kiss my grass (fed beef)…

image from nectar hills farm

my friend dean sent me this article in time magazine about grass-fed beef and the environment, “how cows (grass-fed only) can save the world“. it got me thinking about how things used to be. when we were growing up, my japanese mother would prepare meals that were predominately veggie, with small amounts of meat added for flavor. “special” dinners were rare, but would be when my father’s montana cravings were satisfied with a steak or a meatloaf and some potatoes. cattle were fed on huge swaths of pasture. everything had a peaceful and natural rhythm to it…now, livestock is crammed side by side and end to end in enormous force fed lots – the sound and the smell (and the horrors within) unbearable.

there have been many articles about how unhealthy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are for the cattle, for people and for the environment. feeding cows grain instead of grass is unnatural (only done to cheaply fatten them up quickly) and causes them to suffer from feedlot bloat or acidosis, which must be treated with antibiotics.

the interesting thing about the time article is that two organic vegetable farming experts – eliot coleman, author of the new organic grower, and barbara damrosch, the washington post’s gardening columnist – are going to start raising cattle. why? because they care about the planet:

It works like this: grass is a perennial. Rotate cattle and other ruminants across pastures full of it, and the animals’ grazing will cut the blades — which spurs new growth — while their trampling helps work manure and other decaying organic matter into the soil, turning it into rich humus. The plant’s roots also help maintain soil health by retaining water and microbes. And healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere.

Compare that with the estimated 99% of U.S. beef cattle that live out their last months on feedlots, where they are stuffed with corn and soybeans. In the past few decades, the growth of these concentrated animal-feeding operations has resulted in millions of acres of grassland being abandoned or converted — along with vast swaths of forest — into profitable cropland for livestock feed. “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation,” says Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. “Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.” Indeed, although grass-fed cattle may produce more methane than conventional ones (high-fiber plants are harder to digest than cereals, as anyone who has felt the gastric effects of eating broccoli or cabbage can attest), their net emissions are lower because they help the soil sequester carbon.

in my research for this post, i came across a pretty informative blog,, and their article on this same topic. as michael pollan says in his interview in the new york times for his upcoming book “food rules: an eater’s manual“,

“eat food, not too much, and mostly plants”

…just like my mom says!

video update: grass-fed beef with emeril!

update: in the interest of fairness, this slate article was sent to me (thanks, jenn!) about grass-fed beef not being immune to e.coli. and although i don’t eat meat, if grass-fed is more humane and healthier, then i will stay on my side of the fence. the one takeaway i would advise to you meat eaters is to cook your beef (grass-fed or otherwise), just to be safe.

update: only grass fed writes informatively  in response to the slate article. a definite must read!

video update 2: this discovery news video shows (in a very short piece) how simple, natural and profitable polyfarms grass-fed farm is. they haven’t planted a seed in 50 years and allows nature to do what it does best.

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Filed under eco tips, food, modern living

24 responses to “kiss my grass (fed beef)…

  1. mayo

    I think your mom is one smart lady 🙂

    According to the university of illinois, dairy cows are also being fed a large proportion of corn and soy (perhaps Monsanto soybeans?!). here’s another link that is very obviously biased in favor of the sustainable movement, but buttresses the argument in favor of those cows’ stomachs receiving much more grass in their diets so they can get some cud up in there. ahem:

  2. Maggie

    Yes, but the problem they neglect to state is that by using the pastures and leaving the maure, is that the cattle are prone to parasites. The parasirtes can lead to less thrifty animals and cause issues for calves. The cow can start to lose milk production and calves will not gain weight well.
    I am not saying there is not something to this, but the management of it is difficult and it takes mega amounts of land to rotate the animals and keep them fed properly.
    That in turn makes it difficult to turn a profit for the people attempting to raise the cattle.
    That is why we are in the position we are, we have less land and more people on it. This drives the demand up and the producers need to find a way to push their product out and still make a profit.
    It is a tough way to make a living!

  3. Maggie

    …one last item, I hope we can all afford to pay $6-$7 dollars a pound for basic cuts of beef…
    Yeah this will drive the costs up enormously!

    • costs may be higher, but bottom line is, the way cattle are raised for food and dairy is unhealthy for them (hello e.coli?), us and the planet. if meat was no longer the centerpiece of our meals, then spending $6-7/pound would be a fair trade off for the nutritional benefits grass-fed beef would provide. as it stands, CAFO’s are not doing anyone any favors except those making money off of raising animals who can barely stand from the force feeding of grains that are not conducive to their digestive systems. i didn’t want to go into the horrors of the raising and slaughter of cattle and won’t do so here either. i just think if more people chose to eat this way, then the demand would eventually bring the prices down. but this, like buying organic, local foods is a personal choice. we pay a little more, but it is worth it to us. i agree with you, there are too many people and not enough land, but what we are doing to that land is not sustainable. it’s going to take individuals to think differently about food and maybe change some habits. and that can only come from sharing information.

  4. mayo

    I don’t think the new strains of e.coli are a reasonable trade-off for this type of farming, and I guess I would rather avoid beef or at least doing the Meatless Mondays option that is suggested to decrease methane AND save the space you were referring to! I agree it would drive up costs a lot, but I definitely wouldn’t want irradiated or contaminated meat. For as often as I buy beef, I’d pay the higher price or just quit altogether.

  5. Maggie

    Do you realize that every animals has a normal amount of e.coli in their intestinal tracts? Yep, we all do, it is part of our normal digestive systems. The problem with e.coli is the slaughter house practices, not the animals. The beef is contaminated when they are not slaughtered under healthy conditions. This was one of our studies in college and believe me it flipped my stomach. The few bad people in the industries tend to ruin the entire industry. Sort of like PETA, they are soooo extreme that there is no way either side will ever be able to work anything out.
    You can comment all you want, the problem is the extremes in both parties. Both sides will show the absolute worst practices in order to sway over to their side.
    I agree that there are areas for improvement and that we should not feed our animals tons of antibiotocs. It’s a very bad way to make the anitibiotics no longer useful.
    There has to be a balance between both sides and a way to combine the systems.

    • i would prefer not to “comment all i want” to having a true discussion. all i am saying is that our current food production system is not natural or sustainable. our food is not safe, our ecosystems are buckling and unless people are willing to pay a little more or eat a little less, the future is quite grim. to say the problem with e.coli is in the slaughter house and not the animals, doesn’t make any sense to me if the only way to eat the animals is by them going through the slaughter house…it will take educated, animal loving (and meat eating) people like you to help get the FDA or USDA to do a better job! i know people (like my sister) cannot afford $7/lb. for beef, but for those of us who can, we need to make ethical decisions and become involved against the practices of factory farming and genetically modified foods…we have to start thinking in the long term, not just at the cheapest fastest ways to produce and eat food. i thank you for a feisty debate!

  6. mayo

    She may have been talking about e.coli 0157:h7, the strain brought upon when cows are fed either all corn or mostly corn in their lifetimes. You can read more about it here:
    Acid-resistent e.coli replicate and cause hemolytic uremic syndrome … See Morein humans. In Michael Pollan’s book Omnivore’s Dilemma, he says by going back to grass-fed cows, the rate of this strain of e.coli would drop by 80% or more.

    • i agree with you and michael pollan!

      plus what about all the food recalls? and the health benefits associated with eating grass-fed beef over grain-fed?

      1. Lower in total fat… See More
      2. Higher in beta-carotene
      3. Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
      4. Higher in the B vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
      5. Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
      6. Higher in total omega-3s
      7. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
      8. Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
      9. Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
      10. Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease

      and who knows the long term effects of all this chemically treated food? to me, the increased costs definitely outweigh the risks…

  7. A Diaz

    Eating less and better is my moto. There is no way I would go back to conventional meat after everything I know. Like tonight: I haven’t had beef in two weeks. I bought a grass fed NY steak, cut it in half and broiled it with fantastic blue cheese. The second half I will cook tomorrow. It’s plenty of food and it was $8 for 2/3 lb. Delicious!

  8. Maggie

    Sasha Welland said “there should be a movement that sends grass clippings from urban landscaping to the cattle “camps”

    you can not send grass clippings to animals to be fed. Grass begins to ferment as soon as it is cut. So it will cause other issues and make animals sick. In the case of horses, it can cause colic and kill them. It can cause major issues in cattle as well.
    That is why when they grow grass and bale it, it has to lay out in the field and dry, before it is baled. If is is not it will begin to ferment, get hot and can cause spontaneous combustion.
    A complicated issue all the way around.

  9. Jennifer

    So here is my two cents as a current ag major, who has taken classes from one of the leading researchers on ecoli 0157:h7. First things first, my personal opinion is that neither side is right, sorry…. Grass fed beef is not a viable option for numerous reasons, parasites are unmanageable without those chemicals that you speak of to manage it, and if you were to see those FABULOUS parasites under a microscope like I have you would never eat an animal that hasnt been dewormed or been cared for in a way to manage parasites. Feeding animals grass only doesnt actually meet all of their nutritional needs, so to produce the meat you want, you have to produce more animals for the same amount of meat… doesnt decrease the overall emissions or land usage…. Optimally you want to feed them a combination diet, with high protein grains and hay, speaking from my own experience of raising a steer, it creates some of the most healthy and highest grade meat.

    As for ecoli, like my mom pointed out before…. the ecoli isnt a product of the feeding them corn… its a product of the slaughtering facilities… this is not to say that all facilities are bad, some are cleaner than you could ever know, and more power to those facilities. If you want to call for an overhaul on the slaughter facilities, then thats a whole different story. And a welcome view as far as I am concerned, I would agree with that. Ecoli strains can mutate on their own, ecoli 0157 is a very bad strain, I agree, BUT this is something that is closer to being under control than you know. (I will have to contact my prof and see if I can get a hold of some of his published journals for you to read). Its very interesting reading if you are passionate about understanding it.

    As for any commentary on Monsanto, I think they have had good contributions to the ag industry, but I feel their behavior as of late has been detrimental to the small family farms and its horrible behavior on their part!… See More

    I dont disagree with the idea of eating less meat if thats what somebody wants to do for themselves. More power to them! I believe lean meat is an integral part of a balanced diet… but thats what works for me based on my studies in nutrition. I think when you read information thats put out there you have to be aware of what bias that person is writing from… and then determine how much of it you feel is accurate, I just hope you can see where not everything that is written about these topics is based in accurate information.

    Joyce, I applaud your open mindedness to entertain this topic of discussion and not eject from it as some people do when their ideas are challenged, its the sign of a very intelligent person as far as I am concerned! 🙂 A little lively debate is good for the soul! hehehe

  10. kim

    I’m going with pollan. i saw a story on the hearst ranch and their cows being grass feed and well tended to including regular checkups all while rotating through pastures. That beef is nice and lean and sent to numerous local central coast easteries and markets. when i do pay for meat and eat it, i pay a bit more. i’d rather not corrupt my immune … See Moresystem eating meat with too many antibiotics. makes me think about where all the super flus are coming from and the lack of treatment for them. Chickens too. I’m not an expert, or pretend, i’m hyper knowledgable but I’ll got with the leading experts that are trying it for themselves and continue to believe that free range, cage free animals live better, taste better and are worth the money. plus, i just don’t eat it that much anymore. screw the super pens, thats just not right. I’m mad and i’m not even a cow. get it, mad cow?

  11. mayo

    I never meant to suggest you or my Maggie ♥ didn’t understand the e.coli strains, Jenn, I was just clarifying (of course you’d both know the ins and outs of e.coli!!). My “beef” with e.coli was cows sitting or standing in their own waste as a way of life, in addition to the practice of feeding them genetically engineered corn only or mostly as … See Morefood. This much poo, being so hard to remove in the slaughterhouse has gotten into food. I have now heard suggestions by the FDA that we start to irradiate meat to kill the e.coli. I’m not interested in that. Regarding biased links and data, I think you’re exactly right. I assumed any supporting information can be biased, and reputable and non-reputable sources jimmy with numbers to help them support their case. I’m grateful for the opportunity to take it all in and make a decision, like you said. I do not agree that information is necessarily inaccurate because it is presented in a biased venue (such as the link[s] I cited).

    Eat, Speak, Choose, Be Happy 🙂

  12. jim

    Good information here. I enjoyed reading this and can’t wait for more. Keep up the good work.

    • thanks for the comment, jim! people are very passionate about this subject and even though i don’t eat meat, i want to try and provide info so that you can make your own decisions…thanks for stopping by!

  13. This concept isn’t fair to the animals it breeds to kill; it isn’t fair to the indigenous animals who are cleared away from pastures like this, and the ecological argument is dubious at best. Even Forbes has run an opinion piece questioning the general idea. See James E. McWilliams, “The Locavore Myth” in Forbes (issue dated 3 Aug. 2009 citing a study by Rich Pirog of the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture). “No matter how you slice it,” the comment observes, “it takes more energy to bring meat, as opposed to plants, to the table. It takes 6 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken and 10 to 16 pounds to make a pound of beef.”

    Is disengaging from animal agribusiness really so hard? I’ve been doing it for 26 years and I’ve got no special powers — other than giving a sincere hoot about letting wildlands and free-living animals be.

    Lee Hall – Friends of Animals – on Twitter as @veganmeans

    • hi lee,

      you make a very important point! this is about so much more than affordable meat on a plate. it is about the impact on living creatures (both raised for consumption and indigenous) and on our planet and our health…i so appreciate you joining in our debate!


  14. We moved to a rural area of northeastern Washington 4-1/2 years ago. Most people here raise there own grassfed beef on their land. Some of our neighbors have tried to talk us in to raising our own meat but since moving here and looking these beautiful creatures in the eyes and seeing the cute little babies in the spring I know I could never do it. I’ve always eaten beef but my consumption has gone way down. Most of the people who raise beef around here also sell some of their beef and a local butcher shop handles all the packaging. It is no more expensive than if you bought it at the grocery store and I’ve never heard of any cases of e-coli or any other issues with the beef. Since not all people are willing to give up beef maybe there’s some way to connect meat-eaters in cities with people in rural communities that raise grassfed beef on a small scale. They could buy what they needed for the whole year at one time.

    • hi marie,

      your comment got me to thinking. i’ve blogged before about what a terrific resource local is and sure enough, they have a ton of small, family farms that people can order their grass-fed beef from:
      it could be a good solution for city dwellers who don’t have direct access to a farm or butcher close by. i’m sure there are other websites out there – i know the hearst farm that kim talked about also ships their beef – the goal would be to limit the distance (and footprint) for the transit.

      thanks so much for your comment!

  15. mayo

    There’s another grass fed beef local to me, but that also offers free shipping:

    It is more expensive, but is an option, especially if you’re reducing the amount of meat eaten in the household.

    • hi mayo,

      thanks for the link! it’s like a. diaz had commented, for her it was worth it to spend more and divide it up into 2 meals…making it pretty cost effective! so if we were able to reduce our portion sizes and the ratio of meat to veggies, then eating grass-fed beef would become a more viable option.


  16. kim

    i’ll comment on this ( here. Good article but i guess it’s a case of e-coli if you do, e-coli if you don’t. I’m just going to hope that the smaller independent slaughtering process [than conglomerate] are a bit more forth right with their practice and are trying to be progressive [sic-clean] and I’ll take my omegas from the grass fed. Plus, i’m not a big fan of rare meat so, I’ll just cook the hell out of it.

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