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organic living journey beef

The following is part of an Organic Journey Guest Post Series written by Amy, a long time helper behind the scenes of Southern Savers.

Before we dive into the world of beef, I have some exciting baby steps to report.  I feel a bit like my eight year old who successfully jumped off of the diving board for the first time.  Underneath that excitement though, is this one truth that I want to impart over and over again; if I can do this, so can you.  So can anyone.  Because remember where I came from, the land where deluxe macaroni and cheese from a box was a fancy meal.  Well, two weeks ago I stockpiled the organic chicken from Whole Foods when it was on an amazing sale.  With a freezer full of whole chickens, I was committed to learning to cook a whole chicken, and I did it (insert big, goofy, proud grin).  I handled a whole raw chicken without fainting or completely gagging out.  And y’all, it was good.  My children ate with glee.  The leftovers produced chicken salad that was out of this world.  I jumped off of the diving board, and I lived to tell.

The next baby step is less remarkable, but worth sharing nonetheless.  We are learning to cook with our cast iron skillet and are really liking it!  This recipe led to the chicken that everyone enjoyed last night (no small feat).  We used this recipe for searing steak in butter and then roasting it in the oven and it honestly was one of the best steaks I have ever put in my mouth.  As we ate our steak (from the cow we purchased) with our organic potatoes, organic green beans, and compound butter (made with fresh herbs I am growing and organic butter), I had a moment.  These baby steps are adding up.  We have come a long way from deluxe macaroni and cheese.  So take heart!  Your baby steps count.  They matter and they are making a difference in your family’s health.  Now on to cows.

In the interest of full disclosure, this is a baby step we’ve already taken as a family.  After watching enough documentaries on our food, we switched over to grass-fed beef about a year ago.  That said, I couldn’t articulate clearly why we made the switch.  In the next post or so, I want us to look at what the difference is between conventional beef, organic, and even grass-fed.  I want to explore why any normal family would buy a cow and how to begin that process.  First, let’s look at the problems with conventional beef.

A few hours into researching this, I was just plain mad and frustrated.  This is one broken system we have.  Without really trying, I found 8 problems with our beef.  EIGHT.  It’s too much to mentally digest all at once.  So let’s look at the first four today.

You are what you eat.

Apparently, all cows get to start out the first six months of their lives eating grass, but then there’s a dramatic shift.  If the cow is destined for your local grocery store, its diet is going to change from grass and hay to corn, soy, and grain.  Therein lie some real problems.  First off, the bulk (if not all) of grain and corn going to feedlots is genetically modified.  So if we are what we eat, then those GMO’d substances are going to affect us.  Also, cows weren’t meant to eat corn and grain.  Their digestive systems can’t properly process it and, as a result, there are a host of issues that have to be dealt with and medicated.

Now if you are like me, this question might pop into your head: if they aren’t designed to eat this stuff and can’t digest it properly, why is that what they are being fed?  There are a few obvious answers.  Corn is cheap.  It cost less to buy corn than it does to produce it because the US government subsidizes corn.  Corn doesn’t take as much room to store as hay which is helpful on feedlots where you are feeding literally thousands of animals.  And one more big reason, a corn diet packs the pounds on cows fast.  One source said that by feeding a cow this corn based diet, they are ready to be slaughtered a year faster than a cow foraging on grass.  All of this results in less cost for the farmer in production so that we can buy meat at a lower price.

With this diet and lifestyle, antibiotics are a necessity.

We have been seeing over and over in this series how the overuse of antibiotics given to our animals is resulting in antibiotic resistance for us.  Here’s where it gets interesting.  A side effect of giving animals antibiotics is that it makes them bigger faster.  No one is quite sure why, but it is a side effect.  If you were to ask any of these feedlot managers why they are giving the cows antibiotics, they could spin it quite easily.  They are giving it to help sick cows.  The part that gets left out is that the cows are sick because of their living conditions (there is manure everywhere) and because of their inability to properly digest the food they are being fed.  Michael Pollan says it well in this insightful interview, “You could not crowd animals into these feedlots or feed them this highly concentrated ration without giving them antibiotics.  But the antibiotics, in turn, lead to resistance; resistant microbes that then come and infect us.”

Obese cows are full of the wrong kind of fat.

I grew up visiting my Granddaddy’s farm in Alabama.  I remember sitting on the front porch watching the cows eat grass.  After spending a few minutes looking through images of cows from feedlots, what strikes me is how unhealthy they look.  Now, I know that isn’t hard and fast scientific data, but they just look too fat.  Study after study shows that conventionally raised cows are higher in fat content than grass fed cows.  Not only that, but they are higher in the fats that are bad for our bodies.

To grow these cows, you need oil and lots of it.

When reading the aforementioned Pollan interview, I saw this quote and found it fascinating,  “…working with an economist at Cornell … I wanted to figure out how much oil it took to grow my cow to slaughter with. It turns out it’s about 100 gallons of oil to grow a single animal. So there’s a cost that you’re not seeing. It’s the cost of the oil; it’s the cost of having a military to defend the Gulf. It’s all there.”  Cheap meat comes with a myriad of costs.

So why do we do this?  We are thinking about the economy and that alone.  We are not thinking about what is better for the earth or about what is better for our health.  I have dear friends who don’t want to read what I’m writing because they aren’t ready to deal with this information and I totally understand where they are coming from.  There is a time and place for each baby step for each person.  It is not our job to force anybody to make changes before they are ready.  I think what I’m starting to see more and more of, though, is that closing our eyes and humming loudly to avoid what we don’t want to see is going to cost us and our children significantly.  The cost will be far more significant than the dollar or two difference per pound of beef.

Next week, we are going to look at part two of the problems with conventional meat.  Hang with me because there is a light at the end of this tunnel and I think we will all be happier to see it when we’ve truly looked at the darkness head on.

    • Meme007

      THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS RESEARCH!

      Yes, I know that all caps is yelling. I meant every word of it. As a family, we have watched so many documentaries on these subjects but this article is so precise and says it so simply. That shows a level of intelligence superior to the “geniuses”. Not to say you’re not a genius. LOL

      Thank you for reminding us that we all have to start with baby steps.

      This week I am having a real struggle with getting my list and coupons together. I feel relieved that I can step back from all the freebies and feed the family more healthy foods without the “couponing” guilt.

      Thanks again.

      • amysanders

        You just said that i’m superior to geniuses! I’ll take it!! If only I could convince my kiddos of my intellectual prowess. My 8 year old was convinced today that I was telling her the wrong way to spell “our”. Go figure! Seriously though, I’m grateful that you are encouraged and grateful that you can walk away from the guilt!

    • Angie Davis

      another great post! i love that i have heard a personal account how you guys struggle, as we all do, with finances, and yet you are still choosing to educate yourself and make these steps!

      • amysanders

        it helps that its my job. :) keeps me motivated when i’d be quite content to rest on what we’ve already accomplished. thanks though, friend. glad to be in it with you. did you guys ever find a cow?

    • Karen

      Thank you Jenny and Amy!

      Corn, is loaded with natural sugar. When you have high blood sugar, quess what item you are told not to eat….you guessed right, CORN.

    • O.k, o.k, I’ve read it. Now get to part II so I know where and how to buy the good ribeye from. ;-) I don’t even need to read the other 4 reasons(but I’m eagerly awaiting them!) Seriously, thanks again for researching for us and educating us on these food truths. Thank you for encouraging us on our food journeys and noticing our baby steps.

    • mrsd

      Thanks Jenny for all the posts about the food system. I think I watched all the same documentaries you did. I stopped eating meat except occasionally wild caught sustainable seafood and hubby eats that or organic poultry. Mostly we eat vegetarian now.

    • aatuten

      Thanks so much for posting your organic living journey posts. After reading the book skinny bitch, and watching movies like food inc, I have researched and read many books to learn about the foods that I should put into my body. I even gave up meat for about a year, then realized that for me, meat is necessary. However, I do not eat meat the way that I once did. My only meat sources are fish and chicken, and I am very picky about the brands that I buy and where I buy them. I do not have alot of places where I live to buy organic produce and free range meats, but I refuse to buy otherwise. The thing is, if people educate themselves about how corrupt the USDA and FDA really is, then they too will refuse to buy produce and meat that is not organic and free range. If people refuse to buy these things and opt for healthier, more responsible means, then the government has no choice but to regulate practices in the food industry. This stimulates demand for organic produce and free range meats. The more supply there is, the less it costs. The USDA and FDA doesn’t have our best interests in mind, it’s a corporation, and a powerful one at that as it’s representatives are made up of political powerhouses. If we demand this, It will happen. Think back when chickens were being pumped full of steroids and antibiotics, people realized how bad it was and now it’s illegal to inject them. We as a society changed the way the meat industry practiced because we were outraged. The government had no choice but to comply because people lose faith in their government over things like this. I realize that chickens are still fed antibiotics but most people don’t. The government is trying to keep us in the dark and I feel that more and more people are educating themselves on this. I could go on and on. I really just want to say thank you for spreading your research and educating people. I dream of the day when I can walk into the supermarket and not have to go to a “special section” that costs twice as much.

      • amysanders

        i share your dream!

    • sabst21

      THANK YOU!!!!! For bringing this to light for everyone. I try in vain to explain this to people because they just don’t want to hear it. So thank you.

      • amysanders

        we have to wait until they are ready to hear. hard, isn’t it?

    • Missy

      Thanks for the great article. Somehow I missed that organic chicken was on sale at Whole Foods last week. :(

      • BD

        Publix has their organic Greenwise chicken roasters at the same $1.99/lb this week! Plus they have $5 off $40 Q in last week’s paper.

        • amysanders

          is it organic or just greenwise?

    • allison

      Thank you, Amy!
      We started avoiding corn in foods because my son was allergic to it. Then, a pharmacist told us about corn fed cows, which was not good for my son.
      My hat is off to you for buying a whole chicken and a cow from the farm. I think that is a much better way to go. Your steak sounds divine.
      We eat halal meat. The main difference between halal and store bought is that the animal must be treated in a humane way because Muhammad, pbuh, told his followers to do that. And, when the cow is killed, there must be a prayer said.
      Whenever I cooked this halal meat for Christian family or friends, they were saying, “Where did you get this meat?” “I’ve never had meat like this in my whole life” and things like that. My brother-in-law worked in a butcher shop and even he couldn’t believe it. To sum it up, it tastes clean.
      So, if it is easy for you, try halal meat.
      We haven’t always been able to afford halal meat and I finally told my husband, “No more slimy chemicalized meat. I just want halal.”

    • couponchick229

      I look forward to this weekly post. My family and I have taken baby steps into the land of organic healthy living and I’m loving it. We only buy grass feed meats at our local farmers market. As previously mentioned in one of the comments most people don’t want to hear the truth about our food industry, but is refreshing to read this article/comments and know that I’m not in this alone. Thank You for the awesome weekly post.

    • Leah

      Thank you, Amy. I love your series. Our family has been taking baby steps over the past two years and we’ve come a long way! I found a great farm in the next state that raises grass-fed, free-range cows. I order cooler full of beef from them three times a year. I have noticed such a huge difference eating their beef. It tastes better and cleaner. I no longer feel like my digestive system is working hard for hours and hours to digest….it digests so much better. I don’t order beef anymore when we go out to eat because it just doesn’t taste that good to me now. I also get about half of my chicken as well as ground turkey from them. Yes, it’s more expensive per pound, but I cut down on the meat I use in recipes, cook more vegetarian dinners, and coupon for cleaning items, health & beauty, etc. We are still spending less on food than when I was not couponing, and we are eating a LOT of organic produce, plus some organic dairy. It’s awesome that eating healthier foods can be so affordable!

      • amysanders

        i can tell a huge difference with my digestive too! i hadn’t thought about it until you mentioned it! and i’m right there with you…i’m finding that it doesn’t have to break my budget to eat like this which is so stinkin’ encouraging!

        • Melanie Z.

          I still need more help in the budgeting dept. I feel like that’s our biggest barrier right now. :( Wanna come hang out w/ me one weekend?? Love your posts, though! Saving glass jars that other items come in (like preserves, pickles, etc.) has been revolutionary for me!

          • amysanders

            if this is my mel z, then i’d love to! it might be more helpful for you to come here though. :)

    • BD

      We are getting ready to pick up our first grass-fed cow (ordered 6 weeks ago) from a local farmer tomorrow! We are so excited to try it! Are there any special cooking tips I need to know? Thanks for your articles — they have helped us make the switch to organic….and we feel much better for it!

      • TheChapLeigh

        I can tell you that grilling a grass-fed ribeye is NOT the same as grilling conventional. My hubby is the grill-master around here, so I cannot give you specifics… but I can tell you it’s taken him a little while to get that down to where he hasn’t dried it out.

        I did a quick search on eat wild dot org & found “Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook”. My husband also ordered “Great Meat Cookbook” and “Local Flavors” but i have not yet really searched through those… I’m still “sticking to the basics” of a handful of meals to get the food on the table. I did try a Thai Curry Chicken recipe last week… one recipe at a time, I’m getting there ;)

        I can tell you that I sear my roasts before crock-potting them with veggies & either pork, beef or chicken stock that I’d previously made & froze. These usually (in my kitchen) turn into very tender soups. Other than that, I haven’t branched out too much with the beef.

      • amysanders

        i heard all kinds of stories about how different it was to cook grass-fed beef, but honestly, i haven’t noticed much of a difference. one thing i have heard that is universally true is that you should let your meat sit out 30 min-1 hour before you grill it. i think it might depend on the cow. :)

      • katkoupon

        Grass-fed meat is leaner than grain-fed and will cook about 30% quicker. Sometimes I have to add a little fat when browning my hamburger meat because it’s that lean. In my experience, grass-fed meat is more forgiving. I know I’ve overcooked some roasts, but they still come out so tender! I also read on the US Wellness Meat website to “Reduce the temperature of your grain-fed beef recipe by 50 degrees.” I absolutely love grass-fed beef and hope you do as well!

      • katkoupon

        Grass-fed meat is leaner than grain-fed and will cook about 30% quicker. Sometimes I have to add a little fat when browning my hamburger meat because it’s that lean. In my experience, grass-fed meat is more forgiving. I know I’ve overcooked some roasts, but they still come out so tender! I also read on the US Wellness Meat website to “Reduce the temperature of your grain-fed beef recipe by 50 degrees.” I absolutely love grass-fed beef and hope you do as well!

    • TheChapLeigh

      Well- written! Thank you for your synopsis of all this, in a way that can be quickly read & communicated. Amy, I LOVE that people are learning so much with your posts!! And I love all the encouragement that you are giving, because it is HARD to make big, lasting changes. It’s HARD. But it is definately DO-ABLE !! :) I’ve been at this for a few years now, and I feel like we are still SOOOO much in the learning curve on things… but then I realize (usually when I can pull together a meal like you described!) that bit by bit, each baby step has amounted to something MUCH BIGGER!! congratulations on your progress, and to everyone else, KEEP IT UP!! :)

      • amysanders

        thanks. so much.

    • Tricia

      I live in the Atlanta area…where did you buy your cow? I am planning to order one in the near future.

      • amysanders

        i’m on the hunt for a new place. :) eatwild . com has a good list to check out. if you find somewhere wonderful, please share!!

    • guest

      Sorry- as a longtime cattle producer with an Animal Science degree, I didn’t agree with a lot of this post.

      • amysanders

        don’t be sorry! i’d love to learn from what you know. i’m just trying to gather information for reputable sources to make informed decisions. i by no means know it all or even close to it. i would love to learn from you. truly.