Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Real Scoop on Beef

Jennifer's Note: This may seem like a strange post to put on a blog about Christian womanhood. However, as Proverbs 31 women, a good portion of our work to bless our families involves feeding them. Just as we should feed them the very best we can spiritually, the physical food we give our families should nourish rather than hurt them, don't you think? As a farmer's wife who studied the industry in college, Marion Yoder knows first hand what she is talking about, which is why I have asked her to do monthly health posts. Take her disclaimer seriously; because after reading this, you just may never look at your cheeseburger the same again!

Disclaimer: This post contains some graphic information. If you really don't want to change the way you eat, please don't read it. But if you want to know the truth......
You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
The Real Scoop on Beef.....
 Eggs are bad for you. Don't eat fish. Stay away from red meat. We hear these things all the time, often from the medical establishment. "Red meat", which can include lamb, bison and venison, most often refers to beef.
Why avoid beef? Here's what "they" say:
  • It's high in saturated fats. 
  • It contributes to high cholesterol.
 And here are the real reasons to avoid it:
  • E coli outbreaks 
  • "pink slime" 
  • 80% of ground beef in the stores is made from worn out dairy cows 
  • full of antibiotics and hormones 
  • fed on grains and "industrial waste" (read: dried blood, bone meal, and pasteurized chicken poo)
 Yes, really  :-/  When I went to college for beef and sheep production, I learned all the dirty little secrets of the industry, and that one was not the most shocking.
Here's the real shocker:
Beef, in and of itself, is really very good for you, and all of these issues can be eliminated, just by changing the way the cattle are raised.
Lets look at them one (or two) at a time:
It's high in saturated fats.
It contributes to high cholesterol.
These things are both true of feedlot beef.  Industrial beef is raised in a sort of concentration camp for cattle. These animals are packed together in a concrete lot, often knee deep in their own waste, and fed (more on that later) until they are fat enough. Cattle raised in these conditions are stressed, and aren't getting the things they need (from grass) to produce the types of fats they were made to have. Instead they lay on a type of thick, hard, white fat that is very bad for our health. This fat is saturated, true, but there are two kinds of saturated fat, long chain (shortening, margarine, industrial animal fats) and short chain (butter, coconut oil, pastured animal fats). Fat from pastured beef is softer, yellower, and loaded with CLA and Omega 3, which actually lowers bad cholesterol and raises the good stuff. Exactly the opposite of feedlot beef.
E coli outbreaks
"pink slime"
These two really go together.  Because of their living conditions,  beef cattle are often coated with  manure when they reach the slaughterhouse. This is compounded by the fact that industrial slaughterhouses will butcher 10,000 - 20,000 animals a day, a lot of it done by machine, and it's quite common for bowel to be punctured, spilling the contents over the meat. Now, they do hose them off somewhat, and trim off the meat that is still dirty, then send the rest on down the line. E. Coli is found in manure. That's the only way for it to come in contact with the meat. 
Even with that precaution, 90% of fast food burgers contain some fecal matter (a nice way of saying "poop"). Why? Well, you remember those dirty scraps? Those are heated to melt off the fat, ground fine, then added to scrapings from after they cut off the useable meat, then send the bones, legs, heads, and other "waste" parts through a machine designed to remove anything still there. 
"Lean, finely textured mechanically separated beef" they call it. The resulting "pink slime" is then sterilized with ammonia gas. This is a touchy process, too much gas, and nobody will be able to stand the taste, too little, and you'll end up with an e.coli or salmonella outbreak. This stuff is mixed with ground beef (up to 40%) that is then sent to schools, fast food chains, and grocery store shelves, most notably as pre-formed patties, processed meats, or those  ground beef "chubs" that are always on sale. Ewwwww! Oh, and guess how all of this appears on the ingredients label? Yup, "beef". 
In contrast, if you buy your beef from a small farmer, it will usually be processed at a small, family run butcher shop.  Here, the animals are treated with respect, and they usually do less than 20 in a day, allowing time to do all of the cutting by hand. They take great care to keep your meat clean, their livelihood depends on it. Here, ground beef is just that, beef.
80% of ground beef in the stores is made from worn out dairy cows.
Why is this an issue?  A dairy cow's natural life span is 12-15 years. Modern industrial farming has cut it down to 2-3. Dairy cattle are pumped full of  hormones to control their cycles, increase their milk production, and keep them milking longer. They are also subjected to massive doses of antibiotics, to control the mastitis (udder infection) caused by the hormones. At the end of their short lives, they are dumped, residues and all,  into the industrial food system as "ground beef", and no one is the wiser. 
Another issue is linked to this: "Certified Angus Beef", touted as somehow better than other beef, is made from the Angus breed of beef cattle, right? Wrong. You know what makes it "Certified Angus"? There has to be a certain amount of fat in the meat, and the hide has to be 60% black. Over half of Holstein (dairy) cattle fit that description. A purebred Red Angus won't. Guess where lots of those worn out dairy cows end up. Yup. :-/
Full of antibiotics and hormones
Aside from the issues with dairy cows (see above), feedlot cattle are implanted with a hormone (estrogen) pellet to make them grow faster, then fed antibiotics to increase their appetites and keep them from getting sick in their horrid living conditions.
 Fed on grains and "industrial waste" (read: dried blood, bone meal, and pasturized chicken poo)
God designed cattle to have an amazing digestive system. Ruminants have a 4-chambered stomach. The most important chamber is the rumen, populated with millions of cellulose- eating microbes. These critters break down the cellulose in grasses and turn it into nitrogen, which the cow then processes into protein in the form of meat. Grains are cheap, especially corn. Why not feed cheap corn instead, decrease "grow time", and raise our profits? It worked. A downside to this new form of feeding was that a grain-based diet gave the cattle a bad case of acidosis (sour stomach), necessitating the use of antibiotics to keep them from getting sick.
 For centuries, manure, as well as bone and blood meal, were used as fertilizer since its high nitrogen content makes plants grow faster. In recent years, since the discovery of the chemistry of the ruminant system, it has become a common and cost effective use of chicken waste (70% nitrogen) to pasteurize it and feed it to cattle. Grains are still necessary to make it palatable. 
Pastured cattle, while they may receive small amounts of grain, still get most of their nutrition from grass, the way they were made to. This changes the flavor of the meat, allowing it to taste "beefy" without added flavorings. Another benefit is that healthy cattle produce good fats, and the proper balance of omega 3 and 6.
The Whole Story....
The long and the short of it is that you get what you pay for. Pastured beef cannot be grown as cheaply as feedlot beef, therefore, you will spend more on good beef than if you buy it at Aldi's.  If you want to change the source of your beef, check out www.localharvest.org and type in your zip code to find a farmer near you. If you buy direct from the farmer you can usually get a much better price than if you shop at a health food store. 
We have a right to know what is in our food and a responsibility to learn. What we do with that knowledge is our own concern.  I know plenty of others who think it's cool that you can feed cattle chicken poo. That's their choice. I choose to eat beef that ate grass. What will you do?

Marion Yoder

1 comment:

  1. That was an amazing science lesson! I knew it was bad but I never knew it was that gross. Thanks for the heads up. No more burger joint for a quick bite.