“Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” – Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
“Man is what he eats” – Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach
Grass-Fed Pasture Raised vs. Feedlot
“You are what you eat”…an old saying summarizing the thought that the food one consumes has an impact on their health and well-being. I would think this applies to anything that… eats; humans, animals, and plants alike.
Let’s take beef for instance. Cattle are herbivores, which means by nature cattle should be feeding on primarily grass and other wild vegetation. Since cattle are grazing animals, they move, they migrate. Over the years the demand on the ‘meat market’ has increased at an alarming rate. A majority of the cattle being raised for mass market consumption are not being raised in line with the way nature intended.
The demand increases year after year and this year (2012) demand is higher than ever before but stock is low due to climate changes, financial impacts, and now exports which is also driving up prices. US beef exports are up 22% from last year. Cattle are being shipped to Russia and Asia. Across the board from major fast food corps, grocery chains, and restaurants alike…everyone wants beef and a lot of it. To keep up with the demand, large numbers of cattle are kept in unsanitary confined quarters. They’re being fed a diet based on corn, soy, hormones, antibiotics, and other miscellaneous items not meant for a cattle’s consumption or natural lifestyle. Some of those miscellaneous items contain animal byproducts including chicken feathers & feces (Iowa State University Extension. “Beef Feedlot Systems Manual”. Retrieved 3 May 2010). This practice enables the cattle to grow faster in a shorter period of time. These cattle are known as feed-lot animals.
There is a small community of ranchers who choose to stay in step with what nature has intended for cattle. The animals will graze on open grass land, rotating between pastures feeding on grass and other wild vegetation. The animal is able to move freely while grazing, breathing fresh air and getting plenty of movement. The cattle are not provided hormones of any kind and if antibiotics are needed the animal is removed from pasture and provided only the necessary dosage of antibiotics. Nothing extra or unnecessary is added to the diet. Since the animal is raised on pasture it takes several months longer than the feedlot cattle to be ready for harvest. These cattle are known as grass-fed, pasture raised animals.
As years pass I continue to see reports on how too much red meat will cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, high cholesterol, and it contains high trans fats, and carcinogens – but what they don’t tell us is that a majority of these findings are based on the feed-lot animal only. A sirloin steak from a grass-fed pasture raised steer has roughly ⅓ to ½ less fat than a feed-lot steer, resulting in a 6 ounce grass-fed pasture raised steak having 100 fewer calories than a feed-lot steak.
But…it goes beyond how much good or bad fat the animal contains. Feed-lot animals are prone to several health challenges & diseases due to the lack of roughage and high amounts of corn, soy, and “foodstuffs” in their diet. Lack of roughage decreases a cattle’s saliva production causing acid indigestion. Inflammation and ulceration of the stomach wall develops and nutrients can no longer be absorbed. Liver ulcers develop and pass bacteria through the bloodstream. Some feed-lot animals experience BLOAT that traps gasses and can cause asphyxiation and death. Too much acid can also cause a decrease in B-1 shutting off the brain causing “feed-lot polio”. These health problems are combated with high amounts of hormones and antibiotics to keep the animal alive for the 14 month rapid growth period before slaughter. (http://www.eatwild.com/animals.html Feedlot Diets are a Recipe for Animal Discomfort & Disease)
Unless clearly specified, the feedlot animal is what you are most likely consuming at your favorite fast food chain, grocery store, or restaurant. You are what you eat – which means you’re eating heavy amounts of hormones, antibiotics, trans fats, and other chemicals not meant for human nor animal consumption.
In addition to what the animal consumes, a feedlot animal spends a majority of their short lives in very tiny cramped pens with hundreds of other cattle. They have minimal room to move and usually are right on top of their own feces. If an animal can no longer stand, they are not meant for slaughter according to the FDA. There have been cases reported of the animals being shocked and prodded to force them to stand, enabling processors to go around the FDA regulation. As a result the feedlot animal lives in pain and fear for most of its short life.
The grass-fed pasture raised animal spends its entire life in the pasture, with no confinement and the ability to move and graze on their own internal schedule. Many times the rancher will conduct the harvest in the pasture to avoid any unnecessary stress on the animal before slaughter.
I’ve heard it said and I agree…a happy animal is a tasty animal.
I love beef…for that matter I love all meat. Like anything, beef should be consumed in moderation. Too much of one thing is never good. I will not give up eating meat…but for the sake of our land, our animals, and my family’s health, our meat consumption has reduced greatly. The types of meat we consume varies so there is not too much of one thing consumed in one period; from beef, venison, goat, sheep, chicken, and pork to name a few. We also choose to not support the practices of the feedlot production for the very grotesque reasons I listed above (i.e. unnecessary confinement, unnecessary harm, health hazards to humans & animals alike). All of the meat we purchase comes from local ranchers who practice sustainable livestock management and honest land stewardship – striving beyond the organic standards.
Grass-Fed Pasture Raised Health Benefits
To reiterate, too much of one thing is not good – everything in moderation…even moderation. So cut back on the burgers and change the cuts and the types of meat you consume for variety of irons, minerals, and good fats in your diet. When consuming grass-fed pasture raised beef, not only are you supporting better farming practices but you’re also consuming a healthier product. The animal gets natural exercise and eats nothing but grass and other wild vegetation. This means the nutrients, vitamins, & minerals found in the soil and pasture is consumed by the animal and eventually consumed by…you.
The grass-fed pasture raised animal has higher omega-3 (aka ‘the good fat’), Vitamin E & A, beta carotene, and CLA (conjugated linoleic acid aka ‘the good fat’) levels. In a 1998 study, allowing cattle to forage on fresh pasture alone resulted in higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids than feeding them a diet that contained 10% fish meal for 168 days (I.B. Mandell et al, The Return of Omega-3 Fatty Acids into the Food Supply, World Rev Nutr Diet, 83:144-59, 1998). Omega-3 fatty acids are documented to fight inflammation and reduce the risk of type II diabetes, thyroid disorders, and obesity. Linolenic acid is part of the omega-3 family and has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body, which may lessen heart disease. In lab tests on animals, CLA helped prevent cancer and heart disease. (Don Beitz, an ISU professor of animal science and bio-chemistry).
I mentioned earlier in the article that a sirloin steak from a grass-fed pasture raised steer has roughly ⅓ to ½ less fat than a feed-lot steer, resulting in a 6 ounce grass-fed pasture raised steak having 100 fewer calories than a feed-lot steak. An average American consumes roughly 67 pounds of beef a year. By modifying your diet from conventional/feedlot beef to pasture raised beef you’re reducing your yearly calorie intake by 16,000+ calories.
So, you’re ready for pasture raised grass-fed beef but not sure how to identify the product or where to look? Here are a couple of tips & resources:
- ‘Grass-Fed’ doesn’t always mean pasture raised. You must either ask the store butcher or it must specify on the packaging ‘pasture raised’.
- ‘Grass-Finished’ means that the cattle is not grain-finished and has remained on pasture before harvest.
- Just because the package says ‘organic’ does not mean it was grass-fed or pasture raised…you must ask if not specified.
- Most of all…get to know your farmer. Stop by and say hi at your weekly farmers market. Ask questions – they welcome it! If you don’t have a farm within driving distance or want to seek out grocery stores supporting the grass-fed movement check these following resources:
- www.americangrassfed.org – promoting the grass-fed industry through education, govt. relations, concept marketing, and research
- www.eatwild.com – a resource for safe, healthy, natural and nutritious grass-fed beef, lamb, goats, bison, poultry, pork, dairy and other wild edibles.
- www.localharvest.org – an online directory of farms, markets, and other resources offering sustainably raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
- www.eatwellguide.org – an online directory of farms, markets, and other resources offering sustainably raised meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
I realize that not everyone has access to local farms, farmers markets, or even grocery stores carrying these fresh natural items. I also realize that not everyone can afford Grass-Fed Pasture Raised Beef – and based on current demand, lack of stock, and rising prices of conventional beef…I’m not sure how many will be able to afford any of it. BUT…this is why I do what I do…this is why I write to inform…this is why I support my local farmer practicing sustainable standards…to change the system allowing everyone access to good wholesome natural affordable food.
Beef Tallow, Its Benefits & Uses
Beef tallow is rendered beef suet. When I purchase fat from Paicines Ranch I have the option of back or kidney fat. Kidney fat is slightly cleaner in terms of the amount of meat still incorporated into the suet. I recommend using kidney fat for sweet applications as well as soap & candle production. I recommend using back fat for savory and all other applications. Beef tallow contains all the benefits I listed earlier such as high levels of omega-3, vitamin E & A, beta carotene, and CLA.
Beef tallow can be used in replace of cooking with oils, butter, and shortenings.
Olive oils are meant to be consumed in a non-heated form due to its overabundance of oleic acid when heated. Corn, soy, safflower and canola oils are polyunsaturated fats that are unstable when heated. Cooking with these oils will create large amounts of oxidized fatty acids & trans fats, which are carcinogenic (Dr. Joseph Mercola). Plus, unless otherwise specified your vegetable oil is most likely developed from a GM/GE (genetically modified/engineered) crop.
Butter is a great cooking source…real butter that is, not margarine or butter substitute. Butter from pasture raised grass-fed cows that are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. REAL butter contains many of the same health benefits as pasture raised grass-fed beef tallow. In the cooking test I’ve noticed a heavier consistency in baking with butter vs. tallow. Butter provides a heavier, almost greasier texture where as baking with tallow provided a drier flakey consistency. Tallow in other cooking applications such as roasting, frying, and sautéing is more appealing because of its high heating point where as butter will burn quickly – and flavor; using the rendered back fat you’ll have a light beef flavor added to your savory applications.
The first time I used beef tallow in a large application was for tamales at Christmas dinner. I used the tallow in place of lard for the masa. Unless purchased from your local pasture raised grass-fed farmer or specific on the container…the lard you’re purchasing in the store is a combination of pork fat, beef fat, and other oils. I’ve since used beef tallow to roast potatoes and vegetables, French fries anyone, sear off meat, orange spice scones, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies, roasted chicken glaze, and pie crusts both sweet & savory.
How to Render Beef Fat – Pasture Raised Grass Fed Beef Tallow
There are two ways to render fat – “wet” or “dry”. Dry rendering is simply slow cooking the fat on the stove or in the oven on a low temperature till the fat has liquefied and you’re left with a small amount of cracklings. Wet rendering includes simmering the fat in water till the fat has liquefied. I prefer the wet rendering method because it provides me a cleaner result (minimal remaining beef residue).
Start with a semi-frozen block of fat.
A fully thawed block of fat will prove to be messy and hard to work with. You can render fat chunks by simply chopping up the fat into small cubes. Try to keep the pieces uniform to allow even reduction time. I prefer to use the meat grinder attachment with the course chop blade for my food processor.
Grinding the fat shortens the reduction time.
After chopping or grinding the beef fat, place the contents into a sturdy stockpot and fill with enough water till the fat is covered.
Simmer on a medium heat until the fat has liquefied. Setup your workstation to filter the fat. I recommend a pot covered and secured with cheese cloth, or a colander lined with cheese cloth + a pot for catching the liquid, or a fine mesh strainer and a pot for catching the liquid. I used a pot secured with a cheese cloth and a spider.
The cheese cloth and spider combination helps to gather as many impurities as possible leaving you with a cleaner liquid. Once you’ve removed as many remaining fat chunks/cracklings as possible pour the remaining liquid through the cheese cloth.
You are left with a bowl full of cracklings. I usually give this to my dog but…I’ve read you can crisp these up and use them like you would bacon bits…only beef bits!
Now you’re ready to place the strained liquid in your solidifying vessel. Depending on how you choose to use your rendered beef tallow – you can have it solidify in canning jars for quick use or in 5×9 pans for cutting into bars in specific measurement recipes.
I chose to use 5×9 loaf pans for solidifying this time around because I plan to use the tallow in baking applications and need specific weighted bars. After the liquid has slightly cooled I place it in the refrigerator overnight to solidify.
Because I chose the wet render method the fat has risen to the top and any remaining impurities are floating below in the water. With a butter knife I am able to loosen the sides of the fat and remove it from the pan.
I use a pre-measured bar of butter to judge my width and length when cutting the solidified tallow. I recommend investing in a small kitchen scale to make sure you have proper measurements for your baking needs.
For storage I wrap each block in wax paper and store in a ziplock bag. You can store for several months in the refrigerator or an extended time in the freezer.