My Beef with Beef: Part One

As I mentioned in my previous post I don’t eat beef.  In fact, I can tell you exactly when I stopped eating it.

Some background:     In 2002 I took an Environmental Science class during my undergrad studies and the class, as it turns out, was a life-changer.  Seriously.  My semester project was to investigate the beef slaughterhouse industry and what I discovered changed the way I viewed food.  The major abuses practiced almost daily at major commercial slaughterhouses and in commercial beef processing (I’m sure you could say the same about commercial pork and poultry as well) forced me to re-evaluate what I eat on a daily basis.  Beef actually stopped tasting good to me.  It seemed that with all I had learned about the commercial beef industry I couldn’t enjoy the taste anymore.   So, I simply stopped eating it.  Over and done.

The Good Food Festival. Clockwise from Left to Right: Menu from the Gastrobus, Green Corn Tamal with Sour Cream and Pico de Gallo from the Border Grill Truck, Vegetable Garden, Mandoline Truck, Strawberry Lemonade from Heirloom LA Truck, Grilled Cheese Truck, Locally Grown Sign, Organic Valley Booth, Tacos from Border Grill Truck, Pizza Garden, "Avoid Processed Foods". Center Photo: "Plastic Bags Make Me Gag" courtesy of SMHS students

Now flash-forward to 2011.  With all that I have learned in the past nine years about sustainable eating I have expanded my world-view of food in general and have learned quite a bit about beef—and poultry, pork, eggs, dairy, fruits, veg—and how all this amazing stuff can be produced in a sustainable way that helps not only to feed us, but also the soil and repair the environment as well.

Booths at the Good Food Fest: Olive Press, Santa Barbara; Backyard Bees Honey; Drake Farms Goat Cheese; CSA Booth; Olea Farm Olive Oil, San Luis Obispo

As I mentioned in recent posts I visited the Good Food Festival and Conference in Santa Monica last weekend and was happy to listen to a few panels.  One such panel, “21st Century Meat and Dairy” discussed how sustainable producers, such as Bill Niman (BN Ranch and formerly of Niman Ranch) is able to not only produce excellent quality meats, without hormones or antibiotics, but raise the animals humanely and with limited damage to the environment.  I was particularly enthused to see Niman as I’ve long admired what he has accomplished in the agricultural world.  Niman is truly a pioneer.  In the 1970s he opted to create a farm environment in which beef and pork is raised and produced without the use of antibiotics or hormones–something unheard of at the time–while also providing the animals with quality feed/grass.  In other words, he treated the animals humanely and respected the environment, and in turn created a stellar product that was the prize of many A-list restaurants around the country.   Also part of the panel was Dr. Cindy Daley of Chico State University and Organic Valley Dairy, Chris Ely the co-founder of Applegate Farms, Mark McAfee of Organic Pastures (a raw milk dairy in So Cal), and Mel Coleman of Niman Ranch.  The panel was moderated by Andrew Gunther of Animal Welfare Approved.  Obviously, these producers are representative of hundreds of others who, similarly, strive to create healthy, quality meat and dairy while creating little or no damage to the environment.

21st Century Meat & Dairy Panel, Left to Right: Andrew Gunther, Animal Welfare Approved; Chris Ely, Applegate Farms; Bill Niman, BN Ranch; Cindy Daley, Organic Valley; Mel Coleman, Niman Ranch and Mark McAfee, Organic Pastures Raw Milk

What I took away from the discussion:     Happily, demand for sustainable, organic and humanely raised meat is on the rise.  Even during the recession demand continued to climb.  This was also the case in another panel I listened to, which reported increased demand for organic produce during the worst part of the recession.  This is very interesting and somewhat contradictory to what one might have assumed.  One could conjecture that even though we are indeed in the midst of hard times, people are continuing to educate themselves about what they eat and choose to pay more for better quality and more nutritious food.  This is great news, but education is vital to getting more people to learn about the effects of conventionally raised meat. With increased awareness we can bring change to the way America eats.  For the better.  One bite at a time.

What do you think about conventional meat farming? How do you intend on educating those around you about sustainable, organic meat?

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2 thoughts on “My Beef with Beef: Part One

  1. Education is vital – but to so many families, so is price. And convenience. If we can see more and more organic produce in our supermarkets, I believe that slowly people will change over as they become more educated. In our rushed, modern lives not too many people will take the extra time needed to go a distance to buy beef that has been raised the natural way.

    1. I completely agree, Colline! Price plays a major factor is what people buy–including me. With more producers creating top-quality, organic meat prices will drop making it easier for people to find organic products easily in their neighborhood supermarket. Convenience is important. But, I don’t think much change will happen unless the average American educates themselves about what they eat. With education comes change. Once people realize what they are eating they can demand change. With enough collective voices, I believe, producers will respond to meet the new demand. We’ve seen this with rBGH in milk–people educated themselves about the dangers of this growth hormone and the dairy producers stopped giving it their cows. The dairy companies didn’t lose profit and buyers got what they wanted–safe milk.

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