The Case for Steak

January 17, 2015

A shorter version of this article was first published in edible Monterey Bay magazine, Winter 2014. 

In the past 24 years I have seen the California’s Central Coast food scene grow from a sorry corner of the produce section to entire markets featuring locally grown, sustainable products. When Joe and I first started marketing grassfed beef in 1991 people wrinkled their noses and asked “What’s grassfed beef?” Today, it’s a common choice on menus and in butcher cases everywhere. Locally raised, grassfed meats have even been parodied by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein on Portlandia’s “Is the Chicken Local?” episode when the couple abruptly abandons a romantic dinner to go find the farm where the chicken was raised. We have gone mainstream (and can laugh at ourselves too)!

One of the most common misconceptions about meat is that it’s an ecological disaster. Red meats, and cattle more specifically, are blamed for clear cutting rain forests, emitting more methane than LA freeways, using too much water, and a whole list of health risks like high cholesterol, heart attacks and cancer. What’s lost in this argument is that cattle are not the problem: land managers are. Cattle are living, breathing, gas-emitting animals just like whales, dogs, cats and yes – even humans. Managed properly, cattle are beneficial to the environment and produce a nutrient-dense, low calorie food that builds muscle and fights disease. They also nurture expansive, healthy rangelands that have the potential to become the earth’s largest carbon sink.

Not Your Father’s Steak: Ecologically Beneficial Meat

Meat itself is not bad for the environment. Humans’ poor management of the animals that produce it is. Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (also known as CAFOs) with their sprawling waste ponds, antibiotic-tainted water runoff, and massive energy consumption strain the environment. Overgrazing leads to barren landscapes that cannot capture water or grow plants, creating a void where photosynthesis was once possible. But these conventional, industrial models are coming under more scrutiny (as the couple in Portlandia so aptly portrayed) while other land and animal management practices are celebrated as a solution to climate change. There is resurgence – a revolution, even – happening all over North America and the world focusing on alternative ways to manage cattle that restore rangelands and waterways. When managed in ways that increase biodiversity, build soil health and restore grasslands, cattle become beneficial allies for environmentalists. Meat, then, is not only good food, but also a healthy byproduct in the fight against global warming. It’s part of an growing trend toward regenerative agriculture.

Well managed rangelands capture and hold water

Well managed rangelands capture and hold water

Richard Young, Policy Director of The Sustainable Food Trust, a UK-based think tank exploring solutions for a food production system that causes “the least possible harm to both humans and the environment” recently addressed the ‘eat less meat’ evangelists.

“We believe that the consumption of red meat, dairy produce and animal fats needs to be increased, not decreased,” Young said. “Grasslands take carbon out of the atmosphere. For several decades the carbon sequestered by grasslands following prolonged, arable cropping will exceed the global warming impact of methane from animals grazing that land. There is still a dispute about whether soils continue to take carbon out of the atmosphere after that, but several recent studies suggest they do this by storing carbon in the roots of grass deep down in sub-soil.”

Young farmers and ranchers around the globe are embracing a new decision-making process in land management that takes into account land, people and planet. Holistic Management, pioneered by the Zimbabwean biologist Allan Savory and described in his 2013 TED Talk How to Fight Desertification and Reverse Climate Change,uses grazing as a tool that addresses the most pressing environmental issues we face.

“There is only one option left to climatologists and scientists,” Savory says. “And that is to do the unthinkable, and to use livestock, bunched and moving as a proxy for former herds and predators and mimic nature. There is no other alternative left to mankind.”

We have been using Holistic Management on the ranches we manage for 24 years and can attest to the wildflowers and oak trees that thrive where our cattle have grazed. Joe and I attended our first Holistic Management class the month before our wedding and learned that by carefully planning our livestock grazing, we could maximize our ranch’s productivity. Using portable electric fences to control the timing and number of cows, we moved them often to prevent overgrazing. Careful monitoring ensured we met our goal to promote perennial grass growth and healthy soils while fattening our cattle and increasing our profits.

“We can take enough carbon out of the atmosphere and safely store it in the grassland soils for thousands of years … and if we just do that on about half the world’s grasslands that I’ve shown you we can take us back to pre-industrial levels (of carbon) while feeding people. I can think of almost nothing that offers more hope for our planet, for your children, and their children and all of humanity,” Savory says. Feeding people meat.

 

Grassfed beef provides essential nutrients, building muscle and joint, with minimal calories.

Grassfed beef provides essential nutrients, building muscle and joints, with minimal calories.

Pasture-raised animal also use much less water than those raised in CAFOs. Last winter’s drought mandated that we haul water to our cattle atop a ranch we lease in Watsonville, Calif. This gave us a real-time measurement of exactly how much water each cow needed: 10 gallons a day or 3,650 gallons per year. Compare that to more intensive factory CAFOs, which use vast amounts of water, with automatic “flushing” systems that consume up to 150 gallons of water per cow, per day. (Source: http://www.sustainabletable.org/906/waste-management.) Add to that the millions of gallons of water used to grow the grain they are fed, and it’s no wonder conventional red meat gets such a bad rap.

 But Red Meat is Bad for Your Health!

 “So often in the media meat is just meat,” said Mark Shelley, a filmmaker and owner of Tassajara Meats in Carmel Valley. “Locally raised, pastured hormone and antibiotic free meat is food. Commodity beef is, well, a poor substitute that has not only negative consequences for the environment, but for your health as well.”

Just like any product, the quality of meat you buy depends on how it was made. Were the cattle humanely treated? Did they graze on grass where they provided the benefits Allan Savory talks about or were they fed GMO grain in a crowded feedlot? If meat is to be healthy, consumers need to demand that it meets certain criteria.

Jessica Campbell is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and founder of the Food Foundation, a Bay Area-based consulting firm that helps people eat healthy. Personal experience and work with clients over the years has taught her to look at alternative therapies and take a more holistic approach to nutrition.

“My new love of beef stems from the fact that I made a poor choice in college to become a vegetarian and was that way for nine years. In my recent blog Nutrition and Mental Health I explain how depressed I was from the lack of protein and B vitamins and it was not until I had trouble getting pregnant that I realized how anemic I was,” Campbell said.

“I tried many ways to heal, but it was the craving for beef that saved me. I lost two sizes, 10 pounds, and was able to get pregnant after finally reintroducing meat back into my diet. I remember how odd it felt once I finally got pregnant to crave hamburgers all day, but the cravings were there for a reason.

When people express their fear of meat, I turn them to the facts. Conventional meat is scary and I understand their fears. These farms have removed cows from their natural diet and fed them GMO corn, soy, and animal wastes, thus they are very sick. In an effort to keep them alive, they are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones to grow faster. We are not sick from eating beef, we are sick from the antibiotics present in the meat, the hormones, and the toxins of GMO feed. A cow is a ruminant, which has four stomachs to eat and ferment grasses into vitamins.  Humans only have one stomach so we cannot ferment grass and live off of greens alone. We do, however, have a strong stomach acid designed to access vitamins and minerals from protein. Hence, when we eat beef from cows that have eaten the grasses they were designed for, we access all of the vitamins from their diet of greens. We see more Omega 3 essential fatty acids which are beneficial anti-inflammatory agents and significantly more antioxidants such as vitamin E and beta carotene which protect our cells form oxidation,” Campbell explained.

Like ecologists, nutritionists are realizing that it’s not meat that’s harmful; it’s the type of meat and how it’s raised.

Cate Ritter is a Certified Nutritionist and Kitchen Coach in Pebble Beach. In her practice, she coaches clients to ask where the meat is coming from and teaches people how to cook meat.

“Quality is crucial,” Ritter said. “Unfortunately, some studies linked red meat consumption to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. But, these studies didn’t distinguish between (1) the quality of meats, (2) the type of meats, or (3) how the meats were cooked. I’m sure most people would agree that a grass-fed steak doesn’t belong in the same category as a processed hot dog filled with preservatives, artificial coloring and added sugars. It’s a slow process, but luckily the health community is finally recognizing the benefits of high quality animal products,” she said.

Books such as Nina Teicholz’s The Big Fat Surprise and Dan Barber’s The Third Plate advocate a balanced, more holistic approach to eating & nutrition. They encourage consumers to ask how their food was produced. The wildly popular Paleo diet and CrossFit exercise regimes also encourage pastured meat as part of a nutrient-dense, low-calorie diet to build muscle and immune systems.

Decades of doctors’ advice that we should eat a “low fat diet” and stay away from red meat have led to an obesity epidemic in the United States forcing many nutritionists to question traditional guidelines, pushed by powerful interests in the processed food industry. Even former advocates of veganism are seeing the benefit of introducing meat as a nutrient rich food and cattle an essential part of soil fertilization: cow poop grows healthy vegetables.

“The thinking on eating meat has changed so drastically in the last 10 years,” Campbell said. “I remember the nutritional community praising vegetarian diets as heart healthy because of the little bits of B vitamins and phosphorous in green leafy vegetables.  In the last few years diets like the Paleo tell us to eat like our paleolithic ancestors were thought to eat, avoiding all grains and dairy but it is heavy on eating meat. It is funny to me because now we see meat as heart healthy for Paleo diets since it has ample amounts of B vitamins and phosphorous.”

“The flip flopping mostly comes from the media and not nutritional experts, at least not in the holistic field.  The reason I love the holistic approach is that we are not researching and developing new pharmaceutical solutions to your symptoms of disease, we are looking back in time to when our ancestors hunted and ate what was there for them to eat. We are acknowledging the innovations of agriculture and farming but we are turning our back on food processing.  In holistic nutrition we look for the root cause of your symptoms and most of it happens from avoiding the foods we were born to eat and substituting in artificial foods as if we could do better than Mother Nature. In my own humble opinion, our ancestors ate bugs and weeds. So the way I see it, we can eat bugs and weeds for nutrition too or eat the animals that eat them for us,” Campbell said.

Amy Ellsworth, a Registered Dietician Nurse in Costa Mesa, Calif., has also seen an increase in the awareness of how food is produced among her clients.

“In the community that I live in, I have seen a really big shift with people wanting to know the entire ‘footprint’ of their food,” Ellsworth said. “They want to know how it was raised, if it was raised to contain the optimal nutritional value and what kind of impact the farming methods being used have on the environment.”

So what’s an environmentally conscious consumer to do? Ask these three questions: “Who is producing this food and how was it grown? Is the management improving the soil? Is it improving my health?”

If the answers meet your criteria, then fire up the grill and enjoy a juicy Rib Eye, knowing with each bite that you are nourishing your body and fighting climate change at the same time.

Participants at Idea Hack Pescadero discuss the future of local food markets.

Participants at Idea Hack Pescadero discuss the future of local food markets.

What do you get when you mix together innovators, entrepreneurs, farmers & ranchers? Great ideas that are already helping to change the landscape of local food production and consumption in California.

The Pescadero Idea Hack, held in Pescadero, Calif. on October 11, 2014, was the brainchild of The Mixing Bowl Hub’s Rob Trice and his wife, TomKat Ranch Executive Director Wendy Millet. Millet and her amazing team at the TomKat Ranch are our partners in the push to make grassfed beef the new normal. Like Morris Grassfed, TomKat Ranch is committed to considering the land, animals and people when producing its LeftCoast Grassfed beef and has worked hard to increase local, grassfed beef consumption in schools and restaurants in San Mateo County.

We started the day with introductions and it was humbling to be a in a room (a barn, actually) with so many people dedicated to producing good food and creating local markets that encourage and reward the work of farmers and ranchers.

“Our objective is to build upon numerous assessments and dialogues on the topic of the Peninsula’s local food production, and develop a range of actionable solutions.  A byproduct of the Idea Hack is to connect individuals and organizations that could potentially collaborate to bring about desired changes,” Trice said in his opening remarks.

Participants like Karen Liebowitz, co-founder of the soon-to-open The Perennial restaurant in San Francisco and Pete Hartigan, Founder & CEO of Trusted Ventures, LLC are not only innovative thinkers, but agents for social change. Liebowitz’s new restaurant will source foods from local farms and ranches that  go way beyond industrial, monocrop organics; they actively address climate change with their farming practices.

“We first started thinking about what can we do to engage with our environment more closely — not just farm to table, but really deeply engage,” Liebowitz said in a recent interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. The Perennial will be a “laboratory,” in which all aspects of the restaurant’s business — relationships with farmers, sustainable practices, choice of vendors — are seen through the lens of environmental impact, the article said.

The prize: $10 gift card to Downtown Local.

The prize: $10 gift card to Downtown Local.

Hartigan has put his money where his heart is. The founder of several successful start-ups, his latest is Trusted Ventures, LLC which aims to develop what he calls the “Impact 500” targeting existing Fortune 500 cash flows in areas like finance, healthcare and education, with a model where helping the community is how the company competes versus the traditional maximize shareholder profit model. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Hartigan has already created successful companies using the model, including the alumni-funded college loan business sofi.com, which he plans to take public this Spring.  He’s not wasting any time on his next project ether. Our breakout group’s challenge: How Can We Increase the Amount of Local Food Consumed by Local Institutions?

Our group's flip chart on how to get more local food into industrial markets.

Our group’s flip chart on how to get more local food into industrial markets.

After an hour-long discussion with institutional food buyers (Stanford and Google), distributors, farmers and ranchers we developed the “LOCAL FOOD MARKETPLACE, INC.” (LFM). Our idea is to develop a collaborative, digital market maker, facilitator/coordinator. LFM can create a demand book for local institutions looking to buy local food supply and aggregate local supply. To pay the premium for fairly priced local goods, dining services organizations can supplement their budget through HR budgets (since employee good food eating should result in lower health costs) or a company’s community social responsibility funding. Financial institutions with a social mission can finance working capital for growers. Participating growers can have an ownership stake in LFM’s success. (We won First Place, by the way.)  Bam.

Other challenges included: How to train and support the next generation of farmers and ranchers? How to scale local food production? and How to deepen the connection between SF Peninsula eaters and growers? We took a hike on the spectacular TomKat ranch after our breakout sessions and capped the day with a candlelight dinner around the ranch’s coi pond table: a stunning setting and perfect way to celebrate the beauty and bounty of local food. The Mixing Bowl plans several follow-up sessions and has started discussion groups for each idea we came up with. The real success here is the awareness that good, local food is not only delicious, it’s a force for economic, social and ecological good.

Dinner was served around the coi pond at TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, Calif.

Dinner was served around the coi pond at TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, Calif.

Organic food Pioneer Bob Scowcroft listens to The Mixing Hub's Rob Trice introduce speakers.

Organic food Pioneer Bob Scowcroft listens to The Mixing Hub’s Rob Trice introduce speakers.

 

Building Relationships

April 17, 2011

Local food is about more than place and ingredients. It’s about building relationships. Relationships between people, land, plants, and animals. We had our annual Field Day this weekend and, as always, I came home exhausted but so happy that we do this each year. It takes some planning: menu, tables & chairs rental, prayers for good weather, etc. We hand formed 180 Morris Grassfed hamburgers Friday night, chopped a couple of pounds of fresh onions, dug up all my mismatched tablecloths from the linen closet, and arranged flowers for the tables. My mother-in-law, Anne, uses old cowboy boots as vases.

This year we were thrilled to host 160 guests who drove from as far away as San Diego. Lots of kids, which always makes it more fun, and several families who brought grandparents and out-of-town guests to see a “real California ranch.”  We call it “First Person Certified” food. Thanks to the Morris Grassfed Team: Liz, Ev, Anne, Rich, and our chef Tim Fowles – for all your help!  

Thanks for visiting! ~ JFM  … Here are some photos of the day:

Family style tables create a casual space for conversation.

Circle P - our host ranch for the day - ranch brand

Field Day Checklist ... lots to plan!

Circle P Ranch is a classic working cattle ranch ... signage on barn wall

 
Darren Huckle led an herbal walk and identified all sorts of medicinal plants in our midst. (Thats his adorable son, Jackson, peeking at me.)

Ev, Ellie and Liz Sparling

Our partner, Everett Sparling, and his future cowgirl daughter, Ellie

After our walk on the ranch, guests relaxed over Morris Grassfed burgers, salad, and good conversation

Angela and Tim at the BBQ - grilled those 180 burgers to perfection.

Joe and me, ready to kick back and enjoy the day!

Guests listen as Joe described holistic land management and how they are an important part of the process ...

Future ranch hand, Charlie Moore

Such a fun surprise when old friends show up! Beautiful Valerie, our niece Didi Petkiewicz, Jack, and Alan Gianotti, a friend of Joes from Notre Dame!

Food Forward

July 27, 2010

We had the pleasure last month of meeting Greg Roden and Stett Holbrook, two independent film makers working on a documentary about … food. I know, I know, maybe some of you are experiencing some “food fatigue” with all the recent books and documentaries about how our food is produced.

Indeed, people like Michael Pollan and Alice Waters have raised awareness about our food. Films like Food Inc., and Fast Food Nation have prompted the question: “What is this made of?” These are good questions though, and, larger than just ourselves. The food we eat affects more than our own health. Depending on how it is produced, food can be a hindrance (CAFOs, large monocrops, and pesticides flowing to the Gulf of Mexico) or help (healthy watersheds, carbon-sucking, healthy grasslands, abundant oceans) to our planet.

Greg and Stett are tackling a new angle on the food theme: looking at the people who produce it. They have moved beyond criticism of federal subsidies for corn and pollutants in industrial production (not that those are not still problems) to Solutions. Food Forward is a celebration of fishermen who catch sustainable fish, community gardens that feed inner-city neighborhoods and build community, and – full disclosure here: grassfed beef ranchers that manage for healthy rangelands and humane treatment of animals. Check out the trailer here: http://www.foodforward.tv/default.aspx

As a journalist, I was taught to write about all the sides of the story, offer an informed and balanced account to complex issues so readers can come to their own, educated conclusion. Food Forward does this by going beyond the problem of industrial food production and offering a way for everyone to participate in choices that are not only good for their bodies, but good for the planet.  Here’s a note from Greg on how you can get involved. Hope to see you there!

Dear food lover,

A special night of food, wine and inspiration at San Francisco’s new Radius restaurant is just a week away and there’s still time to save your seat at the table. We, the co-creators of the Food Forward documentary TV series, are holding a one-of-a kind fundraising dinner Aug. 3. KQED has agreed to present our show to a national PBS audience upon successful completion of our pilot episode. We’d love to have your support to help us get there.

Chef Kelly Hughett is preparing a delicious menu of local foods that celebrate the flavors of late summer. The evening will also include wine pairings and gift bottles from premier local wineries that practice sustainable, organic or biodynamic winemaking including Burrell School Vineyards and Winery, Poetic Cellars, Sky Saddle Winery, Bonterra Vineyards, Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Thomas Fogarty Winery, and Loma Prieta Winery.

Attendees will also receive an organic cotton Food Forward grocery bag loaded with hand-selected, premium products from local purveyors including Swanton Berrry Farm, Katz and Company, Point Reyes Cheese Co., Route 1 Farms, Miette and other delicious products.

Check out yesterday’s great post on yesterday’s post on the excellent Grist.org!

What: Fundraising dinner for Food Forward pilot episode on urban agriculture.
When: 6 – 9 PM, Tuesday, August 3, 2010.
Where: Radius Restaurant, 1123 Folsom (btw. 7th & 8th), San Francisco.
Why:  Let’s eat. Right. Now.
Cost: $250 / person.

In addition to a night of great food and wine, this dinner will include a screening of the new Food Forward trailer in HD. Guests will also have the opportunity to hear from some of the stars of our show and words of inspiration from environmental attorney Nicolette Hahn Niman, author of Righteous Porkchop and co-owner of BN Ranch in Bolinas, a farm she runs with husband and sustainable meat pioneer Bill Niman.

Can’t make the dinner? You can still contribute today by donating securely via Pal Pal.

Thanks for your support,

Stett and Greg
Food Forward co-creators


Greg Roden
510.926.7626
www.foodforward.tv
www.gregroden.com

This is an excerpt from our Spring Newsletter, written by Joe:

Jack an Joe grilling up some grassfed burgers

Jack and Joe grilling up some grassfed burgers

The rains have finally come, and everything is a beautiful green.  What a blessing!  We still haven’t heard the mating calls of the frogs in the ponds on the ranch, though, so it is still pretty droughty, but the grass is growing well.  Drought is not a pleasant thing, but it seems to make more sense to be grateful for the rain we do have rather than bemoaning whatever we might not have.  I recently was told that “Attitude is the only thing we can actually control.”  Makes sense to me.

 

Our new ordering process is going very well.  The orders are arriving fast and furious, and yet the processing of them is not overwhelming.  Thank you, all of you who have ordered already.  It makes life a lot easier, if we can fill in our planning sheets earlier rather than later.  Please get your orders in, if you haven’t done so already, for we would hate to have you miss out.  You may either go to our website order form or just click here http://www.morrisgrassfed.com/order.php .

 

I was reading the e-newsletter from the San Francisco Ferry Plaza market, and found something I thought warranted a comment.  The idea of eating less meat to save the earth seems to crop up weekly at least, and kind of sounds like it might make sense, for it is bandied about by some authoritative voices, but it doesn’t.  This is what I read:

 

“Mark Bittman wants you to eat less meat. In his typically disarming way, The Minimalist as he’s referred to in his New York Times column, as well as online, where he writes a blog and appears in short cooking videos will dish it to you straight.

 

His new book, Food Matters expands on his idea that “if you buy your own food and cook your own food, you tend to put much better things in your mouth than if you don’t.” Thanks in part to a realization he had after reading the UN report called Livestock’s Long Shadow, and to his decision to tackle some of his own health issues head on, The Minimalist is now advocating an even larger shift.”

 

Many of Mr. Bittman’s observations on food make sense, but his arguments about the ecological soundness of meat do not.  Let’s take a look at the assumptions behind the UN report he cites, that livestock production imperils the health of the earth.  The premise that livestock production is responsible for so many greenhouse gasses is totally dependent upon the belief that beef animals require confinement and grain feeding.  It further assumes that the land that cattle are raised on could be used for production, in a sustainable way, of vegetables or grains that people could eat directly. These premises are not true, even in any remote sense.  Therefore, the rest of the argument is not worth much.

 

The carbon footprint of the meat you eat is directly related to whether the animals from which it comes harvested the plants they ate; whether or not the plants they ate grew upon soils that were fertilized by their dung and urine; and whether or not the grazing and animal impact of the cows occurred in a way that added carbon and nitrogen to the soil and nourished other members of the rangeland community.  Furthermore, beef animals should be raised, and mostly are, either on lands that are not suitable for the production of other human foods or in a way that replenishes the fertility of the soils used to produce these other foods.  Neither Mr. Bittman’s nor the UN’s argument recognize these essential differences, and, therefore, their advice is actually counter-productive. 

 

It is very difficult for a vegan diet to be sustainable, for the production process of such a diet excludes the use of animals in the mix of crops that a sustainable farm needs.  Beef animals and other ruminants can digest much of the residue from the other crops grown on the farm, and as they do so they will happily provide labor for the farm, protein and energy for the farmer and fertility for the soils. 

 

Mr. Pollan’s advice is wiser: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”   But strive to know the source—both place and process–of all of it.  If you are eating Morris Grassfed beef, you are actually reducing your carbon footprint and enhancing your health and pleasure with every delicious bite.  Now that’s a pretty picture!

New Year’s Resolutions

January 3, 2009

Just received my latest copy of Bon Appetit magazine, which I habitually put aside to read alone later with a glass of wine. This month’s (February 2009) special feature is “50 Easy Ways to Eat Green.” I was pleasantly surprised to see that No. 8 was “Buy a Side of Beef.”

Reporter Hugh Garvey sums it up better than any other I’ve seen in the past 17 years in this business:

“An increasing number of foodie carnivores are ordering grass-fed beef straight from the local farmers. Here’s why: The practice directly supports local farmers with a vested interest in taking care of the environment. Unlike grain and corn feed, grass requires no fossil fuel for transport. The regrowth of grazed grass removes carbon monoxide from the air.”

Garvey gets it. Grassfed beef is not only about good – and healthy – food;  it’s about supporting your local rural community (family farms and ranches and all the businesses that go with them), economical food purchases, humane treatment of animals, and environmental stewardship. Eating the grassfed beef burger I had for dinner tonight (with a melted slice of Swiss cheese, served on a fresh Ciabatta role) will also accomplish the other benefits I mention. Why would people do anything else? To find a your local grassfed beef producer, go to www.eatwild.com and have a Happy New Year!

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