Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Too Many Words - Part 2

Image result for inigo montoya i do not think it means

This is another of my favorite movie quotes and I can't even tell you how many times this scene has flashed through my mind as I've been questioned by customers about terms used regarding meat.  It is from the movie "The Princess Bride" where Inigo Montoya finally questions the diabolical mastermind about his use of the word "inconceivable".  

Grass Fed Beef and Pasture Raised Pork are terms that fit into this category.  They seem pretty clear if you take them as they are written, but there is always more to the story.  

Do you remember music class or those piano lessons when you learned the name of the bass clef space notes?  Maybe not.  But you will remember this mnemonic - All Cows Eat Grass.  Does that sound familiar?  It holds a truth we seem to have forgotten - all cows DO eat grass!  Not "Only Grass Fed Cows Eat Grass".   All cows.  Let me elaborate in a tiny little science lesson...

Cows are part of a family group of animals called ruminants.  There are roughly 200 different ruminants in all of nature, but on the farm our ruminant friends are cattle, sheep and goats.  Ruminants have one large stomach that is broken into four parts:  the rumen, the reticulum, the masum and the abomasum.  Just fun information for a party.  The important part of the stomach for this conversation is the rumen.   When we're feeding cattle, we're feeding the rumen.  The rumen is loaded with microbes which break down things that are inedible to other species.  Cattle (and sheep and goats) get the majority of their nutrition from grass or forage.  If the balance between grain and forage gets out of whack, you have sick cows. However cows like grain, in fact if they escape in the fall or winter you will often find them in corn fields munching on the leftovers from harvest. Grains are a great energy source for cows as they spend their days lumbering about the farm grazing and growing.

Cows are also like us - they need carbohydrates (energy), protein and fats, as well as water.  Good farmers provide all of these for their livestock.  Their needs of these nutrients fluctuate depending on their age, if they are pregnant, if they are nursing a calf, etc.  All cows for part of their life are nursing a calf while they are pregnant with their next calf!  That means they need a lot of goody to keep that big body going.  They are really remarkable creatures because they can take just about any food and keep their rumen rolling.  Living on things that are inedible to humans while raising two babies - that's a cow's super power!  It's also important to realize that cows, especially in Kansas, do not have access to green grass throughout the year.  Therefore they eat hay and corn silage when the grass is not available.  That idyllic vision of a happy cow spending all of its days on lush green grass just can't happen in most parts of the United States.

On the flip side, pigs are not ruminants.  They have what is called a "simple stomach" and they are omnivores, meaning basically they will eat anything.  When the term "pasture raised pork" is brought up, it is largely referring to where the pig is raised not it's diet.  If you spend any time around a pig you will soon realize that they are not too particular about things.  They need massive amounts of calories in a day to fuel their muscle-laden bodies.  They love to forage and root in the dirt, digging up the soil, lifting fences, flipping feed bunks and even using their mighty snouts to push each other out of the way if need be.  If you turned a pig out into a field to "graze" and expect that to be it's entire food source you're probably asking for trouble.  Farmers feed them grains for their nutritional needs and to help them finish for market in a timely manner.  On our farm we also like to give them hay to keep them busy, because a busy pig is a happy pig.  A happy pig is a pig that is not destroying things, which leads to a happy farmer.  And a happy farmer makes for a happy farmer's wife, which is really the bottom line.

So, is there a nutritional benefit to grass fed vs. grain fed beef?  I would just say there are health benefits to beef, or just meat in general.  Our fear of fats that has run rampant since the mid-1900's is now being called into question as new science shows that there are good things that our bodies need that can only be found in meat.  If you look at the statistics comparing grass fed and grain fed beef, they are extremely similar.  One of the selling points used by grass fed proponents is that grass fed beef has twice as many Omega 3 fatty acids as grain fed beef.  However, if you look at the numbers it's only a .02 g vs .01 g difference in a 1 ounce serving.  There are many better sources for Omega 3's if this is a key component of your diet - like adding a few walnuts to your oatmeal or eat some eggs.    

Total Fat
14.4 g
16.8 g
70 g
Saturated Fat
6 g
6.4 g
24 g
5.2 g
7.2 g
16 g
0.16 g
0.4 g
6 g
Total trans fats
0.08 g
1.2 g
2 g
Omega 3
0.08 g
0.04 g
1.1 g
Omega 6
0.48 g
0.4 g
10 g
69.6 g
76 g
200 g
Per one ounce serving.  

The take-away from all of this?  Find a source of meat that you enjoy and are comfortable with their husbandry practices.  If you like grass fed beef, by all means find a good and reliable source for grass fed beef.  If you prefer the taste of grain fed beef, you can still "feel good" because they also eat grass and you are getting the same health benefits.  No matter what you chose, ask about where the cows are raised, what they are fed.  Ask about herd health practices, why the farmer chose the particular breed of animal they chose.  Ask why a farmer feeds the particular way he or she does.  Go visit the farm if you can.  Same thing with pork.  Labeling is deceiving, terms have wavering meanings.  Don't get hung up on the words on the package.  

Data Source:  www.beefmagazine.com/beefquality-vs-grain-fed-groundbeef-no-differencehealthfulness   

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