So maybe you have heard a few times that red meat is not the best for your health but it tastes good… how bad could it be? Beef has become the mainstay for the American diet, so much so that America eats more beef than any other nation in the world. Well, that’s because we are the wealthiest right? Right, in a sense, but we set this scenario up just right so that we could afford meat. And I don’t mean afford to eat it just once a day, but for every single meal and snack, seven days a week. Sausage and bacon for breakfast, Philly cheese steak for lunch, beef jerky for an afternoon snack and a hamburger for dinner. Sounds like that is exactly how a typical American consumes over 200 pounds of beef a year. And that 200 pounds of meat is not only linked to cancer and heart disease but to our government subsidies as well. That is why I started the series called, The Truth about the Beef Industry. Let’s get started!
To get right down to the basics, I am going to go through the main reasons why the steak on your plate is no longer from the innocent cow named Daisy grazing in a South Dakota. The meat in America today is a hybrid creation of corporations and should not be seen as anything more than that.
Cattle’s eat Grass, then why are they Eating Grain?
Cows are fed grain because of two reasons. The first being that cows raised on grass simply take longer to reach slaughter. Cows used to be between the age of four or five years old when they were ready to be slaughtered, now they are a mere fourteen to sixteen months. With the tastes of America and the pockets of corporations rapidly growing, the need to slaughter them at an earlier age has increased as well. Profits, profits, profits.
The second reason is that grain is cheaper. Corporations have created closed systems where they are in control of all of the steps of creating meat, from the production of grain to the distribution of the meat. Therefore, they make money feeding cows grain, not grass. So the cows eat grain.
Well what is so Bad with Grain?
Cows are in the class of animals known as ruminants. They have four-chambered stomachs that are designed to break down difficult to digest plant matter such as fibrous grasses into protein, something we humans can’t do. When cows eat grain, it causes a highly acidic environment in their bodies, a contrast to their naturally neutral pH. This acidic state can lead to the introduction of viruses and bacteria, such as e.coli and other harmful pathogens, as well as a higher production of methane. Therefore, eating grain causes their health to be greatly compromised. Are you thinking of E. Coli breakouts here?
How Does Cows Eating Grass Help The Environment?
When cows eat grass they are actually maintaining a perfect balance in the ecosystem because they help to spread grass seeds, plant them with their hooves, and then fertilize them with their manure. Now that they are solely eating grain, land degradation is more of a problem than ever. Furthermore, cows that eat grass produce less methane. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is a major contributor of global warming. Currently, cows raised on grain are the cause of nearly a quarter of methane emissions in the US and globally contribute 27% of total emissions. Not to mention that a year’s worth of methane emissions from a two-hundred cow dairy herd has the same carbon dioxide equivalence of driving a Prius car from New York to San Francisco and back forty-five times! So if you’re thinking about making an environmental contribution by purchasing a Prius, become a vegetarian instead!
Is Grass-fed Beef better for my Health also?
Yes, studies have shown that cows that eat grass are not only healthier, but also have a higher proportion of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega- 3 fatty acids are extremely important to every cell in the body and have countless health benefits from maintaining healthy inflammatory responses, healthy skin and hair, optimal brain and nervous system function as well as preventing heart disease. So yes… grass fed beef is better.
“Well I Only Buy Grass-fed Beef”
Well that is a good effort on your part, but the truth is that companies can advertise that their cows are grass-fed as long as they ate grass at some point in their lifetime. But almost all cows are fed grain within their last 3 to 6 months in order to increase their mass, even the “grass-fed ones,” pretty tricky huh. So, if you are going to choose to eat meat, the only way to ensure that you are getting the real deal is to purchase from a local farmer’s market.
Now off to Part II!
Pollan, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Penguin Books. 2006.
Lappe, Anna. Diet for a Hot Planet. Bloomsbury. 2010.