Saturday, August 6, 2011

Grass-Fed Beef vs. Grain-Fed Beef

The popularity of grass-fed beef has been on the rise lately, thanks in large part to the various pieces of media that are exposing the horrors of conventional meat production.  In my case, it was the film Food Inc. and Michael Pollan's outstanding book The Omnivore's Dilemma that brought the issue to my attention.  For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about when I say "grass-fed beef", here's a brief explanation:  Cattle have evolved over time to eat grass.  They get all the nutrition they need from grass alone.  However, in modern beef production, cattle are fed a diet of mostly corn and other grains, which can cause all sorts of health problems, but it fattens them much more quickly and increases production.  While this allows farmers to produce more beef faster, the whole process is extremely wasteful and destructive to the environment.  And although the price on the beef you see in the supermarket is affordable, this does not in any way reflect the true cost of that beef.  When you factor in all the corn grown specifically to raise the cattle, the antibiotics needed to keep them in decent health, and the environmental problems, just to name a few of the costs, the actual price of that beef looks a little different.  The only reason it's available to consumers at such a low price is because of government subsidies.  As a result of all of this, an increasing number of people are opting to seek out grass-fed beef, meaning that the cows only eat grass and are allowed to graze in fields as they please.  This type of beef production is healthier for the cattle, better for the environment, and is a much lower-input process overall.  In addition to the philosophical reasons to choose grass-fed beef, though, there are a number of nutritional benefits as well, and that will be my main focus for today.