Grass-fed beef is a popular phrase, appearing more and more frequently on organic forums, healthy lifestyle blogs, and product packaging.
What does it mean, and how does it differ from conventional beef?
What is grass-fed beef?
First and foremost, “grass-fed”, “free range”, and “organic” are not interchangeable terms. They all mean different things. Grass-fed means the animal was raised on grass - which can include being raised on pasture (“free range” can sometimes mean only roaming indoors) and being raised organically (no growth hormones, antibiotics, GMOs, non-organic feed, etcetera) Grass-fed beef eat the natural diet of ruminants: grasses, red clover, rushes, and sedges such as papyrus. 100% grass-fed beef means after consuming milk as a calf, the animals go on to consume grass from start to finish, without being grain-finished to quickly gain weight and produce the prized marbling before slaughter.
Why eat grass-fed beef?
For health benefits: Meat from grass-fed beef, lamb, and goats, compared to grain-fed, has less saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. It contains more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and multiple healthy fats, such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Grass-fed beef also contains the optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, which are fatty acids essential for heart health, fighting inflammation, improving sleep, and crucial for brain development and numerous other factors, which we’ll cover in a separate article. Source
(Searles, SK et al, "Vitamin E, Vitamin A, and Carotene Contents of Alberta Butter." Journal of Dairy Science, 53(2) 150-154.)
For animal welfare: When you support small-scale grass farmers, you’re supporting farmers who nurture their herds with attention and care, farmers who rotate their crops and pastures, farmers who are dedicated to the welfare of the animals they raise. Grass-fed animals roam free as they have evolved to, drink fresh water, and are never crowded. They are not confined, stressed, abused, sick, or suffering. They stay nourished and healthy, (unlike CAFOs - Confined Animal Feedlot Operations), which reduces or completely eliminates health problems and diseases.
For the environment: As well as the aforementioned crop and pasture rotation, the natural sugars in a grass-fed cow’s diet utilizes proteins more efficiently. As a result, the beef are producing less methane in that process. Manure is spread evenly - nourishing the earth and ensuring next year’s pasture growth. Biodynamic and sustainable farming practices mean nothing goes to waste and nothing is created in excess, thus working in harmony with nature.
(Source: Institute for Environmental Research and Education)
How do I cook grass-fed beef?
Grass-fed beef has a leaner and a much stronger muscle than their fattier, grain-fed counterparts. Think ‘slow and low’ when cooking, not fast and on high heat. Liquids and crock pots are your friend. When cooking steaks, cook one grade lower than you wish, and let it rest, covered, which will bring it to medium rare. Recipe page coming soon!
How do I afford grass-fed beef?
Grass-fed beef can be incredibly affordable. Buying in bulk, coordinating a group of friends or colleagues for a cow-share, and familiarizing yourself with more economical cuts of beef such as stewing beef, ribs, brisket, chuck, neck, and cheek.
Think quality, not quantity. Meat twice a week is more than enough. Prioritize your meals! Our health is all we have at the end of the day.
Why don’t all farmers raise grass-fed beef?
Some farmers may believe there is no demand and therefore no profit in raising grass-fed beef. There are many other reasons, such as:
- Lack of skill or training in healthy soil and pasture management, or they do not have the land for it
- Economic difficulties mean not many ranchers and farmers can afford to invest in the longer wait and smaller size of grass-fed beef
- Currently own a breed of bovine not suitable for grass-feeding
Remember, farmers work incredibly hard, from 9 to 16 hours a day, and 7 days a week. They perform this labour of love not just to feed cities, but their own families, and YOU.
01.06.2018 K. Dann-Alwan