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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.