We love our grass-fed beef.
We’re thankful to live in a state where farms are abundant and it’s just an hour and a half to our choice of sustainably raised cattle. We’ve bought a few cow portions over the years and learned a few things.
Why choose grass fed beef (or pastured meat in general) over regular grocery store meat, whenever we have the chance? For one thing, with all the steps that our society has taken toward more efficient production of food, a lot has been lost, namely the nutrition. Veggies are bred to be bigger and prettier and grow faster, but that’s at the expense of some of the nutrients. Soils are more depleted, toxins abound from pesticides and other environmental concerns. We can’t avoid all of it, of course, but as a mother who takes her children’s health seriously I really do want to have the maximum nutritional impact to be in every bite the kids take. (As anyone who’s ever had a three year old knows, it might just be that one bite some days!)
Grassfed cows are definitely one of the powerhouses of nutrition. Being out in the sun gives them a chance to absorb Vitamin D, a fat soluble vitamin which is stored for our consumption. Animal fat is one of the best, if not the best source of this essential vitamin, which strengthens our immune system, preventing the flu and common cold, and has been linked to many other amazing benefits. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) is another benefit of pastured animals. It’s also found in the milk and milk products from grassfed cows. More about the nutritional profile differences between grass and corn fed beef are just a google search away if you’re interested.
The cost ends up being really similar or even better than regular grocery store meat. Now, to be honest, we try not to spend more than $2/lb on meat at the grocery store so if you are basing your calculations on what you’d actually buy (e.g. we wouldn’t be paying $7.99 and up for steaks, we’d just do without) it is more per pound to get the side of beef. However, if we were to buy the same quality beef at the store, it is upwards of $5 or even $10/lb – and that’s for ground. Instead we are paying a grocery store non-sale ground beef price for *all* cuts of meat- roasts, ground, cube steak, t bones, rib eye, tenderloin, ribs, etc.
Another side of the story is the sustainability aspect. I am not on a one-woman mission to save the planet or anything, but I’m concerned enough that when it’s a fairly easy choice (or maybe marginally more difficult) I am likely to choose the more sustainable route. Cows eating grass is a symbiotic relationship, as the cows return nutrients to the soil even as they graze. I also like to support local farmers, especially family businesses, to keep as much commerce as possible in my own community. And it’s easy to ask the farmer specific questions about how your food is raised, etc. which gives us a connection with our food and land that grocery store shopping just doesn’t do.
No one of these benefits on its own are particularly compelling to me, but in my view, it just goes to show that sometimes when we humans mess with something, try to take it apart and sort of emphasize one aspect over another (such as quantity and “efficiency” in the case of feed lot cattle), we miss out on the synergy that our Creator intended when He put things in place. I truly believe we were meant to eat plants and animals, for our nourishment and enjoyment, and that cows were meant to eat grass, and that we don’t even know all the things we don’t know about why.
So, we try to buy local, grass fed cows. One thing we know now is to ask how the cows are “finished” (what they’ve been eating for the last few weeks of their lives). We once got 1/4 cow that had been allowed to graze indiscriminately and had apparently gotten into onion grass shortly before the kill date. I think it was only our second or third order and I did not know to ask about that. And I’m really sensitive to the smell/taste of onion (I like it if it is supposed to be there but otherwise, yuck!) and it was so sad to me that I was suffering my way through meat I knew was better for me than its grocery store counterpart! Some cows are corn-finished to avoid the onion grass taste, but you can also get them hay finished. The most recent cow we ordered, I spoke to the wife about it, and she assured me that they keep a good eye on the onion grass and weed it out of the cows’ pastures. I have to say it has been the best meat we’ve ever had. I like to think it’s because it was a happy cow. 😀
Another good thing about ordering a portion of the cow is that you can also get (for the same total price, as they usually base the cost on hanging weight of the cow, not how much you end up getting) the organ meats, which are prized for their super nutritional value; the bones which are invaluable for creating nourishing soup stock, and the suet which renders into amazing white tallow that you can use for candles or soap, or making the best french fries ever. I feel like using as many parts of the animal as we can is not only traditional, but respectful of the animal who has given its life to feed us. Last night we ate beef heart chili which was really wonderful and not at all organ-y tasting.
I have to admit, though, I waited until the freezer was nearly bare before resigning myself to preparing the heart.
I guess beef tongue burritos are next on the agenda. 🙂