What’s So Great About Pastured Meat?

cows on pasture

We often find ourselves in conversation with people who are shocked and dismayed at the higher cost of locally-raised, sustainably grown food—grass-fed meats in particular. “I just can’t afford that,” they say.  True, it would strain anyone’s budget to by grass-fed meat in the same quantities most people buy grain-fed meats from the feedlot. Throughout human history, however, meat has been a luxury, and there is a reason for that. It is expensive to produce, and requires lots of energy to raise and slaughter, if you do it right. Unluckily for us, corporate meat producers, in cahoots with corporate agriculture and a government that chooses to heavily subsidize the over-production of corn at the taxpayers’ expense, meat is now a staple, not a luxury. Most people in America take out a package of meat for dinner, then decide which vegetables (if any), should accent it. Such a diet is wrecking our health and the planet’s.

So the answer is that, really, we can’t afford to continue eating cheap, corn-fed feedlot meat! If the good stuff is a little more expensive, we need to eat a little less of it. Find ways to stretch the meat in your recipes, to make it an accent and flavor-enhancer for the vegetables on the plate, and not the other way around, or make that grilled steak or roast a special treat.

Make chili with lots of beans and extra vegetables, chicken pot pie, steak salad with loads of greens, zucchini enchiladas, eggplant parmesan. Read vegetarian cookbooks and accent the recipes with a small amount of meat. Eat a little less meat and learn to taste more flavors, cook new things, feel lighter and healthier, and start a revolution.

The horrors of corporate animal production have been communicated to us often, but in the market or at the table, it can be difficult to connect the food on our plate with an animal in the field or on the feedlot.  To create a full understanding of why we need a revolution, it’s important to understand how grass-fed meats are different in terms of human health. There are plenty of selfish reasons to eat meat from animals raised on grass rather than corn, stale candy bars, and recycled restaurant grease (we wish we were making this up). So, the benefits:

1. Have you seen a feedlot? We were slammed by the smell on our way through north Texas to Colorado last winter. The stench hit us about 10 miles before we saw the feedlot. I’m pretty sure I don’t want to eat anything that comes out of such concentrated misery and filth. Enough said about that.

2. Grassfed meats are lower in fat and calories.

3. Pastured animals produce meat that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, the “good fat” that lowers cholesterol, high blood pressure, and wards off cancer. Omega-3s are formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves and algae. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass are omega-3s. When cattle are taken off omega-3 rich grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on omega-3 poor grain, they begin losing their store of this beneficial fat. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished.

4. Meat and dairy products from grass-fed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called “conjugated linoleic acid” or CLA, one of our most potent defenses against cancer. When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their products contain from three to five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets.

5. In addition to being higher in omega-3s and CLA, meat from grassfed animals is also higher in vitamin E.

6. When cattle are free to forage on their natural diet of grass, their meat is almost as lean as wild game. The most rigorous scientific studies show that grassfed beef has an overall fat content similar to antelope, deer, and elk.

7. The deadliest form of E. Coli is more common than originally thought. Fortunately, grassfed animals are much less likely to transmit the disease. Feeding cattle their natural diet of grass instead of grain greatly reduces the risk of disease transmission. Why? First, it keeps the overall bacteria count low. Second, it prevents the bacteria from becoming acid resistant. Acid-resistant bacteria are far more likely to survive the acidity of our normal digestive juices and cause disease.

8. Meat from grassfed cattle is four times higher in vitamin E.

9. Raising animals on pasture reduces the risk of fostering antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

And of course, most compelling of all . . .

10. Switching from grainfed to grassfed meat is a healthy, natural way to lose weight.

So, where do you go from here? The simplest thing in our opinion, is to switch to pastured meats exclusively. We buy all meats from local farmers who pasture their animals. Simple, but revolutionary.

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