Saturday, February 26, 2011

Our (mini) Food Revolution, Part 2

Continued from Part One: The Setup

Part Two: The Strategy

"Food is essential for life.  Therefore, make it good."
~Truett Cathy, founder of Chick-fil-a

The last time I bought meat at the grocery store was October 2009.  

I still remember the first dinner I made after T and I finished watching Food Inc.  I made a pork roast, one that I had proudly purchased as part of a buy-one-get-one-free deal a few weeks earlier.  While the kids munched happily on their dinner, T and I picked at our plates.  Although we are both committed omnivores, we had both been affected by the scenes of industrial animal farming methods.  I am ok with an animal dying to provide food for people to eat.  But, I suddenly felt that my purchasing power was supporting some industry practices that respected neither the lives of animals nor the people that raised and processed them.  If my dollar could support better farming conditions, less antibiotics & disease spread, healthier animals & more nutritious meat, that seemed to me to be the way to spend it.

I decided we would finish all the conventional store-bought meat in our refrigerator and freezer (no reason to be wasteful on top of everything else), but my next purchases would be free-range and grass-fed.  Why did I think that would be better for our family?  My analysis went something like this:

Nutrition and Benefits of Grass-fed Meat

Grass-fed BeefGrain-fed Beef
Low saturated fat levels, similar to chicken breastSaturated fat levels 3-4 times higher.
2-6 times higher levels of omega-3 (most often found in fish).Grain-fed cattle lose nearly all omega-3 during their time in the feedlot.
3-5 times the level of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), a possible new defence against cancer.As CLA comes from the grass itself, low levels of it are present.
Reduced exposure to E.coli bacteria.E.coli is a constant risk and growing concern where animals are overcrowded.
No risk of BSE (mad cow disease), since cattle are not fed animal by-products.Cases of BSE have been confirmed in this country among conventionally-raised beef.
Ecologically friendly agricultural practices."Factory" production requires significant energy, chemicals and gasoline.

I was won over by the information I found at well-respected sites like  Additionally, I was impressed with the way I was able to confirm the information I was reading about grassfed beef and free-range farming with primary scientific sources.  For instance, claims that grass-fed beef results in a reduced exposure to harmful E. coli bacteria are based on a major study published in the 2000 Nebraska Beef Report (check out pages 39-4, it's a long document).  The 2000 report confirmed previous study findings that even short-duration hay feeding reduces acid-resistant E. coli populations (read: bad E.coli) in cattle feces by over 99% (page 41).

While the daily health benefits might have been enough to make me switch, the farming families I met while searching for our cow and pig were the icing on the cake.  I found several great grass-fed and free range farmers in our Minnesota area and I loved that my dollars were directly supporting their families, their organic, sustainable farming methods and their animal treatment.  While I could buy free-range and grass-fed meat at certain specialty stores in town, I found that bulk buying from family farms was tremendously cost-effective.  Here are some of the farms that we have purchased from:

Grassfed Cattle Co. : I purchased our first grass-fed beef 20 lb. starter pack from them and loved it.
Anderson Farm:  Soon after, I bought my 1/4 pig and four chickens from the Andersons, located in WI.  It took us nearly a year to finish our 1/4 pig.  Their meat is outstanding, competitively priced and they have regular farm open houses with cooking lessons, tastings, animal viewing, etc.  I love getting their emails; you can sign up on their website.
Sunshine Harvest Farm: I later met the Brauchers at a local farmers market and was won over by their chicken prices when I had just run out.  They have another great farm raising grass-fed beef & lamb and free range pork, chicken and eggs.
Shepherd's Hill Farm:  Another outstanding grass-fed beef farm in MN, managed by a great family.

Before I knew it, our basement freezer was full of grass-fed, free range meat.  It has taken us 15 months to go through a 1/4 pig, 10 chickens and a 1/2 cow that we split with my parents. 

Following our transition to grass-fed beef, I made several other, less dramatic changes to our fridge and pantry: 

*High fructose corn syrupI started looking at labels and stopped buying products containing high fructose corn syrup.  I posted previously about that decision here.  I was amazed how omnipresent HFCS is (in everything from the yogurt I was buying to the pancake syrup and tomato sauce I used) and grew increasingly concerned by studies correlating adverse health effects to its omnipresence in our diet.  Thankfully, my changes were mostly cost-neutral, as many vendors or grocers carry items that use cane sugar in place of HFCS.  Bonus, none of my family members seemed to notice or care.  By way of update, I have since noticed that several of the brands I previously stopped buying due to their use of HFCS have since changed to sugar.  Perhaps our votes are counting?

*Whole wheat and complex carbohydrates: whether pasta, bread, tortillas or goldfish crackers, I began to stock the whole wheat varieties of the carbs we ate.  I started experimenting with other complex grains and adding legumes to our diet too.  The result was greater satiety and a lower glycemic index for my family.

*Selectively organic:  I also previously posted on this transition here.  I became convinced of the adverse human health and environmental effects of certain pesticide use on our produce.  In an effort to maintain a rational cost-effective organic approach (I needed to prioritize because organics can be expensive) I started using the "Shopper's Guide to Pesticides," which you can find at  Summer farmer's markets, freezing when fruit is on sale and shopping around (Midtown Market Produce Exchange is the BEST!) has helped me keep my costs in check.

*Make it homemade:  The best way to know what my family is eating is to make it myself.  Over the past 18 months I have learned to make pita bread, tortillas, crackers, frosting, salad dressing, granola cereal, granola bars, irish soda bread, sourdough starter, beef, chicken and vegetable broth, oxtail soup, macaroni & cheese and countless other foods myself.  I started making all our bread in our bread maker, because buying wholesale oats, whole wheat flour and yeast was much cheaper than buying multiple fancy, healthy loaves at the store every week.

I should emphasize that I made several of these changes gradually, not all at once.  Many articles like this one in Time Magazine on the high price of cheap food renewed our resolve along the way.  However, these changes took some trial and error.  And in the interest of full disclosure, our revolution was not without setbacks.

Next: Part Three: The Setbacks....


Jennifer Corl Wood said...

Thanks you so much for this! I have just ordered our first 1/4 grass fed cow and joined a local CSA to provide us with fresh organic veggies all summer. I am excited about making these changes to our diets. Of course here in small town Alabama we don't have too many choices. Only one CSA within 30 minutes and an hour drive for the cow. Now to learn how to can all those fresh veggies!

Queen B said...

Outstanding! I think you will love it. We haven't done a CSA yet, mostly because of the farmers markets in our area, but I know you will benefit from the fresh seasonal produce. So great to try new veggies too! I am glad to hear of your success in small town AL, which as you know, we love :)

SnoWhite said...

Thank you so much, friend!! I'm thankful for the links to local places. We had great farmers that we knew and trusted in Michigan... but haven't had as much time yet here to explore farmers. Thanks again!

Lisa L said...

Queen B....Thanks for sharing in detail your conversion story. I just wanted to share one thought which I think sometimes gets overlooked in the slow food movement - which is simply that not all factory farmers are giant corporate farms with millions of animals. Many of them are in fact your small family farms around the country who have been forced over the past 50 years to produce more and more animals to stay in business. These farmers have had to form co-operatives to be able to sell their meat with the big meat packers, and are not evil individuals who don't care for the environment and their animals. It's unfortunately true that buying meat from your super-market mostly supports the giant meatpackers and many huge factory farms, but it does also support many family farms around the country as well. Just some more "food" for thought. Enjoying your thoughts as always....

Queen B said...

Such great, important points to share. Thank you! T and I remember fondly our visits to the family pig and dairy farms of some of our college and med school friends in years past. I always admired the families, the hard work that I saw them accomplishing, and the way they treated their animals. T had similar experiences with family friends' farms growing up in small town Alabama. Those experiences are part of why T and I remained skeptical of mainstream farming critics for so long. Until I saw Food Inc and started reading more broadly, however, I hadn't appreciated the financial catch-22 that many of these family farms have been facing, like you pointed out. The financial power of the larger corporations over small family farm suppliers seems to have had some negative affects on the quality of the food that finally gets to us. I am glad to be supporting farming families directly and healthier meat farming methods, even though we have to pay more for it! I would love to see demand for free-range and grass-fed to grow to an extent that would allow more family farms like the ones you describe to make the transition.

Chrisy said...

Im happy to discover that I am not the only one going through the mini food revolution and dragging my family along the way. During the past two years my health has drastically declined and, while I believe in the power of modern medicine, I choose to take on more of the responsibility myself and actually change the way Im treating my body. Food, Inc. The Beautiful Truth, Food Matters really make you think about what youre putting in your body and in your children's bodies. We are avid believers in home grown organics, I pressure can very nearly everything I can safely preserve, HFCS has no place on our shelf--honey is better, we seldom eat out, chickens a cow and a pig are in the works, and Im officially learning to make our own bread! Add this in with two kiddos who love to eat and a husband who backs me up 100%, nursing school, and regular doctor visits just because I cant stand to not go.....we are well on our way to healthier living! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I always enjoy reading them!