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organic living journey grass fed 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.

Our family has been knocked out for the last week with the awful stomach bug.  This thing was just plain evil, but we are on the upswing now.  It made me realize that I don’t have a great contingency plan for eating healthy when we are all down for the count.  Crackers and applesauce were key components of our diet and I’ve got to find a way to get electrolytes without drinking sports drinks.  Suggestions, anyone?

But now, after two weeks of exploring what some of the potential problems are with conventional beef, let’s look at some alternatives.  Is there a difference between grass-fed and organic beef?  Are there any health benefits to eating grass-fed beef as opposed to corn-fed?

Organic Beef

If you buy organic beef, what are you getting exactly?  The USDA requires these things in order for beef to be organic.  First, cows that are raised for beef (as opposed to dairy cows), must be treated under these regulations from the last third of their time in the womb.  Their feed must be be free of pesticides and genetically modified substances.  The cows may not be given antibiotics or hormones.  All of that is pretty similar to chickens, but here is where it changes a bit.  According to the USDA, “Ruminants must be out on pasture for the entire grazing season, but for not less than 120 days. These animals must also receive at least 30 percent of their feed, or dry matter intake (DMI), from pasture.”  I had thought that organic beef did not guarantee that the cows were truly grass-fed, but from this requirement, we know that they are at least getting 30% of their nutrition from grass.

Grass-Fed Beef

When I was looking into buying my first butchered cow (to be split between several families), I was clueless as to why people kept talking about making sure that the cow was grass-fed.  Weren’t all cows fed grass?  And if not, what was the problem with them eating grains?  Proponents of feeding cows grass and hay (which is dried grass) say that this is the diet native to cows.  Others say that up north supplementing a cow’s diet with some grain is helpful to fatten the cows up a bit to handle the cold.  What I keep reading over and over again, though, is that if cows are given a choice they will go for the grass over the corn and grains.  And honestly, it is pretty remarkable how their digestive systems work.  The FDA has an article on how cow’s digest food and, while I didn’t fully grasp all of it (needing that science degree again!), I can greatly respect cows’ ability to get the nutrients that they need to grow and thrive from grass.  Eat Wild shares about the importance of the kinds of grasses that the cows eat here:

“…in order for grass-fed beef to be succulent and tender, the cattle need to forage on high-quality grasses and legumes, especially in the months prior to slaughter. Providing this nutritious and natural diet requires healthy soil and careful pasture management so that the plants are maintained at an optimal stage of growth. Because high-quality pasture is the key to high-quality animal products, many pasture-based ranchers refer to themselves as ‘grassfarmers’ rather than ‘ranchers.’  They raise great grass; the animals do all the rest.”

Not only do cows purportedly like grass better, but their meat is much healthier than their feedlot counterparts.  Eat Wild shares, “meat from grass-fed beef, bison, lamb and goats has less total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. It also has more vitamin E, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and a number of health-promoting fats, including omega-3 fatty acids and ‘conjugated linoleic acid,’ or CLA.”  I can testify to this.  Our grass-fed beef is incredibly lean which I notice especially when cooking ground beef.  There is rarely any fat to drain when I’m done browning it.

For some people, this leaner meat is a negative.  They want their meat fatty because it is more flavorful.  I remember the first few months of cooking with our grass-fed beef it just smelled different to me.  Many people say that it tastes different too; that it has a gamier taste.  I think two things factor in here.  One, there is a natural adjustment.  Just like moving from high fructose corn syrup laden pancake syrup to maple syrup takes a while to adjust, so can going from conventional beef to grass-fed beef.  The second thing depends a great deal on how the cow is raised.  Different cows eating different grasses are going to taste different.  If you are thinking of making the switch and are worried about not liking the way it tastes, maybe start with a smaller portion of meat instead of buying part of a cow.  If you don’t like it, try a different farm.  I think there is hope for everyone, though.  We just have to let our taste buds adjust.

Yes, this is more expensive than conventional beef.  However, White Oak Pastures explains the difference in price well, “We do not use hormone implants, confinement feeding, antibiotics, or high carbohydrate feeds. These are tools that science has developed to take costs out of producing beef. When a farmer ceases to use these cost reduction tools, the production costs are added back.”  These farmers have to make a living, and thus, the cost for us rises.  I think it’s helpful to remember there is cost associated with every choice.

Remember too, not all grass-fed beef is created equal.  You still have to ask good questions about everything from pesticide use to antibiotics given.  Hopefully you now have a good idea of what kind of beef you will want to purchase (if any!)  Next week, we are going to talk about how to buy a cow as it is definitely the cheapest way to get grass-fed beef.

    • In the Atlanta area, Publix has one pound packs of grass fed ground beef from White Oak Farms in south GA – our family doesn’t like the taste of ‘normal’ ground beef anymore since we switched to the White Oak kind. It’s more expensive but we didn’t eat much beef anyway, next time you’re feeling like trying something new get a pack, it tastes so much better. They have sales pretty often for under $7 a pound.

    • katkoupon

      Coconut water is a great natural source of electrolytes. Straight from the coconut is best, but it’s probably hard for most of us to get our hands on fresh coconuts. There are a lot of shelf-stable coconut waters out now, but be sure to check the ingredients as some have a lot of added sugars.

      • amysanders

        thanks so much! i knew one of you brilliant peeps would have a solution. :) (and can you imagine being in the trenches of the stomach bug cracking open coconuts to get the water out?? when i hit that point, i will know that i have arrived) :)

        • TheChapLeigh

          ROLLING on the floor laughing!!!!! hahahahahaha!! Yep, sometimes ya just gotta do what ya gotta do!! But i did like the suggestions others had above about the 100 Days of Real Food website… I will store that one away! My daughter refused to have anything to do with the chicken broth… sigh… if she only knew the lengths to which that chicken broth was made, LOL!

          PS — we are indeed moving!!! Thanks for the prayers, Amy, I KNOW they were heard!!

          • amysanders

            so fun!!! so are you going to have your dream farm??

    • katkoupon

      I didn’t know about the 120 day grazing requirement either. Makes me feel a little better about the organic beef. I pick up organic beef at Costco ($16.99 for 4 lbs) when running low on my grass-fed. We’ve been eating grass-fed for almost a year now, from the same two farmers, and we’ve noticed that some batches have a stronger “grassy” flavor than others. Thinking it may depend on the season as well???

      • amysanders

        good point about the seasons. i’ll check into that!

        • TheChapLeigh

          It’s not only the seasons, but what forage the cattle have available to eat. Every farm differs, so you truly have to taste various farmers’ beef. You want to purchase beef from farms with diverse forage, so a good question to ask the farm is what grasses the cattle have access to.

          PS. I’m just getting to this now because we somehow caught that evil virus too…. but in the midst of traveling over 15 hours!!!! Imagine a 3 year old puking repeatedly while bucked into her carseat… it was an art to handle that mess (along with the “other” end mess) in a car trip without it contaminating the car and everyone in it!! Thankfully, only the hubster caught it, and the rest of us have been healthy. It has taken a full week for my daughter to recover!!!!

          • amysanders

            that sounds evil. truly evil. i am so so sorry. :( repost your comment about asking what kind of grasses the cattle have access to when today’s post goes live, will you please? what kind of answer are you looking for in that question though? they could give me a list of grasses and i would be clueless as to how that translated into what i was eating. :)

      • Lauren

        Yes it does we have been buying grassfed for about three years now and our favorite time to buy is early summer. The rancher tells us his cattle eat onion grass late spring so our beef has a onion taste to it!

        • katkoupon

          Wow! Not sure where I recently read this, but the discussion was about how our food tastes like what the animal eats. Other than the grassy flavor of my beef, I can’t say I’d noticed this…until a few weeks ago. We picked up some conventional beef for the first time in quite a while, and I swear it tasted like corn! I’m also pregnant, and so between the pregnancy and cleaning up our diets, my taste buds are super-sensitive right now, lol. But, I love the sound of onion flavored beef, very cool!

    • Sarah

      In the last week or so (due in part to a few of the things you have written in various posts), I have decided to start eating more organically. I just wanted to say thank you! I would have had no idea where to start if it weren’t for your posts. Especially with animal products. I haven’t bought much in the way of organics yet, mostly because I have lots of conventional meat in my freezer, but I am very excited to begin the journey, so thanks!

      • amysanders

        sarah, thanks for taking the time to share! it’s good to have another sojourner here in our midst. what’s your first baby step going to be?

        • Sarah

          Amy, my first step was just to go scope out the organic products available at my local Bi-lo (hardly any!) and get prices on those they did have and then do the same thing at my local green grocer. My first step has been to start purchasing organic produce from the dirty dozen list. I also got some pastured eggs from a local farmer. My next step will be dairy, followed by meat, and then various other things from the “center aisles.” Any suggestions on that? My main concerns are rice, beans, flour, and sugar, but I am sure there are lots of other things I need to be aware of!

          • amysanders

            sounds like you are doing the exact same order that i did in my journey. i would encourage you to start with meat and dairy and and work down from there just because of the whole concept of toxic load. (that said, i did exactly what you are doing–so no judgment at all!) i am finding that the stuff in the center aisles is slowly being purged from our diets and being replaced with homemade things instead. slowly, little by little, though. i still love me some chips. :)

            • Sarah

              I want to start with meat; that really was the main reason I decided to go organic, but I have a decent amount of meat in my freezer, and can’t justify throwing it away :(

            • amysanders

              i totally get it. use what you’ve got first. :)

    • Coconut water is a great way to dehydrate. It’s full of electrolytes and is great for you. It’s a little pricey though.

      • amysanders

        thanks, karin! have you found a flavor/brand that you like?

    • Sabrina

      I love vita coco pineapple coconut water, it kinda tastes like a pina colada to me.

    • Amy Arvin

      Check out this link as well for another sports drink option: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/01/31/homemade-pedialyte/

    • Whitney

      Coconut ONE has the best and safest electrolyte replacement when dehydration occurs, not like Gatorade and Powerade that has Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) and High Fructose Corn Syrup, just to name a few of the long list of ingredients that it has. BVO is a flame retardant, it helps keep ingredients from separating on the shelves; they take a vegetable oil and treat it with a bromine which can alter the thyroid hormone; interfere with neurological development; memory loss; loss of muscle control and skin lesions. Coconut One has 4,500 mg. of Potassium in it, an electrolyte that we need every day for our hearts, one of the benefits of Potassium is that it helps counteract the affects of eating too much salt in our diets. There are flavored Coconut One waters and plain, the flavored ones are of course going to have sugar in the water. Walmart has 16 oz. bottles for $1.00 and Publix has sales from time to time for $1.00 also, presently its selling for 2.59 for 16 oz.

    • ldotjaye

      for anyone in north carolina and the surrounding states my family raises all natural grass fed beef at super competitive prices! check us out rockingsfarmDOTcom our farm is certified organic and family oriented :)

    • Cori

      Here is a great link on information for replenishing electrolytes in a healthier way. http://foodbabe.com/2012/07/10/the-secret-behind-gatorade-how-to-replenish-electrolytes-naturally/

    • Ksaid

      Chicken broth is really good for electrolytes.
      For those in the central Virginia area, we just bought a quarter of beef from Wolf Creek Farm after doing a lot of research on the area farms. We really like it! And when you pick it up, you meet the farmer and his wife, and she said if I had any questions about what to do with a particular cut of meat or need any recipies just to give her a call. Much nicer than buying it off a shelf in the grocery store. And the prices are competative!

    • ajawee83

      You might try this recipe for homemade pedialyte. Apparently it is used in third world countries and such to combat dehydration when things like pedialyte and coconut water aren’t available. http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2013/01/31/homemade-pedialyte/

    • yourbilletdoux

      Thank you so much for these posts! I just got caught up on them! I just started buying organic meat this past month! It tastes so much better than conventional!

    • candace

      Great article. Btw- we also had stomach bugs recently. You can get electrolytes from coconut water. It is much better for you than sports drinks that are full of sugar and artificial colors etc.

    • tori729

      I had a grass fed beef sandwich at a local restaurant and it was DE-lish. I really really want to go back and get another one – yum!!

    • Jeffy Walker

      My thing is with the taste is, if you want a better taste, spice it with different things!!

    • TheChapLeigh

      NY Times published an article yesterday titled “Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat”…. definitely worth reading online.