Thursday, March 3, 2011

Protein Power - Is the Grass Greener?

My nutrition challenge for the month of March requires a lot of protein and since I stated in my earlier post that I know being vegetarian does not work for my body, I am now faced with finding good protein sources from two perspectives: health and environment.

My choice for beef is to purchase meat from local farmers who raise their cattle on grass, antibiotic and hormone free.  Grass fed vs. corn finished (fed) beef is significantly lower in fat.

From the Frontline website of the Public Broadcasting System in the United States:
Before the second World War, all American beef was "grass-finished," meaning that cattle ate pasture grass for the duration of their lives. Today, the vast majority of cattle spend anywhere from 60-120 days in feedlots being fattened with grain before being slaughtered. Unless the consumer deliberately chooses grass-finished or "free-range" meat, the beef bought at the grocery store will be of the corn-finished variety.
Meat from a grass-fed steer has about one-half to one-third as much fat as a comparable cut from a grain-fed animal. Lower in calories, grass-fed beef is also higher in vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to help reduce the risk of cancer, lower the likelihood of high blood pressure, and make people less susceptible to depression.
 Beyond the health benefits of not ingesting extra fat, hormones and antibiotics the question of the environmental impacts of grass fed vs. corn fed (finished) beef is an interesting debate. In his book, Omnivore's Dilemma, Michael Pollan states:

"If the 16 million acres now being used to grow corn to feed cattle in the United States became well-managed pasture, that would remove fourteen billion pounds carbon from the atmosphere each year, the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road."

He argues the industrial vs. organic methods of raising beef in his book and clearly shows the huge global impact of industrial farming methods which include fossil fuels, artificial fertilizer, pesticides, heavy machinery, feedlots, antibiotics, and processing plants. (p.149).  

Grass farming beef (as well as chicken, turkey, eggs, rabbits and pigs - not to mention tons of different veggies) is an earth friendly method which is powered by solar power (to grow the grass) and uses synergies of other animals (and their byproducts) to "feed" other parts of the farm and create additional products. 

For example, free range chickens in the pastures  after the cows will eat grubs and larvae which cuts down on the bugs and parasites that live in cows (and often require medicine to control), their poop adds nitrogen to the soil and they produce eggs, which can be sold.  This type of maintenance of the pasture allows for a diversity of grasses, deep roots which control salinity and creates healthy, rich, fertile soil. 
(photo courtesy of

This is one of my favorite videos about the demise of small farms - The Meatrix

Many people argue that organic beef, grass fed protein, organic - free range eggs cost more and they are right...they do cost a little more but the benefits are clear for both your health as well as improving conditions on farms instead of degrading them.  There are strategies to help stretch your dollar though:

1. Find Community Supported Agriculture and buy in - direct from the farm to your table
2. Approach a local farm and create a buying group of friends, family or co-workers - bulk is always cheaper!

Here are some directories to help you find a local farm near you to power up on your earth friendly protein!

USA: Local Harvest
Canada: Eat Wild 
UK: Farm Shopper 
Australia: Organic Food Directory

To your green family success! 

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