Erin Duerr

If you pay attention to food and health debates, you know that certain topics can be a little polarizing. Like say, raw milk, vaccinating children or what I'm going to talk about today -- the corn vs. grass debate.

If you've ever driven by a cattle feedlot you've seen what corn-fed beef production looks like. Outside Dodge City, Kan., the feedlots are so vast there's a scenic overlook off the highway -- your future dinner as far as the eye can see! And if you've driven by a field with cows chomping on grass, you've seen the other side of things, the smaller, pastured beef productions.

A corn-fed bovine eats, you guessed it, corn. A cow is a natural grass-eater. Its stomach is built for the digestion of fibrous plants. So when corn, grains or other food products are introduced to the animal's diet, this causes not only stress to the animal but bacteria that has to be counteracted with antibiotics or other chemical food additives. And, in turn, traces of those counteracting agents may be passed on to you.

Your typical grass-fed cow lives in a pasture. It's allowed to roam and isn't fed hormones, antibiotics or other unnatural products. When cows are allowed to roam, their meat is leaner, contains more vitamins, beta carotene and omega 3's, those good-for-you fatty acids you keep hearing about.

Most meats you find at the grocery are going to be feedlot corn-fed beef. If you're looking for pastured, organic and grass-fed beef, head to a local organic or health food store, check out food co-ops or poke around at the weekly farmers market. If it's not there, your local foodies can tell you where to look. You can also hit the Web. Check out Eatwild.com for an easy state-by-state search tool.

Compare the two meats side-by-side, and you'll find price to be the most noticeable difference. Depending on your grocer, the weekly sales and your preference in cut, price will vary on both sides. But generally grass-fed beef is going to be more expensive. A 1-pound organic rib-eye steak bought locally can run you about $4 to $5 more than a similar cut of feedlot beef at your local chain store. The meat also might look different. A grass-fed cow is a skinny cow. Its meat might differ in texture and taste than the beef most of us have grown up with.

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So here's the skinny on your skinny cow: It passes only its natural goodness on to you, and it lives a lifestyle that's more environmentally friendly. It might put a little more strain on your pocketbook, but if you're keeping track of your carbon footprint, it's worth it. And it's a step in the right direction.

Erin Duerr is a photojournalist for the Lincoln Journal Star who spends her days off in the kitchen. She welcomes questions and comments from experts and wanna-be foodies alike. Contact her at eduerr@journalstar.com.

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