Sustainable Food and Pastured Beef – Where’s the Connection?

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This year’s trendy food concept seems to be “sustainable food”.  Everyone seems to be into the concept – but do they really know what they are talking about?

First, What Does it Not Mean?

Many people use this term without having much of an idea of what it means, so let’s begin by clarifying what it doesn’t mean. Sustainable food isn’t necessarily lower in fat, higher in saturated fat, higher in fiber or less processed.

It doesn’t even automatically mean that it’s organically grown, though very often it is. It’s quite possible to have pizza or platter of nachos and a big mug of beer to wash it down.

The Real Meaning

All sustainable food means is that the food is produced in such a way that the integrity of the soil and water are preserved, the farm workers work in safe conditions and make a living wage, creation of waste products and the use of nonrenewable resources are limited (including shipping) and ideally, the resulting food is nutritious and affordable.

Where to Find These Foods

Does using this phrase guarantee all of that? Of course not. Everybody seems to use the term differently. If you take the time to look at packaging and ask questions, it’s possible to find these products in many places. High end supermarkets, health food stores and farmer’s markets are all places where you are likely to find them.

In many farmers’ markets, the policy is that food must be grown or prepared within a small distance in order to be sold. If the market’s policies are not clearly stated, it is always possible to ask the manager. Choosing to purchase food that is locally grown will limit fuel consumption and pollution, but also is helpful in reducing the price of the food.

Pastured Beef

Pastured beef is an excellent example of a sustainable food that can be purchased at the local farmers’ market. Buying directly from the farmer ensures a living wage for him and guarantees that your meat will be fresh and reasonably priced. If your farmers’ market does not carry meat products, try Eat Wild. In addition to their list of local farmers, they also have a directory of mail order sources of grass fed beef.

The difference between grass fed beef and factory farmed beef is worth the extra expense. Omega 3 fatty acids, normally associated with fish, are found in abundance in cattle raised on grass. The color of the fat will show the difference, sometimes looking almost yellowish in bright light, rather than the white of supermarket beef fat.

Many people have an idealistic view of what feed lot steer are fed. The idyllic picture of cows munching on grass has very little to do with the reality of their lives. According to the National Institute for Environmental Health Science, animal feed may contain mundane sounding ingredients like alfalfa meal, but it is also permitted to contain treated animal excrement, processed chicken feathers and edible food waste from factories. That’s complete with wrappers, in case you wondered.

Pastured beef is more healthful for other reasons, too. Antioxidants and conjugated lineolic acid, CLA for short, are found in much higher amounts. CLA has been associated with reduced cancer rates, lower blood pressure and improved cardiovascular health.

Not only is grass fed beef more nutritious, it’s safer. When cattle are raised on acres of pasture and processed under humane, clean conditions, there is a much lower risk of e. coli contamination.

Take the time to ask about the beef before you bring it home. Grass fed beef is leaner than conventionally fed beef, so requires a more gentle touch in the kitchen. Ideally, most cuts should be cooked quickly over a high heat to prevent toughening. Cooking beyond medium rare or medium will make the meat tough, though marinating or using a Jaccard Meat Tenderizer will help prevent that.

Remember too, you can always use your own meat grinder at home when you buy the meat in solid blocks.

Cooking the Beef

For well done beef, the best way to cook it is to gently braise in a flavorful liquid for a long time. The connective tissues will gradually be released into the sauce, leaving the resulting meat meltingly tender and the sauce rich and delicious. Stew beef, round tip or other inexpensive cuts take well to this method of cooking.

Neopolitan ragù, one of Italy’s most famous sauces, is the perfect place to use grass fed beef. This sauce is affectionately referred to as “Sunday sauce” because of the extensive amount of time required to cook it, however this simple sauce can simmer in a crock pot or the back of the stove without requiring attention.

Traditionally, Sunday sauce can contain several kinds of meat. Beef selections that work nicely in ragù include meatballs, ribs and the filled, rolled steak known in the United States as braciole. It also may contain poultry, pork cuts or sausages.

After the meat simmers for several hours, it is traditionally removed from the ragù. The remaining tomato sauce, full of tender bits of meat, is served over pasta. The meat is served separately as a main course.

Taking the time to find a reliable source of grass fed beef will reward you many times over. Not only can you can feel more confident that your food is safe and nutritious, but the flavor can’t be beat.

Article written by Sandra Mort

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