farmer, buying club or CSA.
100% Grassfed Beef at Miller Livestock Co.

Grassfed standing alone is a loose term. This can imply the cow was feed grass as some point in time, but nothing more. Meaning, yep - you guessed it - probably majority grain-fed. And this defeats the purpose of the benefits that were present from the cow being grassfed. This also is not a guarantee that the beef you're eating wasn't given hormones and antibiotics. Heck, it isn't even a guarantee the beef you are eating was raised in this country!

Just looking at these photos, which cow would you prefer to be on your plate?

Come back tomorrow for another does of beef!

This post is shared at Real Food 101 and Monday Mania


Bee Girl said...

Our food system is broken and people as a whole don't want to look at it for a variety of reasons. Your best bet is to keep doing exactly what you're doing...keep researching, get to know your rancher and ask lots of questions. We will have to vote with our dollars and spread the word. In the meantime, at least you know what's on your plate :-)

Unknown said...

I got into the grass feed beef last year, I went to the fancy whole foods market and I had it and it was amazing and that beef was so much better, there was no way I could go back to the cheap ole beef I was buying. My local grocery store carries a small selection we can order from the butcher and I do stick with that. I eat alot of turkey and so its frustrating because they dont have range free turkey etc, its all the bad turkey I know it. sigh...

Unknown said...

Hound Girl: You will have to source out a local farmer that raises pastured turkeys!

Jennifer said...

I love that we have local sources for great meat products. I buy grass-fed beef all the time and it is so good!

Rachel said...

Sounds like you and I are on the same page Allison! I've located a somewhat local farmer who raises exclusively grass-fed beef. They do a CSA and will deliver our beef once a month. (It is unfortunately frozen, but oh well!)
Since becoming a Mom I've researched the heck out of what I used to take for granted. Now what I'm learning is that our government/FDA/CDC, etc are all corrupt and have revolving doors...and money trails...

Chiot's Run said...

We mostly eat venison here, but when we do get beef it's from a local farm where I can go visit the cows that are happily munching on grass and soaking up the sun enjoying their lives being cows!

Makes me happy to see more and more people talking about this.

Camille said...

It really is scary what is happening to our food and no wonder so many are so unhealthy. I'm really enjoying these delves into real food, Allison! Keep 'em coming! :)