Tuesday, April 22, 2008

We're Not in Kansas Anymore, Are We?

You have to wonder, really, when ag researchers at Kansas State don't know how cattle are raised. Kansas. Case in point, this press release on research by K-State grad student AND former veterinarian on the costs of going "natural" and "organic" in beef production.

The article is discussing, of course, the changes required in feed from conventionally grown grain to organic grain for industrial-farmed cattle in order to meet the standards for "organic" and "natural" beef.

Say what?

There is nothing, nothing, "natural" about ruminants eating grain instead of grass. There is nothing "natural" about thousands of cattle closely confined in muddy pens.

There isn't a label you can stick on that meat that would accurately convey, "Okay, the feed might be kinda natural, which beats all the bizarre additives, except that it's grain, and cows don't eat grain, and other than that, it's totally not natural how the cows are fed or raised in the feedlot."

Now, there's truth in labeling.

What floors me is that the feedlot and grain are accepted as "normal" by a veterinarian and doctoral student in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology who damn well ought to know that ruminants are designed by nature to eat grass. I mean, I learned that on Sesame Street in 1969.

"The reason we're looking at this is because before anyone decides to go all-natural or all-organic, they need to be aware of what it's going to cost them and cost consumers," Wileman said. "We want producers to be knowledgeable about what to expect in terms of performance and economics."

It is true, I admit, that to go to what really constitutes "natural" for cows would mean the end of a billion dollar industrial farming industry. So much for the economics. It might cripple fast food as a "cheap" meal and lose yet more billions in fast food business. We consumers would have to eat a whole lot less beef. A whole lot. I'm good with that.

Maybe, big ag is not good with it, but the least that a researcher, an academic professional, could do is admit that there is a huge lie going on with how cattle are raised, that "conventional" practices are anything but conventional, and that the only remotely "natural" thing here would be the origin of part of the cattle feed. Let's just quit ignoring the man behind the curtain.

Wow, Dorothy, we've sure come a long way from Kansas. Now, where's those friggin' shoes so we can get back?


seanmcclintock said...

Hear, hear! I've actually had someone say to me, when asked if they served grass-fed beef, "I don't think cows can eat grass!" Oh my, how far we have come.

mollyjade said...

Expat Chef, have you had any interaction with your local paper about the recipes they print? I never thought I'd be writing my paper about this, but last week they printed a column about cooking with your children. The subheadline was "Nutrition vital for kids despite busy lives." I was so excited to see an article like that until I read the menu. It was turkey sandwiches on white bread (with cheese and gravy), chocolate malts, and a potato salad with mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese, and bacon. "My kids will eat anything that's covered in melted cheddar," the article says. I didn't realize kids won't eat even potatoes these days. I think I got off on the wrong foot with them, as their response to my letter reads like I'm a crazy health nut. (The optional lettuce garnish on the sandwich counts as the vegetable!) I wouldn't have minded so much if the article didn't call the meal nutritious.

Expatriate Chef said...

Mollyjade, you were right to send them a letter. I would have felt the same way, in fact, what paper? I'll write!

I am lucky to have one of the best food sections in our local paper, James Beard award winning, in fact. The editor is a friend, as well. She authored a cook book on healthy, quick cooking with a chapter on meals for kids. So, I am pretty sure I won't have to worry about that.

Keep at it! I am sure you made them think, and they need to.

mollyjade said...

It's the Baton Rouge Advocate. I did look at their other columns in the series, and this was by far the worst. But it would have been so easy to do Cajun sweet potato fries instead of that nasty potato salad or a smoothie instead of chocolate malts. Here's a link: http://www.2theadvocate.com/features/food/17823519.html

kitchenmage said...

What? Cows eat grass? But, but, but...! What will they think of next? *grin*

mollyjade, that 'salad' recipe is rather over-the-top, isn't it?

mollyjade said...

The paper is printing my letter.

Paul said...

Well, if you fully support the grass fed industry, be my guest. What may surprise you is the cattle will take an additional year or more to make it to slaughter weight. Are you prepared to pay the extra cost of maintaining that animal for this long before it is converted into meat? If so, I applaude your committment to this cause.

By the way, even grass fed cattle receive supplemental rations in the form of high protein cubes, consisting of soybean meal and other micro-nutrients. Grass alone cannot provide 100% of a cattle's nutritional requirments. Some areas of pasture are actually nutritritionally deficient of micro-nutrients while others are better.

In any case, if this is not provided, think of it in this way: your child needs extra nutrition during his/her growth stages to maintain a proper diet during stressful times. If you do not provide this, the child's growth and mental capacity is limited, permanently.

So, what's your choice gonna be?

Even grass fed cows eat more than grass when they are pregnant and preparing to give birth. If not, the young animal may become susecptible to disease and not able to fight off bacteria as well. In the long term, an unhealthy animal does not do well and is not able to live a good quality life.

Again, what's your choice gonna be? Dorothy knows what's best.

Expatriate Chef said...

Grassfed. That's my choice. That's what we buy. The farmers I buy from use rotational grazing methods and I will be sure to ask about any supplemental grain, which they don't use as they say. If cows were designed by nature to eat grass, it seems like supplements are not required.

I would prefer to pay more (though I don't because I buy direct and buy a split side at a time) and eat less to make meats a sustainable choice for everyone. I prefer to eat a few vegetarian meals in a week to stay on a sustainable path as well.

It is not the choice of every American, definitely. But, as a global citizen, it is the only rational choice.

I choose wisely.

Expatriate Chef said...

Paul, I directed your comments to the farmers who raises our beef. Their reply:

"I would say he is full of "crap" --- excuse my language! VERY FEW people can do what we do. That is the reason we will never get any
bigger with the land we have --- because we want to do it "right" by raising sustainable and healthy beef. We do totally 100% grassfed and it is much much better for you health wise and for the environment. One is that grain messes up the GI tract of animals, making it more acidic and
thereby can harbor acid-resistant e-coli that can potentially make us
sick when they get into our bodies---because our GI tract is not as acidic as the grain-fed cow so our digestive system cannot kick these acid resistant coli out. Hence, I believe is one of the reasons behind some of this e-coli sickness. Also, every day on grain takes away some of the essential fatty acids that are better for us---omega 3's, CLA's, Vitamin E. Betacarotene."