Producing meat that is consistently tender is both a science and an art. Some ranchers have mastered the art more than others. Consider asking a given supplier what steps have been taken to ensure a good eating experience. (Ways to create a consistently tender product include: selecting animals with the right genetics, gentle handling of the animals, and tenderizing the meat through dry-aging, electro-stimulation, marinating, or blade tenderizing). If possible, purchase a few cuts of meat before buying larger quantities.
Buyer Beware. If you are shopping for products from suppliers not listed in this directory, it is difficult to determine how the animals were fed or treated. A product labeled "organic," for example, may come from an animal raised in confinement and fed large amounts of grain. To learn more, you might ask the producer or retailer the following questions:
1) How much grain, silage, or concentrate were the animals fed and when?
Comment: Ruminants that graze exclusively on grass, clover, and other green plants have the highest levels of omega-3s, CLA, beta carotene, and vitamin E. However, few farms have lush pasture 12 months of the year. When grass is not available, some alternative feed is required. The best way to preserve these desirable nutrients is to feed the animals stored forage, either in the form of hay or grass (not corn) silage. These alternative feeds cause a slight reduction in the nutritional value of the meat or dairy products, but not as much as grain or corn silage. When the animals are put out to pasture again, the nutritional value of their products rebounds in two or three months. Bottom line: the most nutritious meat comes from an animal that has been on fresh or stored pasture all of its life but on grazed grass only for at least 3 months before slaughter.
(Note: Poultry and pigs are not ruminants, so they cannot glean all their nutrients from pasture. They will always be given some grain or other feed supplements.)
2) Did the ruminants get any additional feed while they were on pasture or being fed hay?
Comment: Some ranchers not on this list are advertising their animals as "grass-fed" or even "grass-finished" but are supplementing them with grain or other products while on pasture. The meat will have lower levels of omega-3s and CLA because of the grain. (Feeding the animals kelp or vitamin and mineral supplements does not detract from the quality of the meat and may even enhance it.)
However, meat from an animal that has been able to graze in its last few months of life is still nutritionally superior to feedlot beef, even if the animal has also been given some grain. It's a matter of degree.
3) Were pesticides, herbicides, feed antibiotics, or growth-promoting hormones used in the production of these animals?
Comment: All of these practices are to be avoided.
Want to learn more about becoming a knowledgeable, conscientious food consumer and promoter of healthy foods and food systems? See Joel Salatin's new book, Holy Cows and Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food.
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