The first thing this here city slicker learned upon visiting 5 Bar Beef was that you never, I repeat, never, refer to a "ranch" as a "farm". A farm grows produce, a ranch raises livestock, duh! I grew up eating Spam, everybody, I just had no idea.
Once that fact was established, I had the task of winning over the rancher who I had called a farmer, Frank Fitzpatrick, who was none too pleased by this reference but I proceeded anyway to ask him as many questions as I possibly could about his grass-fed cows before we had to high tail it back to the kitchen for about a zillion events we had going on that evening.
Like many people concerned with nutrition (I don't eat Spam anymore, thank you), I've heard the buzz word "grass-fed beef", I've seen the USDA "process verified" grass-fed labels at Whole Foods, read Dr Mercola say it was a safer way to consume Omega-3s than Mercury laden fish, but I didn't know much at all about the regulation of it. According to Frank, many ranches (not farms!) start their cattle on pasture and then "finish" them at feed lots where they eat, well, feed, and are fattened much faster and cheaper than if they are left to forage on pasture, their native diet. Grass-fed expert Jo Robinson says here that meat can qualify for a USDA grass-fed seal "even if animals are confined to a pen and fed hay for months out of the year. Also they can be given hormones and a steady diet of antibiotics." Hmmmm, very deceptive, don't you think? So essentially most "grass-fed" beef labeled as such really isn't if we are all being honest here because it lacks the substantial nutritional value associated with 100% grass-fed beef as well as the humane conditions that careful consumers typically accociate with that description.
So how do you really know if the beef you are getting is 100% grass-fed, antibiotic and hormone free? Well we decided to go to the sources ourselves. We want to learn and we want to support producers whose practices we respect. 5 Bar Beef was the first ranch we visited. After we got past the initial rancher/farmer thing, Frank proceeded to take us on an extensive tour of his rolling hill property and answered my probing questions with highly quotable answers like "My cows have only one bad day in their life." He also pointed out the pecking order of a group we were observing, how whenever there were cows laying, there would be others encircling them, standing as look outs for predators. Of course this instinctual behavior is obstructed in commercial farming where the mobility of livestock is severely inhibited or denied completely and stressful behavior ensues in it's place, you know, like prison. We must ask ourselves why do we as a society support such practices by purchasing meat raised in commercial/corportate farms.
What can we all do to make a difference? Ask questions! Make a demand at markets you frequent and the industry will listen. Support businesses who support small ranchers, trust me we will all talk about it because it is so much more expensive to buy meat raised humanely and we need to explain our price points. Understand that we can not feed our population by raising livestock humanely, it requires much land that we just don't have access to because we are overpopulated so eat less meat! Start off slow, one day a week, then two, and choose your meat with intelligence. We have purchasing power to make change in our very broken food policy system so please join us and start now.
|Photos: Tara Maxey|