Thursday, January 28, 2010

Switching to Grass Fed Beef

Over the last two years, my family finally began to make a switch from eating conventionally meat products to grass fed beef, free range chicken, and wild caught fish (along with game meats which had been a part of our diet for a while). As part of an eleven year journey, this was one of the few areas we had not yet committed to making a total change. Not because we didn't like these products, but because of the cost. Let's face it. This isn't cheap stuff we're talking about. If it were, we'd all have probably switched ages ago!

Photo: churl

I think the last concern for cost gave way when my husband and I watched the Future of Food and Food, Inc. Any remaining doubt quickly vanished. Although I knew most of the facts presented in the movies prior to viewing them, it's easy to deny something that is just a fleeting thought on occasion. After all, it couldn't really be that bad, could it? Now that I've seen it? Well, that certainly made it more real. And I did learn some new stuff as well.

Yes, the movie producers probably sensationalized some portions of the documentary, but any one point was just about enough to seal the deal for me. The issues that put me over the top? The fact that cows are designed by God to feed on grass. This keeps their stomach's acidity at a natural level while corn raises the acid level and creates issues for the cattle much like heart burn for us. A rumen with the proper pH level is healthy and can better fight intruding bad bacteria, but when fed a grain diet, mostly genetically modified corn, their natural abilities to fight off certain bacteria are destroyed and they develop diseases which they wouldn't have it they were eating grass. (Hmmm... ever hear of a beef recall because of e. coli?) Because they develop things like e. coli meat producers can only continue to supply us with grain fed beef with the use of lots of antibiotics. I wonder when these antibiotics will no longer work? What will happen to our beef supply then? Certainly I don't want to eat beef with e.coli, but would this even have been necessary if they were fed grass instead? Doubtfully.

And then there is Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, otherwise known as Mad Cow Disease. Animals fed another animal by-product run the risk of contracting BSE. Those fed grass aren't eating an animal by-product so their risk is zero. I like that statistic.

Interesting Facts:

 Did you know that grass fed beef is higher in beta-carotene (vitamin A)?

• Did you know that grass fed beef is lower in saturated fats?

• Did you know that cattle fed a diet rich in omega-3 grasses have meat that is higher in omega-3 fats?

• Did you know that grass fed beef is 4 times higher in Vitamin E than grain fed beef?

When Buying Grass Fed Beef:

• Organic does not mean grass fed! And grass fed, does not mean organic.

• Organic could mean it was fed grain products, but must be non-genetically modified and organic.

• You can find beef that is both organic AND grass fed is you wish.

• Grass fed beef will not have as much fat throughout that will marble the meat.

• It has a little bit different taste and is very lean!

• Marinating grass fed beef with an acidic item such as lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, wine, etc. You can add other ingredients as well, but an acidic marinade will help break down the lean muscle tissue.

•Other ways to make it tender include pounding with a meat mallet, piercing it with a fork or other sharp instrument, and using a vacuum sealed container along with your marinade.

It is important to know something about your rancher when buying beef because there are other things to consider, like what part of the cow are they using to make ground beef, are they breeding and raising their own cattle from birth, as well as other practices. Perhaps you can't know everything, but it is a good idea to try to get as much information as you can. All the better if you can visit their operation and see first hand happy cows.

Tips for Switching To Grass Fed Beef:

 Make some calls to your grocer, do some internet research, talk to vendors at the farmers market, or ask friends where they get their grass fed beef. You can visit Eat Wild for a list of ranchers by state that raise pastured animals.

• To keep within your budget, consider limiting beef to one or two nights a week. The rest of the week, rotate between chicken, fish, venison (if you can get it), and vegetarian meals.

• Eat smaller portions. Think of it as another "side dish" if necessary rather than the bulk of the meal.

• Get to know if and when your beef source has sales. Once I was able to get a lot of beef at half price because the vacuum seal on the bags wasn't perfectly air tight. The meat had always remained frozen and I trusted my source. Needless to say, I stocked up!

• If you are just starting your food journey, don't start with the beef. Begin with making a switch to whole grains, eliminating high fructose corn sugar, or even sugar! These less expensive changes will encourage you to go forward with more changes.

• If you are truly ready for a change to grass fed beef, make a family commitment that when eating at home, you'll stick to the plan even when it gets tough!

• Switch just one meat product for a couple of months. Later switch to another, such as chicken, and then even later, to wild caught fish. This will allow your budget to change gradually.

Be sure to comment below with any other tips you can share for other readers! This food journey is best walked with lots of encouragement from friends!


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