When it comes to health, I never questioned my support of the grass fed beef movement. However, with regard to the environment, I had to ask myself: is there a difference between grass-fed organic beef and corn-fed industrialized beef?
Let’s begin with the health benefits of grass-fed. As the demand for dairy and beef catapulted in the 1950′s so did the industrial processes used to meet the demand. Pre-WWII pastures gave way to post-WWII factory farming. Corn diets replaced grass grazing and hormones replaced the natural growth cycle. All of these changes had and have significant impact on our bodies.
Cows cannot digest corn well, which increases their bodily production of Omega 6 fatty acids in their fat cells. Omega-6s are not bad fats unless consumed at in-proportionate levels to Omega-3 fatty acids. Humans don’t naturally produce either and we rely on food sources such as cows, fish, flax seeds or olive oil for those essential fatty acids. When cows eat corn, their naturally balanced ratio of fatty acids skews drastically. When cows eat grass, the balance of omega-6s to omega-3s is 1:1. With corn and soy, the cows’ ratio can rest between 15:1 or even 40:1.
So what are the implications of this imbalance? Inflammation, the root of many diseases. Omega-6s “help stock fats and promote rigidity in cells as well a coagulation and inflammation in response to outside aggression.” Omega-3s “are involved in developing the nervous system, making cell membranes more flexible and reducing inflammation.” If we eat the meat and diary from the Omega 6 saturated cows, we increase inflammation in our bodies exponentially, leading to a physiological state more prone to disease. The same diet relationship is true for chickens and their eggs. Chickens “raised on corn (a nearly universal practice today) contain twenty times more omega-6s than omega-3s.”
Choosing between grass-fed meat and corn-fed meat is simple regarding health and diet. However, it’s an expensive choice. Eating consciously doesn’t always give you the most calories to the dollar. For most people this means no choice at all. However, I believe there’s another choice: stop eating meat and dairy. At the very least, consume significantly less meat and dairy. This isn’t an easy choice and for many it’s seemingly impossible. So I’ll let the United Nations bolster my argument.
In 2010, the UN called for a “global shift” to a vegetarian or vegan diet, stating “lesser consumption of animal products is necessary to save the world from the worst impacts of climate change.”
When you look at the cattle industry today, it is responsible for “18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.” Reuters and Slate claim that the grass-fed movement isn’t a means to counteract the environmental detriment caused by the cattle industry, it’s just as culpable.
However, there are farms out there like 4 Winds Farm that practice methods of no-till and composting the manure of their own livestock. These techniques drastically reduce carbon and methane emissions and provide healthier food access to the surrounding community.
Considering all of this information is quite complex within the global food system. The USDA puts heavy emphasis on meat & dairy protein within their Food Guide Pyramid. The USDA has direct ties to the beef and dairy industry that completely undermine the validity of their doctrine. In 2010, the USDA valued the beef industry at $74 billion dollars. How can the USDA tell it’s citizens to stop eating beef as the UN has suggested? I don’t believe it’s up to the USDA. Understanding the complexity of this information and making a choice it’s up to us. We can educate each other where the USDA fails. We can seek out a better means of keeping our bodies healthy and our planet happy.
I used to be vegan for these political reasons. However, an extremely unfortunate bean allergy forced me to eat eggs and yogurt for protein. I chose eggs and yogurt specifically for their health benefits. Eggs provide an extremely efficient and whole protein source and yogurt contains wonderful probiotics that help to sustain healthy bacteria in your gut. I also chose to support local, sustainable and conscious businesses such as Maple Hill Creamery. Their cows are 100% grass-fed and they are working to give their community access to healthy choices. I respect that.
(Other sources for Omega 6 and 3 info: Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber.)