Thursday, April 10, 2008

Grass-Fed Meat

Deciphering the labels in the meat department in the supermarket has become increasingly difficult. Try figuring our what free range, organic, hormone free, no animal bi-products, no antibiotics means and you could go crazy. So if you don't have a higher degree in animal husbandry you probably would ask the butcher behind the glass for help right? Well in my experience  the butcher at Whole Foods, the only place I can buy the closest thing to non-industrial meat, gives me a different answer every time I ask the SAME question, "what does this mean?"

As far as I can figure out from my many trips to the store, organic meat and poultry is the best because they are fed an organic diet. In addition, as I recently learned from an organic farmer I met, the food you eat needs to have to be born from an organic mother to be considered organic. (Uh, oh, I was non-organic when I gave birth, does that mean my kids aren't organic?) Not sure about the father. But to get the really low down on all the labels check out these two really great articles from this week by the Diet Detective discussing the meat and poultry claims and labels. You can read them here and here.
So post reading The Omnivore's Dilemma and watching King Corn I started having dreams about Polyface farms, the farm that Michael Pollen lived at for a week. I had hopes of finding something like that in my area. I began looking online for grass-fed farmers near my home.  In my search I found a farm in upstate New York called Sap Bush Hollow Farm. While searching on the site I discovered that the daughter of the farms owner, Shannon Hayes, had written books on grass-fed meats. Wow, someone who could provide some information on grass-fed meat. I quickly emailed her, and she introduced me to grass fed beef and pork.  

It turns out that a typical industrial steak can have 3 times as much saturated fat the a grass-fed. As I learned in King Corn, a industrial farmed t-bone has approximately 9 grams of saturated fat compared to 3 grams in same size grass-fed t-bone. Wow that's a big difference. Shannon told me that many experts believe that 100 percent grass-fed meat is like a preventive and curative medicine in food form. Meat, eggs, and dairy products from pastured animals are believed to be ideal for health. Compared with commercial products, they offer more "good" fats, and fewer "bad" fats; are richer in antioxidants; including vitamins E, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Grass-fed meats do not contain traces of added hormones, antibiotics or other drugs. And most importantly, beef from a grass-fed farm is believed to be free from mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy or BSE).

Shannon has written two books, The Grass-fed Gourmet and her most recent which hit shelves this month, The Farmer and The Grill: A Guide to Grilling, Barbecuing and Split-Roasting Grass-fed Meat and for Saving the Planet, One Bite at a Time. In addition to writing, Shannon and her family run a sustainable farm that raises and sells only grass-fed meats including beef, pork, lamb and poultry.

According the Shannon, "Grass-based farms are not industrial factories. The livestock on these farms are unique individuals and their genetics are going to vary, which means that some will be fatter, some larger, some leaner, some older, and some younger when they are read for processing. The key thing for anyone who cares about what they are eating, is to know that truly organic, grass-fed meat tastes different than what you are used to. It's more robust in flavor, but more of a challenge to cook. Grass-fed meats do not cook at the same temperatures, have the same texture or tastes, and even look a bit different. So for those people who want to eat better, for their health and the environment, I wrote the The Farmer and the Grill, to help these people get the most enjoyment and flavor out of the grass-fed foods they buy."

So with Shannon's newest book in hand, my husband and I fired up the BBQ and sloooow cooked a nice steak and pork chop on low heat. Why slow cooking on low heat? Because of the way the animals are raised, the meats are marbled differently, they are significantly less fatty, and have a different cooking profile. After following Shannon's directions (no BBQ sauce for Lewis' pork chop, which is a rarity) we got our steak knives and sat down to eat. With a bit of trepidation, we put the first bites into our mouths.  WOW, they were delicious. Not only were they much healthier for us but they tasted great too.  

So, if you can try some real meat, grass-fed, not grain (corn)-fed, and not Whole Foods grass-fed, which are corn-fed the month before slaughter to fatten them up, you'll be happy you did. 

To find a grass-fed farm in your area check out Eat Wild that has a state-by-state listing. Also on this this site is information on benefits of grass-fed meats for the animals, the environment, the farmer and for your health.  And check out Shannon's books and farm to get a true insight into the way meat is suppose to be raised.

1 comment:

RichM said...

I read the story "Grass-Fed Meat with great interest. I have been growing organic grassfed beef since 1999. We direct market through our web site
We also sell grass-fed organic beef to Whole Foods. I guarantee there is no corn or grain fed to these animals ever.
Please correct the statement in your story stating they are fed corn the last 30 days prior to slaughter. It is not true.
Richard Mazour