By now most people are aware of the pretty horrendous practices in our industrialized beef production. If you’re not, check out the films Fresh, The Movie and Food Inc. for a stomach turning foray into just how disgusting the process is. As tough as these are to watch, they offer much insight as you consider what goes into your body and what you feed your family.
Because cows are not designed to be fed the corn-heavy diet they get in industrial feed lots, their bodies develop in ways that are bad for them and for us. When we eat that meat, we get the bloat and acidity that the cow also suffers from.
To add insult to injury, corn is one of the most fossil-fuel intensive crops grown in America. As a mono crop it destroys soil. Corn relies on a ridiculous amount of petroleum in everything from the pesticides used to ensure a vigorous harvest, to the farm equipment for maintenance to the transport of the grain to the feed lot to the factory management of the cow. David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist who specializes in agriculture and energy remarks that “a typical steer will in effect consume 284 gallons of oil in his lifetime.”
The good news
Fortunately there’s an alternative in the slow food movement as practiced by such farmers as my nearby neighbor and friend, Joel Salatin. This movement is only growing. And one of the best products to come out of it is grass fed beef.
Not only is grass fed beef healthier for you by being leaner and infinitely more digestible, but purchasing it helps support farmers who are making more environmentally sound practices a part of their business model. And now for the cherry on top, grass fed cattle uses significantly less fossil fuel energy, making it a perfect option for the conservation lifestyle.
Some argue that grass fed beef is a luxury only for the elite because of how big the population is and how much beef we eat. But this is more about lifestyle and expectations than it is about rigid production realities.
In America today we consume on average about 64 pounds of beef per person per year. Though that represents a decline from the all time high in the mid-70s of about 89 pounds per person per year, it is still staggeringly high in comparison to the rest of human history and across the world today.We need protein, yes, but we don’t each need over a pound of beef a week. We’ve just grown used to that and therefore think it’s necessary and normal.
But there’s a cost to our energy sources, health and environment.
In order to move to a lifestyle in which we draw more of our protein from vegetables, legumes and nuts, Americans need to cut back on consumption of the wrong kinds of meats, cut consumption in general, and choose varieties that come from sustainable farmers instead.
Most large health food grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s now carry grass fed beef. Small retailers and butchers in many towns now carry it, too. And some Farmer’s Markets which allow for the selling of meats offer grass fed options on site. Then there is buying beef on the hoof. If you’re not sure where to find grass fed beef in your area, try this nationwide search page from Eat Wild.
Obviously any product that travels fewer miles to get from the supplier to you reduces the carbon footprint even further. Choose grass fed beef and other slow food options to up your health, lower your fuel use and help promote stronger local economies and a more thoughtful approach to living.
–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List