Part 5 of 5: Where to Purchase Grass Fed Beef

If something in the previous four posts has resonated with you, I’d encourage you to examine whether or not grass fed beef would be a viable option for you and your family.  If you decide that this is something you’d like to invest in more often, below is some information to keep in mind:  Grass fed beef is available in at most local grocery stores.  Be on the look out for the label that certifies that the beef product you are purchasing is grass fed! 🙂  Additionally, check out this website for a directory of pasture-based farms if you’re looking for a new place to find grass fed beef (Eat):

http://www.eatwild.com/PRODUCTS/index.html

Once you arrive at this website, click on your state or country of residence, and you will be brought to a webpage with a list detailing the surrounding farms near your home (Eat).  Let me know if you try this website and what they think of it!  In addition, there is the option of buying a “share” of a cow from your local farm, similarly to other community shared agricultural programs (Eat).

In culminating this five part series, there is one more thing that I’d like to address, and this is the cost comparison between feedlot beef and grass fed beef.  Switching to grass fed beef would cost on average $250 to $300 dollars more than purchasing solely feedlot beef (Cross).  Here is a revisit back to a quote on this price difference from New York Times Bestselling Author Michael Pollan:  “The ninety-nine cent price of a fast-food hamburger simply doesn’t take account of that meal’s true cost–to soil, oil, public health, the public purse, etc., costs which are never charged directly to the consumer but, indirectly and invisibly, to the taxpayer (in the form of subsidies), the health care system (in the form of food-borne illnesses and obesity), and the environment (in the form of pollution), not to mention the welfare of the workers in the feedlot and the slaughterhouse and the welfare of the animals themselves” (Pollan).

In conclusion, changing agricultural beef cattle practices can start with you.  Every purchase counts, and dollars that are put towards the investment of grass fed beef are the same dollars that are not being put towards feedlot beef.  Therefore, in using your purchasing power wisely, you too can support animal welfare, champion human health, and preserve the environment and its natural resources.  America’s cows are counting on you. 🙂

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

P.S. I hope now that Princeton University Professor Appiah quote that “Industrial agriculture is one of the top four things for which future generations will condemn us” rings true for you (Notaras).

Works Cited

Cross, Kim.  “‘The grass-fed vs. grain-fed debate.” CNN. 29 March 2011. Web. Cable News Network. 12 June 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/03/29/grass.grain.beef.cookinglight/>

Eat Wild. Jo Robinson, 2015. Web. 16 July 2015. <http://www.eatwild.com/PRODUCTS/index.html>

Notaras, Mark. Our World United Nations University. UNU Office of Communications. 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-shame-of-concentrated-animal-feedlots>

Pollan, Michael.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.

Part 4 of 5: What Makes Grass-Fed Beef Sustainable?

Sustainability is defined as “living on Earth in a way that allows humans to use its resources without depriving future generations of those resources” (Courard-Hauri). So the question is, what makes grass fed beef more sustainable than feedlot beef? Interestingly, the energy subsidy, or “calories of energy input per calorie of food produced” for feedlot beef is ALMOST THREE TIMES higher than grass fed beef (Courard-Hauri). Therefore, this statistic speaks to the fact that grass fed beef agricultural practices are more viable options for sustaining the future of cattle farming.

In researching about this topic, and thinking about what really makes something viable for future generations, I’ve discovered that the most sustainable agricultural practices are complex in Nature, yet easy to explain and justify. Conversely, the most unsustainable agricultural practices that are human engineered are less complex, yet harder to explain and justify. It’s a paradox…

The main reason why grass fed beef is sustainable is because it is a small-scale agricultural practice. In the food industry, once things are consolidated and in the hands of large manufacturing companies, they tend to emphasis efficiency more than sustainability. The first thing that grass fed beef cattle farming has going for it is that it does not depend upon or overindulge in nonrenewable fossil fuels. Rather, as discussed in the second post of this series, grass fed cattle are raised in local farm pastures, and oil, etc. is not needed to manufacture, package, ship, and transport the beef thousands of miles away. Secondly, grass fed beef cattle farming takes advantage of the symbiotic relationship that cattle have with grass, thereby using plants, a renewable resource, as the primary form of energy for the cattle. Thirdly, feedlots have a tendency to homogenize the species of cattle that they raise, and generally fill their land plots with tens of thousands of the exact same species of cattle. Ultimately, this results in a lack of genetic diversity of feedlot cattle, which reduces their chances of surviving or combatting habitat destruction, adverse weather conditions, and other environmental crises. Nevertheless, grass fed beef cattle farmers are more likely to invest in multiple species of cattle, thereby adding diversity to the genetic pool of their farms and pastures (Bond).

The above are just a few reasons why grass fed beef is more sustainable than feedlot beef. In previous posts, we’ve also discussed more nutritional and environmental reasons why the previous statement is true. What do you think the most compelling reason is for why grass fed beef is sustainable? Why? Let me know!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Bond, Annie. “Top 10 Eco-Friendly Reasons to Buy Organic Meat and Dairy.” Care 2. Care2.com, Incorporated. 2014. Web. 12 June 2014. <http://www.care2.com/greenliving/why-buy-organic-dairy-meat.html>

Courard-Haurari, Friedland Andrew, Relyea, Rick. Environmental Science for AP. New York: W. H.      Freeman and Company. 2012. Print.

Part 3 of 5: Nutritional and Environmental Costs of Beef Cattle Agriculture

From a nutritional standpoint, grass fed beef contains fewer calories per serving and is therefore a leaner cut of beef.  Interestingly, the average American would shed six pounds the first year they ate grass fed beef instead of feedlot beef, and would thus save over 16,000 calories.  Furthermore, conventionally raised cows lack substantial omega-threes because of the harsh and wretched conditions of their man-made habitats, unlike their grass fed counterparts.  These omega-three fatty acids play a major role in reducing a person’s risk of high blood pressure, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease, and are more prevalent and substantial in grass fed beef.  In conclusion, if more American citizens chose grass fed beef, the inherent results would include weight loss and disease prevention, thereby lessening the nation’s hospital visits (Johnson).

I should begin the portion of this blog on environmental impacts of beef cattle agriculture by saying that both grass fed beef cattle and conventionally raised beef cattle pose a threat to the environment.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide” (Matthews).  In fact, cows produce methane, and this is a formidable greenhouse gas (Matthews).

Nevertheless, feedlot agricultural practices in particular take a critical toll on the environment, unlike its grass-fed counterpart.  In addition, feedlot agricultural practices in the American Midwest even cause ecosystems far removed from the Midwest to suffer.  The most prominent example of the widespread environmental impacts of conventionally raised beef cattle agricultural practices is the cultural eutrophication of the Gulf of Mexico.  This ever increasing 8,000 square mile dead zone demonstrates the widespread effects of these conventional farming techniques (Notaras).

Cultural eutrophication is a result of the runoff, contaminated wastewater, and phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizers entering waterways such as the Gulf of Mexico.  This phenomenon doesn’t occur to such a dangerous degree in grass fed beef agricultural practices, because the cows are not crammed by the tens of thousands into small pens, and the build up of manure and fertilizer isn’t as vast as it is in feedlots.  Therefore, the waste waters from beef cattle feedlots in the American Midwest travel down the Mississippi River, emptying into the Gulf of Mexico.  Once these substances pollute the Gulf of Mexico, the levels of phosphorus and nitrogen increase in the body of water, thereby prompting a rapid algae bloom.  With this algal bloom, most of the oxygen available in the water is consumed dominantly by microbes who feed upon remains of the dead algae, which creates hypoxic, or oxygen depleted conditions in major waterways .  Unfortunately, aquatic organisms suffocate from the lack of available oxygen, causing large fish die-offs and self-perpetuating dead-zones (Couard-Hauri).

Additionally, soil erosion is one of the major consequences of feedlot agricultural beef practices.  In order for cattle to be crammed into such constricting areas, topsoil and vegetation is more often than not removed from the fields.  Furthermore, the pesticides and synthetics that are incorporated into feedlot beef cattle feed pollutes the soil, and contributes to soil degradation.  On the other hand, grass fed beef cattle don’t contribute as heavily to soil erosion.  Due to the symbiotic relationship grass fed beef cattle have with grass, these two species work in harmony with each other to maintain the cultivation of agricultural fields.  Only when grass fed beef cattle are allowed to overgraze do they contribute to soil degradation, and this does not happen frequently, as it puts local farmers at an economic and financial disadvantage (Couard-Hauri).

Has anyone ever seen pictures of the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico?  What are your thoughts on the environmental consequences of feedlot beef cattle agriculture?  Let me know, and stay tuned for next week as we discuss why grass fed beef is sustainable!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Courard -Haurari, Friedland Andrew, Relyea, Rick. Environmental Science for AP. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company. 2012. Print.

Johnson, Jo. American Grassfed Beef. n.p. n.f. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://www.americangrassfedbeef.com/grass-fed-natural-beef.asp>

Matthews, Christopher. “Livestock a major threat to environment.” FAO. 29 Nov. 2006.Web. Media Relations, FAO. 10 June 2014. <http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/News/2006/1000448/index.html>

Notaras, Mark. Our World United Nations University. UNU Office of Communications. 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-shame-of-concentrated-animal-feedlots>

Part 2 of 5: Who Put the Grass in Grass Fed?

The day that someone put the grass in grass-fed was the first of never.  🙂  It’s a common misconception that the grass-fed process of agriculture is a relatively new discovery, one that harped off of a late and great health craze or agricultural fad.  It’s not, as raising grass-fed cattle wasn’t an ingenuity of the human race.  It was an ingenuity of Nature.

Last week, we discussed the cycle that is antibiotic resistance, and we also talked about how this cycle occurs in feedlots, where cattle are at the whim of their man-made environments.  Conversely, grass fed cattle are not injected with or forced to consume antibiotics, as they have a symbiotic relationship with grass and grass only.  Interestingly, this symbiotic relationship is known as mutualism, because both species benefit from one another’s existence.  For instance, in their pastures, the grass fed cows are able to sow grass seeds with their hooves and enrich the grass with their manure.  At the same time, the grass provides beef cattle with a highly productive form of energy.  In fact, cows have a second stomach, called a rumen, which functions in breaking down the molecules of grass into proteins and carbohydrates that the cows can properly digest.  Unlike the subsidized grain based diet that feedlot beef cattle consume, the natural eating patterns of grass fed cattle aren’t being violated with this ethical form of agriculture (Pollan).

So why feedlots, if it seems that Nature’s plan for cattle and grass has been proven successful for centuries?  Well, the history of the American Midwestern feedlot dates back to the years following World War Two, where in an attempt to efficiently utilize a surplus of grains, Congress enacted laws to subsidize these crops (Pimentel).  As the government encouraged farmers to grow singleton crops,  farmers sold their cattle to feedlots in order to increase surface area for their newly subsidized crop yields (Pimentel).  Patrick Boyle, the CEO of the American Meat Institute also cites that following World War Two “the local butcher shop began to expand into grocery stores and regional grocery chains” (PBS).  With this expansion, grocery stores were interested in purchasing “their meat from a single source” thus the meat industry was prompted to “buil[d] new facilities out in the heartland” (PBS).

Ultimately, feedlots were constructed to increase efficiency for farmers, grocery stores, and citizens in general.  Do you think that there are hidden costs to this newfound efficiency of raising beef cattle in feedlots?  Let me know, and join me next Tuesday as we discuss the nutritional and environmental results of feedlot beef cattle versus grass-fed beef cattle agricultural practices.

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation. 2014. Web. 3 June 2014. <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/meat/interviews/boyle.html>

Pimentel, David. HIR Harvard Review. Harvard International Review. 26 Oct. 2009. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://hir.harvard.edu/agriculturecorn-ethanol-as-energy/>

Pollan, Michael.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.

Part 1 of 5: An Introduction to Beef Cattle Feedlots

Their names were Harry and Dean, and they were two beef cattle.  Throughout the first twelve months of their lives, the two brothers blissfully roamed the Kentucky bluegrass fields, until the calves’ first birthday, when they were each sent to two distinctly different places.  Harry moved to a conventional Midwestern feedlot, where he spent the next two months of his life standing knee deep in his own feces while eating a mixture of antibiotics, chicken manure, chocolate, cement dust, corn, hooves, and pesticides.  From his pen, Harry observed the unpaved roads and open sewers until the day that he was unceremoniously slaughtered.  On the other hand, Dean was transported to another pasture in rural Kentucky, where he ate a variety of nutritious grasses until his passing.  While both brothers were then processed and shipped to Shaw’s, it was only Dean who proudly wore a label boasting “grass-fed beef.”  The lives of Harry and Dean demonstrate the profound differences between cattle raised in feedlots and grass fed cattle.  Consequently, America’s cows, citizens, health care system, and environment would greatly benefit from an increased consumer investment in grass-fed beef, as unlike its conventional counterpart, grass-fed beef is an ethical form of agriculture (Pollan).

This hypothetical story of Harry is not at all exaggerated from the lives that feedlot beef cattle lead.  Feedlots, otherwise known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), are oppressive places, where a maximum of 100,000 cattle are squeezed into a mere square mile (Estabrook).  Trapped in piles of  their own manure, specks of dust, and mud, feedlot cows have no escape, as barbed wire confines them (Estabrook).  Also, feedlot cows are forced to consume a subsidized grain based diet complete with additions such as stale pastry, meat scraps, and brewery wastes (Pollan).  It’s important to note that cows are herbivores, and this grain based feed makes them fatally ill (Pollan).  Due to the cows grain-based diets and their confinement in such filthy places, feedlots account for the administering of approximately 70% of America’s antibiotics to cattle in order to prevent rampant disease (Notaras).

Every time I read that statistic, it continually shocks me.  It’s pitiful that the majority of antibiotics that are disbursed in this country are issued directly to cattle.  With this statistic, you can’t help but question the level of safety and healthfulness these animals experience in feedlots.  Furthermore, despite the absurd amount of antibiotics that feedlot beef cattle consume, we all still hear horrific stories in the news of people suffering from food-borne illnesses, which begs the question, how effective are antibiotics in eliminating questionable bacteria and reducing one’s risk of disease?   Once a single antibiotic is introduced to the feedlot cattle, a process known as antibiotic resistance can ensue (UCUSA).  It’s a vicious cycle that can be prompted when only strands of bacteria become invulnerable to the antibiotic that was intended to eradicate it (UCUSA).  Before you know it, this process results in more antibiotics being needed to obliterate an ever increasing body of resistant bacteria (UCUSA).

I’d be willing to bet that the vast majority of us consume less antibiotics than the feedlot cows that provide us our beef supply.  How do you feel about this?  If you could change this, would you, or would you leave things the way that they are now?  Why?  Let me know!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂

Works Cited

Estabrook, Barry. “Feedlots vs. Pastures: Two Very Different Ways to Fatten Beef Cattle.” The Atlantic. 28 Dec. 2011. Web. The Atlantic Monthly Group. 1 June 2014. <http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/feedlots-vs-pastures-two-very-different-ways-to-fatten-beef-cattle/250543/>

Notaras, Mark. Our World United Nations University. UNU Office of Communications. 24 Nov. 2010. Web. 31 May 2014. <http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/the-shame-of-concentrated-animal-feedlots>

Pollan, Michael.  The Omnivore’s Dilemma. New York: Penguin Group, 2006. Print.

Clancy, Kate. “Greener Pastures.” UCUSA. Union of Concerned Scientists, March 2006. Web. 3 June 2014. <http://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/legacy/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/greener-pastures.pdf>

Shocking, Unbelievable Facts to Come!

“Industrial agriculture is one of the top four things for which future generations will condemn us.”

-Professor Kwame Anthony Appiah

But why?  Find out why in the coming weeks, as “Project Lunchbox: Let’s Eat!” brings you the information that industrial agriculturists and food manufacturers wish you didn’t know.  Stay tuned, as Part 1 of a series that will last several weeks begins next Tuesday!

Until Next Week… Plan Well, Pack Well, Live Well,

Katie 🙂