Twenty years ago, if you were to ask the average North American what the beef in their hamburger was raised on, you would likely be met by a puzzled stare. For much of the twentieth century, farming was on a trajectory toward greater mechanization and economies of scale, and it was assumed that a cow’s diet had minimal impact on the taste of its meat.
Since the turn of the millennium, that has started to change, and for the past decade grass fed beef has become a hot commodity. This is due to a number of different factors, from greater environmental awareness to a renewed interest in local eating, and while there are many reasons to bring grass fed beef to the BBQ this summer, here are three of the most significant:
As consumers become more aware of the risks associated with consuming large amounts of red meat, they have started to look for ways to improve their diet without cutting out their favorite meats is growing. Grass fed beef is becoming increasingly popular because it allows the health conscious to eat better without having to cut out beef altogether.
Because grass fed cows are raised on a more natural diet, the meat itself is richer in nutrients and healthy fats. Extensive research has shown that grass fed beef has much less saturated fat, lower fat overall, and four times as much vitamin E as grain fed beef. Grass fed beef also contains higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce heart disease.
It is no secret that the feedlot system is not good for the planet; feedlots require a huge investment of fossil fuels, and are often unhealthy places for the cattle to live, which in turn means a greater likelihood of disease. Pasture raised cattle have a much smaller carbon footprint because they don’t require feed to be raised separately, which reduces the amount of grain that needs to be cultivated and delivered to feedlots.
Pastures are also good for the environment in their own right: pasture grasses play an important role in reducing the severity of floods and shoring up the soil against erosion. And because grasses naturally pull carbon from the atmosphere, they act as a carbon sink, partially offsetting the burning of fossil fuels.
For many shoppers, however, the most important attraction of grass fed beef is simply its richer, more complex taste. In addition to being healthier and better for the environment, grass fed beef is also far superior in flavour to grain fed alternatives. This has much to do with the fact that it is leaner and less fatty than feedlot beef, which allows the natural character of the meat to come out to a fuller extent.
One of the most remarkable trends of the past decade in how North Americans approach food has been the turn toward more local, artisanal products. As they become more aware of how things like farming practices and diet affect the taste and quality of meat, many shoppers are now curious about where their food has come from, and under what conditions it was raised. As the benefits of grass fed beef become more widely known, its share of the market is only likely to increase.