Editor’s Note: We may usually be all about the LOLs, but but sometimes we need to be about a little bit more than that. This technically qualifies under WTF but I’ll put it in BBQ category (no pun intended), which will basically be miscellaneous.
When I think of cows, I think of driving by an idyllic, green pasture in the backseat of my dad’s car, pinching my nose in a vain attempt to eliminate that classic, country odor, and seeing these beautiful black and white creatures lazily grazing near a white picket fence. I don’t picture sickly cows packed tightly into dusty, overcrowded paddocks, spending their short lives eating corn out of troughs and in horrible conditions just so we can save 30 cents a pound.
Unfortunately, the latter is reality. But it doesn’t have to be.
A great line from the movie Temple Grandin really stuck with me. “Nature is cruel but we don’t have to be; we owe them some respect.” These animals are bred, sustained, and killed for meat to sustain our country. They deserve respect. And they deserve to live their lives in a pasture, eating what they ate for thousands of years, until we saw fit to play God and alter their natural diets. We have molars to chew vegetables, and incisors to cut meat because that’s what we’re supposed to eat. Our bodies evolved into what they did to serve our dietary needs. We cannot thrive on the diet of cows. Cows cannot thrive on the diet of humans.
What I hope to show you is that grassfed animal products are a much better option for you than factory farmed products. Grassfarming leads to healthier meat and dairy products, lower chance of E. coli, healthier ecosystems, reduced flooding and soil erosion, reduced use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that are used to grow corn and soy, lower carbon emissions, and most importantly, more humane animal treatment.
Let’s start by talking about health. Not your health, we’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s talk about the health of the animal.
If you ever want to be able to eat factory farmed meat again, you might want to skip to the next section. Let me just start by saying, “Ew.”
I think we can all agree that grass is what cows naturally eat. I don’t think that is disputed. Cattle farmers started feeding cattle a corn- and soy-based diet in order to fatten them up faster. But many large scale dairy farmers and feedlot operators save money by feeding the cows “by-product feedstuffs.” Basically, they are feeding cows waste products from the manufacturers of human food.
Here comes the “ew.” Common “by-product feedstuffs” include, but are not limited to: sterilized city garbage, candy, bubblegum, floor sweepings from plants that manufacture animal food, potato wastes, bakery wastes or a scientific blend of pasta and candy. The candy and bakery waste is commonly fed while still in their wrappers. Potato waste can include inedible or rotten potatoes, and even french fries and chips that contain fats or oils from frying operations.
Ruminant (noun) : any even-toed, hoofed mammal of the suborder Ruminantia,being comprised of cloven-hoofed, cud-chewing quadrupeds,and including, besides domestic cattle, bison, buffalo, deer, antelopes, giraffes, camels, and chevrotains.
It is considered “normal” for a cow on a grain diet to be sick with a wide variety of ailments. For example, ruminants on grain diets don’t produce enough saliva to neutralize the acidity of their stomachs, which results in acidosis. Acidosis leads to another condition called “rumenitis,” where the wall of the rumen becomes inflamed which can lead to ulcers and inhibit nutrient absorption. Rumenitis then leads to liver abscesses. The ulcers in the rumen wall allow bacteria to pass through and enter the bloodstream. From there, the bacteria ends up in the liver where they cause abscesses. 15-30% of feedlot cattle suffer from liver abscesses.
Bloat is another consequence of a feedlot diet. Ruminants normally produce gas as a by-product of digestion. Healthy ruminants just belch up the gas with no difficulty. Bloat is the result of unhealthy ruminants (those on artificial diets) who are unable to belch and release the gases. In some serious cases, the animal is unable to breathe and dies from asphyxiation.
There’s also feedlot polio. When the rumen becomes too acidic, an enzyme is produced that destroys thiamin, or vitamin B-1. The lack of vitamin B-1 starves the brain of energy and creates paralysis.
All of that doesn’t sound too healthy does it? The feedlot managers load them up with antibiotics to aid in digestion, which can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. These health problems all stem from a grain-based diet, so essentially, we cause the illnesses, then medicate for them. Wouldn’t it make more sense to stop causing them in the first place, and bring them back to a pasture diet?
Grain + cows = bad. Lesson learned, right? Ok, moving on…
I think it’s pretty clear that grainfed animals are pretty unhealthy. You wouldn’t want someone sick touching your food, so why would you want your food to BE sick?
Now that the bad stuff is out of the way, let’s talk about the wealth of health benefits that come with the grassfed gloriousness:
A 6-ounce sirloin from a grassfed steer has almost 100 calories less than its equivalent from grainfed steer.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Grassfed meat has 2-6 times more omega-3 fatty acids than grainfed meats. The reason being that omega-3s are formed in the green leaves (specifically the chloroplasts) of plants. Omega-3s are most commonly found in seafood and certain nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts. Omega-3s can reduce your risk of a serious heart attack (by 50%!), lower blood pressure, and even reduce your risk of cancer. Eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 20 times more omega-3s than eggs from factory hens. It’s estimated that only 40% of American consume a sufficient supply of these nutrients.
Conjugated linoleum acid is another type of good fat. Milk and meat from grassed animals contain 500% more CLA than products of grainfed diets. CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer. In a recent study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet had a 60% lower risk of breast cancer, than those with the lowest levels. Besides kangaroos, grassfed ruminants are the best source for CLA.
The meat of grassfed animals also contains Vitamin E, a potent antioxidant that is linked to a lower risk of heart disease and cancer and may also have anti-aging properties. Most Americans are deficient in Vitamin E. Sometimes feedlot cattle are given supplements to make up for the difference, but grassfed animals have twice as much Vitamin E than those grainfed animals that receive 1,000 IU per day of synthetic Vitamin E.
Other essential minerals
There’s also a very interesting factor with pasture grass that is called deep rooting. Grass has a root system that supports its leaves and stem, but when a cow takes a bite off of the top of the plant, there’s not enough energy left to support the roots. So the plant reacts by sloughing roots, and then build back deeper roots as the grass grows above ground.
Row crops, like corn, though, are shallow-rooted. Which means that for years and years, they have been living on a very narrow layer of soil. Constant harvesting of these crops has depleted the topsoil of essential elements such as magnesium and calcium. So grainfed cattle are deficient in these essential minerals which can lead to health problems for the cows. Those deficiencies are then passed on to us.
So grass, as it grows deeper into the ground, is able to pick up the fresh minerals below the initial layer of overworked topsoil. Which makes those minerals available all the way up the food chain.
“But wouldn’t the deeper layers of the soil become mineral-deficient after awhile?” I’m glad you asked. Remember the roots that are sloughed off to make room for deeper ones? Well they decay, releasing organic material that feeds microorganisms, restores subsoil health, creates water-absorbing voids, and ultimately steadily increases the organic matter of the soil.
Grassfed beef also makes sense economically. More than half of our total grain crop goes to feed livestock, so it makes sense that if we convert half of the 150 million acres used to grow corn and soy to permanent pasture and not lose one ounce of meat production. While producing healthier meat and shifting the massive federal subsidies for corn and soybean production to a better use.
It also offers environmental benefits. Let’s briefly compare the carbon footprints by examining what goes into raising both types of cattle. To run a feedlot, you need to make fertilizer, till the fields, harvest the crops (all which I’m sure run on gasoline powered machinery), leave the stalks to decay and emit carbon dioxide, and then start the process all over again. It is estimated that production of such crops release carbon at a rate of 1,000 pounds per acre.
Whereas with pastured cattle, you grow grass, which sucks up and stores more carbon dioxide than crops, leave the cattle in one spot for awhile, then you move a fence to direct them to a fresher patch of grass and so on, and so on. It’s estimated that perennial grasslands store roughly 1,000 pounds per acre. Meaning that crops put 1000 lbs of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and the same amount of grass absorbs it back into the ground where it belongs, increasing the fertility of the soil. That sounds like its better for the environment, right? Not to mention, way less yucky.
Another benefit is the prevention of flooding. A plowed field sheds rainwater almost as fast as a parking lot does. This can (and has) lead to catastrophic flooding, which can result in erosion, dislocation, and billions of dollars in damages. The soil used in row-crop agriculture can absorb only 1.5 inches of rain per hour, while a permanent pasture can absorb as much as 7 inches of rain per hour.
So on one hand, you’ve got sad, sick, unhealthy animals, and on the other you’ve got healthy, vibrant, peaceful animals. I don’t think I need to ask which sounds more appealling. I do sincerely hope that you consider these facts when heading to the butcher. After all, you are what you eat.