Since starting this blog, I have learned so many things that I never even thought about before. For example, I always knew that there was grass fed beef and grain fed beef at the grocery store. The grass fed is typically from Mexico and has so little fat that it requires marinating to tenderize it. Therefore, I stayed away from it and bought the more expensive beef, especially when it came to steaks. Of course, I used to be totally unaware that I could get local beef, poultry, and pork. But even if you buy local, you should know what practices the farmer uses. Are the animals pastured, grazing at will on grass, or are they kept in stalls and fed a grain diet? Believe it or not, it matters!
Now this topic is way too big for me to cover in a single post, but my reading has led me to be much more aware and I wanted to share with you, in a nutshell, why grass versus grain should make a difference in our buying decisions. I will try to summarize some of what I have learned.
- Most grain fed meat comes from huge corporate confinement meat growers, like Smithfield. These are the places you see on documentaries and PETA commercials. The animals are crammed into stalls with hundreds or thousands of other animals and fed grain from bins because it makes them grow fatter and faster. They stand in their own feces and barely have room to turn around. Conditions are disgusting, so they are given high doses of antibiotics. If they get sick anyway, a bulldozer moves the animal (even if it's still alive) to be slaughtered. Yes, they still feed it to you.
- If all cows were pastured, more grass would be grown on farmland. Land that is currently being tilled, could be used for pasture. That would be great news because grass collects carbon, just like trees do.
- Cows cut grass without using petroleum based products like gas and oil. They don't leave grass clippings like your lawn mower does, and they eliminate the need for fertilizer because they fertilize the area themselves. Grain, on the other hand, requires one to till the grass under, fertilize the crop, sow and reap using machinery that requires gas and oil, and eventually destroys the land it's grown upon, which means more chemical fertilizer next year.
- Chickens, cows, and pigs were not designed to eat grain. They were designed to forage. Cows should eat grass, pigs should forage for roots, chickens for bugs, larvae, and kitchen scraps. Did you know chickens are omnivores? Why feed them genetically modified grain? So they will grow fatter and faster, even so fast sometimes that their bones and organs cannot support them and they fall over and die.
- The current grain feeding model is not sustainable. It cannot last forever. New pathogens keep emerging, followed by new antibiotics. The fields become more and more eroded and sterile, requiring more and more chemicals. Quantities require more and more gasoline powered machinery. Petroleum is a limited resource. Why wait till this nasty system collapses of its own volition? Grass feeding and rotating pastures is a sustainable, economical, humane practice that builds land instead of eroding it, and it requires very little human labor and no gas powered machinery.
- Grain feeding requires transportation of the grain from the field to the feed lot, which means carbon emissions and using gasoline powered vehicles. Grass feeding requires moving the herd ocassionally to the next pasture. Again, this method is more ecological because it doesn't require petroleum products and machinery to get from one place to another.
- Grain fed meat is much higher in fat than grass fed, making it a healthier choice. In fact, grass fed beef is lower in fat than grain fed chicken!
In conclusion, if you are going to eat meat, the most eco-friendly choice is to buy locally pastured meat and dairy products. If you aren't sure where to find local meat, try asking around at the farmer's market. You can also look online at localharvest.org for organic, sustainable farmers nearby. Each listing on the website includes the items you can buy from that farm and you may be surprised at what you can find just down the road.