Why Grass-Fed?: Beyond Buzzwords
Our ongoing mission at Rosso & Flynn is to peel back layers of mystery related to our animal protein sources. To start out, we delved into the basics: what is the difference between “pasture-raised” and… well… whatever isn’t “pasture-raised?” The answers are somewhat intuitive: animals raised in environments catering to their physical comfort and mental well-bring live “healthier” lives, and produce a “better” product at market. But that simply wasn’t a good enough answer. For us to sleep at night, we needed to understand real, cause-and-effect connections between the fuss of maintaining a clean, humane agriculture operation and the consumer experience (the “eating”). In the interest of education, we’ll assume that every buzzword associated with some reason to pay more for meat — “humanely raised,” “pasture raised,” “grass-fed,” and many more — are simply empty phrases, intended to invoke the overeager 21st century bleeding-heart into turning over loads of cash for nothing but a cleverly labeled package.
Diving Deeper into “Good” Meat
To offer practical perspective to our study, we’ll take a look at the specific benefits of three selling points for all of Rosso & Flynn’s products, today focusing on number one:
These three terms are both intuitive and culturally instilled; one on hand, they seem better based on instinct. But any regular supermarket shopper would probably associate them with quality based on creative labeling and “green” stickers. Today, we’re getting specific.
“Grass-fed” is the best example of a term that seems… better? More “natural?” But why? Who’s to say that chickens and cows we eat don’t absolutely love corn-based feed, with myriad benefits associated with loading livestock with tons of grain (if you’ve ever seen a cow pasture when a grain-based supplement arrives, you know they certainly don’t hate it).
Well, it’s fun (and my job) to be cynical about meat-related buzzwords, but in this case, the benefits do lie with grass-fed animals. The easiest benefit to keep in mind is fat content; corn and other grain-based feeds are meant to pump calories (and therefore weight, as fat) into animals bound for slaughter. When you purchase grass-fed beef, you’ll notice a cleaner, less flabby product compared to commercial options. It’s not uncommon for grass-fed meat to contain a mere 1/3 of the fat content of commercial, grain-fattened animals.
Note: Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning that “grass-fed” in the true sense only really applies to cows (or other animals who would naturally seek grass for a primary food source). Chickens, being omnivores, and enjoying plants other than grass, can’t really be “grass-fed.”
Diving a little deeper into the chemistry of the situation, we find that meat from grass-fed animals not only contains less fat; they actually contain healthier fat. Food marketing can so often depend on surface-level assumptions, like “fat-free” being the healthiest option. But, as humans would perish without a dose of fatty acids in their diets, it’s worth parsing the different types of fats and their effects on health.
You may associate “healthy” fats with pricey cuts of salmon praised by big-spender foodies, but that same type of fat (here it comes… Omega-3!) is overwhelmingly available in grass-fed animal meat compared to much more widely available, over-consumed Omega-6 type, associated with heart disease and higher cholesterol. You don’t need a $20 filet of salmon to access healthy fats and bulk of nutrients; you just need to find a good source for grass-fed meat.
Note: “Grass-fed” is not a USDA-regulated term. A cow fed grass for any portion of is likely to receive a decorated sticker boasting a grass diet. Even most consciously grass-fed beef cows finish their lives on a grain diet to gain weight rapidly before slaughter; these are the grass-fed animals you’re likely to find at a farmers’ market. For the “mama’s milk-then-nothing-but-grass-crowd,” you’re looking for “grass-finished” beef, which is harder to find and still un-regulated.
Stay tuned for the next installment of Beyond Buzzwords.