Nutrition-forward to me means eating seasonally according to what is best for our health and the health of the soil that we so heavily depend on. To sustain a biodiverse, nutrient-rich environment that will produce healthy, nourishing vegetables year after year, we have to consider integrating animals into our gardens, farmlands and overall food choices. The practices found in regenerative agriculture rely on integrating animals to graze and fertilize the land as much as they do the sunlight that initiates photosynthesis, keeping the soil covered, undisturbed, maintaining crop diversity and live roots in the ground year round.
About 30% of available land is used to raise live-stock and we cut a lot of forest to make room for this. What else does this mean? We’re producing a lot of methane emissions. Cows being the biggest culprit, producing nearly 10% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emission, and 65% of all livestock emissions. Does this mean we cut meat out of our diets completely, specifically beef? I don’t believe so. Red meat, especially lean, red meat can be a superfood. And with all things, it’s about doing it smarter; raising our animals under healthier conditions, raising them with quality over quantity in mind, and considering the long term impacts on both the health of our planet and the health of our own bodies.
For me, it goes back to the initial question. Why grass-fed?
HEALTHY ANIMALS = HEALTHY PLANET
The amount of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide our livestocks produce isn’t an inevitability. By using better practices and technologies, we can have healthier animals that have a smaller footprint. One major reason why raising our livestock on a grass diet that involves plenty of roaming is beneficial for the environment is because of regenerative grazing. This practice really is like going back to the beginning, the way these animals were meant to live: allowing them to graze in open land, their waste returns to the soil, and a pleasant cycle of growth continues. It means more soil conservation, maintenance of an area’s biodiversity, less erosion, and less water pollution. This land used to feed our livestock also helps draw carbon out of the atmosphere and even the playing field, a phenomenon called carbon sequestration. The numbers all add up to a significantly more carbon neutral footprint.
With all good things comes downsides, though…
Most of our grass-fed cattle comes from Australia where they have an abundance of grassland and temperate climates. In the US we have our heavily subsidized corn-belt in the middle of the country that faces harsher winters. This is a big reason why we finish livestock with grain in the first place, it’s what is available and what is convenient…
But we are past doing what is convenient.
HOW WE HELP CHANGE THE GAME
In its current state, going full on grass-fed livestock isn’t viable in the US. This is where our own personal decisions and lifestyle come into play. This is how we dictate a market that is already bolstering irresponsible livestock raising through a robust number of subsidies. Going grass-fed and eating leaner red meat can have major impacts on the system and your own health. In fact, plenty of studies have been done showing why grass-fed beef is the healthier option for you and your family. Going grass-fed means reduced mono-saturated fats, a slight increase of omega-6 fatty acids, a significant increase in omega-3s; grass-fed is much higher in Vitamin A and E, and cancer fighting antioxidants. And then a big one that is consistently being researched: the amount of conjugated linoleic acid in grass-fed beef, a type of fat that is thought to decrease heart-disease.
The decision seems simple enough… the way we are consuming red meat now — the levels of fat we choose, to the weekly intake — leads to some of our biggest health problems. Alzheimer, heart-disease, inflammation… It doesn’t have to be this way.
Likewise, while we help ourselves by making smarter nutritional decisions, these decisions can also go a long way in promoting more sustainable farming techniques used here in the US.
HOW WE MAKE GRASS-FED DELICIOUS
At AC Kitchen, when we think of whole food, nutrient-dense recipes, we know that lean, grass-fed beef can in fact be a part of what fuels us. We don’t have to eliminate this flavor from our palates entirely. We just have to play the game with some wisdom. Still, there are hurdles between accepting the health benefits and actually getting people to go grass-fed… One major bump being — and this is particularly big for a chef — the flavor…
… It’s simple. Less fat = less flavor.
It’s a cruel twist of fate, but it’s true and we say it over and over again: healthier foods often come at the cost of flavor. Green veggies like collard greens are often bitter, leaner meat lacks the same umami/richness we get out of a well marbled cut of steak. But this is where the chef can come shine because we all know how far preparation and care can take a dish. Well, the same goes for grass-fed beef, which because of its different fat make-up, lacks the same flavor punch as a conventional, fatty piece of beef. Follow the motif here, though: with time and care, we can change the game.
Another reason the transition to grass-fed can be difficult is simply the cost. Grass-fed will be more expensive than your conventional grain-fed beef and not everyone is going to want to pay…
But this brings me back to the beginning, and really the overarching philosophy at AC Kitchen. There’s a reason we only use avocado and coconut oil, there’s a reason we do our best to source from local farms, and there’s a reason we choose to cook with only grass-fed beef. Despite these options being more expensive, more time consuming, and overall more difficult, the future results are well worth it. That’s what we believe in AC Kitchen: making time now will free time later. Choosing the healthier option, the more sustainable option, even if it costs you something in the short-term, will pay in dividends in the long-term.
Plus, if you try our chili you’d understand…