This is part 2 of Steroids for Dinner. I will be exploring alternatives to eating industrial meat products. However I will first explain a few things about the labels on meat products. They can be both confusing and misleading.

What’s What

100% Grass-fed

It means that the animals were fed a diet of grass and hay which is the natural diet for ruminants.There was no corn or soy in their diets. This is a safe label if you are looking for animals that were not raised on steroids, corn, soy, or other alternative foods. The cattle will be given very little antibiotics if any.

 

Grain-finished

Animals were fed grass and then fattened with corn and soy before being slaughtered. This label is confusing because there are no strict rules as to how much corn/soy was used or how early it starts to supplement the animal’s diet. I already mentioned this in an earlier post but since feeding ruminants corn/soy gives them an acidic stomach, I try to stay away from this label. If it says organic on the label they were fed no steroids and probably only a small amount of antibiotics.

Free range

The word clearly denotes freedom of movement. In any other country except the US this method of farming is defined by animals being able to roam outside with very low restrictions. The USDA, however, does not stipulate the amount of time or the quality of the outside space. Industrial organic farms have been able to work the system so well that most of the outside spaces they have for animals are a joke in the real farming communities.

After I stepped back outside into the fresh air, grateful to escape the humidity and ammonia, I waited by the chicken door to see if any of the birds would exercise that option and stroll down the little ramp to their grassy yard, which had been mowed recently. And waited. I finally had to conclude that Rosie the organic free-range chicken doesn’t really grok the whole free-range conceit. The space that has been provided for that purpose is, I realised, not unlike the typical American front lawn it resembles – it’s kind of a ritual of space, intended not so much for the use of the local residents as a symblic offering to the larger community. Seldom if ever stepped upon, the chicken-house lawn is scrupoulously maintained nevertheless, to honor an idea nobody wants to admit has by now become something of a joke, an empty pastoral conceit.
Michael Pollan, “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”, Page 173

Most of the outside spaces are tiny compared to the amount of animals living in close proximity inside the barns. These companies wont even open the doors to the yards for the first five to six weeks of a chicken’s life fearing infections. By the time they are allowed to go out none of these chickens show any interests in being outside.

However, organic free range does mean no antibiotics, no steroids, and only organic corn and soy. The animals eat better and they are not fed chemicals but this is still a far cry from the idyllic images the free range labels invoke.

Natural

It is a very broad term. Animals raised on CAFO’s will have the label natural and we all know there is nothing natural about they way they are being fed or raised. I would stay far, far away from this label.

Pastured

This mainly refers to animals raised freely on pastures. Chickens eat insects, bugs, grass and maybe some corn. Pigs will eat anything, but swine fed whey, vegetables, fruit, and coconut with the high privilege of rooting outside, like in this model, are the healthiest. Cows only eat grass. Pastured, as opposed to free range, actually means that the animals are raised outside. The farmers will use no antibiotics, no steroids, no soy (depending on the farm), and only some organic corn. This is a safe label. The difference between this label and the grass-fed label is that pastured animals get their grass by grazing outside, whereas “grass-fed” animals are, literally, fed grass in a feed lot.

Farmers who raise animals on pasture (being modest types) call themselves grass farmers, because  “all they do” is grow grass. The method is ingeniously simple: instead of taking feed to the animals the grass farmers let animals go to the feed. The most nutritious pasture is fast-growing, adolescent grass. When animals have trimmed the best of the new growth, farmers move them to fresh pasture. It’s called rotational grazing, and it works, says one farmer, because “grass don’t like to walk around, and cows do.

Nina Plank, Real Food,” Page 101

These grass farmers are giving back to the American populous real, nutritious food. It is a fast growing movement that depends on each one of us for support. These farmers are reclaiming back the authority they once had in their communities. We no longer have to take the trip to the supermarket that supplies us with beef infested with antibiotics, E coli, and steroids. We have local grass farmers that are more than willing to share with us the knowledge they accrued, and pridefully present us with the fruit of their labor – meat products with no deadly viruses in them.

E.Coli is much feared and misunderstood. Large numbers of the bacteria dwell in the colons of healthy cows and humans, where they are quite harmless. Contamination in the slaughterhouse (usually from fecal matter) is how E.Coli find its way into food. If we do eat E.coli, our stomach acid usually kills it. But a new, dangerous form, E.coli O157, has evolved in the unnaturally acidic gut of grain-fed cattle. Highly resistant to acid, it can survive in our stomachs, so it’s more likely to make us sick. E.Coli O157 is not found in grass-fed cattle. Nina Plank, Real Food, Page 102

While I have explained how some labels are safer than others, everyone should always pay close attention to the the meat products they purchase. Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions even at the risk of being seen as picky, snobby, or annoying. Remember it is is your health on the line, not theirs!

Above all, do not be afraid to subject your farmer to the same level of scrutiny that you would your auto-mechanic, you pediatrician, or you baby-sitter. How many of us make judgement calls based on the first impression or a bit of basic questioning? As a culture, we’ve been taught that this is responsible buyer behavior in every sector of business except the food sector. In that sector, we are supposed to blindly believe every public relations statement issued by the government or the food industry and not question. Joe Salatin, “Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, Page 6

So when it comes to meat products, we have a few choices

One

Turn a blind eye to all the health warnings and animal cruelty information and risk eating the conventional meat. I have elaborated on the dangers of eating conventional meat products in my previous post.

Two

Choose organic labels recommended by the USDA. The animals are indeed raised with no steroids and very little antibiotics if any. There is no blood and fat from other animals in their feed and they eat organic corn and soy. Still they are treated inhumanely. While organic meat products are better than conventional they still lack significant zoo-nutrients and vitamins.

Three

Choose “beyond organic”. This is one of the alternative choices I mentioned at the end of my previous post. This means choosing local grass farmers and local butchers who sell local meat products.
One of the pioneers of the grass farming movement is Joel Salatin, a farmer from the Mid-West. If you want to learn more about this fascinating movement, visit his website here: http://www.polyfacefarms.com/.

A born sloganeer, Salatin calls his product salad bar beef. He knows the term makes you do a double take. It’s the cattle of course, who eat at the salad bar, a mix of fescue, orchard grass, red clover, bluegrass- whatever grows in Swoope, Virginia. Salatin’s definition of salad bar beef, however, goes well beyond grazing. Salad bar beef is never fed any grain, corn, soybeans, antibiotics or hormones. It’s lean, tender and tasty – never bland or too gamey. It’s nutritionally superior to beef fattened on grain, with more omega-3 fats, beta-carotene, and Vitamin E. It’s seasonal, too. Industrial beef is bred year-round, but on Salatin’s farm, calves are born in late spring, amid the dandelions, as he likes to say – never in icy January. Nina Plank,”Real Food”, Page 100

This beef also contains alpha-lipoic acid which is an anti-oxidant that lowers blood sugar and improves sensitivity to insulin. A piece of steak of this quality will not raise your cholesterol levels nor bombard you immune system with carcinogens.

The animals living on the grass farms and regular farms are treated humanely and given the freedom of movement and life. The farmers give their animals and the environment they raise them in the respect they deserve for being the providers of life’s sustenance.

By the end of the season Salatin’s grasses will have been transformed by his animals into some 40,000 pounds beef, 30,000 pounds of pork, 10,000 broilers, 1,200 turkeys, 1,000 rabbits, and 35,000 dozen eggs. This is an astounding cornucopia of food to draw from a hundred acres of pasture, yet what is perhaps still more astounding is the fact that will be in no way diminished by the process – in fact, it will be the better for it, lusher, more fertile, even springier underfoot (this thanks to the earthworm traffic). Salatin’s audacious bet is that feeding ourselves from nature need not be a zero-sum proposition, one in which if there is more for us at the end of the season then there must be less for nature – less topsoil, less fertility, less life. Michael Pollan,  The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Page 127

That is what attracts me to grass farmers more than regular farmers. The idea that we can share with the world we live in without destroying it. A piece of steak ought not cost us acres of dead soil and burnt grass. Quite the opposite – it should rejuvenate it!

While I will always choose a local farmer’s produce vs. conventional or big organic companies,  if there is a grass farmer in the area I would definitely try to support his rotational system. It  is the only way we can maintain a safe environment for ourselves and for you future children.

Our Back Yard in Moldova

Four

Of course even more ideal would be to raise our own animals the way people used to do for centuries. More and more people these days opt for this option. It is a safe way to ensure that your animals are being fed good quality food and that they have a good quality of life.

I grew up on a small farm in Eastern  Europe. We raised chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, pigs, goats, and cows. It was a wonderful experience for me to learn from an early age the sacred cycle of life. If I grew attached to any of my animals my parents would treat them as my pets and they died of an old age. Of course there were some few exceptions that I had to abide by but our farm was very much oriented around our animals. None of our foul were in cages. We had a huge pasture where we and all of our neighbors allowed the animals to roam free. In the evenings they all came home to the right place. My dad would scratch the pigs behind their ears everyday, I would snuggle next to our milking cow in the evenings and pet her, our chickens would sit around our feet in the summer evening while we had dinners on the porch.
It was not until I came to the U.S. that I learned that there are industrial farms where chicken’s beaks are cut to prevent pecking, pigs’s tails get snipped without anesthesia, and cows are being fed steroids and chicken feces.

If you have the space to, grow a garden and raise some animals. It is the best way to teach your children personal responsibility, compassion, hard work, and be assured your family is eating good quality food. Joel Salatin is a great resource for beginner farmers. He has written more than six books about his own struggles on his farm and what has learnt through it.

However if you don’t have the space choosing a local farmer to get your meat from can also be a wonderful experience. You can even go see the animals every week with your kids and share with them where their food comes from.

Five

Another option is hunting. Of course one would have to make sure that the animals one chooses to hunt are in excess. Unfortunately this option cannot be a viable option for all of our meat products but it can still be an addition. Every community has a passionate hunter, who sometimes might hunt more than his family needs. You can always check in to see if he would be interested in selling some of his kill. Wild meat is gamy but it is also what our ancestors used to eat before the advent of agriculture. It is unadulterated meat grown in the wild full of antioxidants, zoo-nutrients, and vitamins. The life and the end of a wild animal is a lot happier than what domesticated animals experience in CAFOs and abattoirs.

The industrialization – and brutalization – of animals in America is a relatively new, evitable, and local phenomenon: No other country raises and slaughters its food animals quite as intently or as brutally as we do. No other people in history has lived at quite so great a remove from animals they eat. Were the walls of our meat industry to become transparent, literally or even figuratively, we would not long continue to raise, kill, and eat animals they way we do. Tail docking and sow crates and beak clipping would disappear overnight, and the days of slaughtering four hundred head of cattle an hour would promptly come to an end- for who would stand the sight? Yes, meat wold get more expensive. We’d probably eat less of it, too, when we did eat animals we’d eat them with the consciousness, ceremony, and respect they deserve.
Michael Pollan, “The Ominovore’s Dilemma”, page 333

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