Buying the Whole Cow and Supporting Grass-Fed Beef

Grass-fed steers

Last weekend I bought a cow. Not a whole cow. And no, I’m not keeping the cow out back – I bought the meat.  I was lucky enough to be included in a group of people who bought a half-share of a sustainably raised grass-fed cow. My friend Kirstin, a frequent commenter here on the blog, hooked me up with the group. The beef came from White House Meats, a DC area company that helps bridge the gap between farm and consumer by bringing locally raised meat to market. Read more about them and what they do here.

Our prized steer was one of the cows in the photo above; although we never found out which one, exactly. All told, the half-share came in around 120 pounds and with a variety of cuts, including ribeye steak, roasts, hanger steak, sirloin, hamburger meat, flat iron steak, liver, short ribs, marrow bones, and even the tongue. This is what we had to choose from:

White House Meats draft selection

Since it was the first time buying such a large share, the organizer of our group enlisted nine people to divide up the meat. This made the size more manageable and also provided an easy way for the group to particpate in the nose-to-tail, farm-to-table process. We divided up the meat through a draft – it was just like a fantasy baseball and tons of fun. Kirstin and I were stuck with a middle number, which wasn’t ideal, but we had a good strategy: pick the best cuts on the board with the most weight. That way, we could maximize the quality of our choices even if the options were limited because of our draft position. It worked well and I walked away with a couple of ribeye steaks, sirloin tips, a chuck roast, a good-sized piece of mock tender, a package of hamburger meat, and the prized liver and tongue. Prized in the sense that I was the only one that would take it. But I’ve got plans for those, don’t worry.

The meat had been butchered the day before we picked it up and was about as fresh as it could be, so I had to cook up one of the ribeyes on Saturday night. How did it taste? It was great. I kept the preparation simple with a seasoning of salt, pepper and thyme, and cooked the steak in a cast-iron skillet to medium rare. Many steaks can be bland and fall flat in terms of delivering a clear steak flavor, but this grass-fed steak had a very distinct flavor profile. And while I hate to sound hokey by saying that the steak tasted “of a certain place” or had a “nice terroir,” it was clear that the way in which the cow had been raised had imparted a unique flavor profile that set it apart from a conventional steak. Combined with the knowledge and appreciation of the fact that the cow had been sustainably raised adds another layer of satisfaction too.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like a well marbled steak and the flavor that comes with it – I do. But I think grass-fed can have a well-deserved place at the table as well. And from a personal perspective, supporting sustainably raised meat is important to me.

I don’t normally talk about my job here on the blog, but a few months ago my work life started to line up more with my personal interests in food and food issues. In January, I began working as the Washington Representative for the Food & Environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. UCS is a leading science-based policy organization with a 40-year history of working for a healthier environment and a safer world. In my new position, I’m responsible for managing the policy and legislative advocacy side of my program’s work on issues related to sustainable agriculture and promoting a safer food system.

Which brings me back to grass-fed beef. Grass-fed directly intersects two issues that I now work on at UCS – reducing agriculture’s contribution to climate change and eliminating the unneccessary use of antibiotics in farm animals. Grass-fed beef scores high marks in both regards. On the first, it’s widley known that the agriculture system as a whole contributes signifcantly to global warming. Unfortunately, it often goes unnoticed. But recently, one of my colleagues at UCS put out a great report, called Raising the Steaks, that examined beef production’s contribution to global warming and, more specifically, how pasture and grass-fed beef can be a big part of the solution.

As for antibiotics, limiting their use in farm animals is incredibly important for protecting public health from the threat of antibiotic resistance. All told, agriculture is responsible for the consumption of 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the United States. This is due to the fact that our industrial scale agriculture system is largely unsuitable for properly raising animals for meat. So they pump them full of drugs. But that comes at a cost. Higher antibiotics use leads to antibiotic resistance and superbugs that can spread to people on the farm and through our food. That’s bad news bears, especially if you get sick due to an antibiotic-resistant bacteria infection, which is much more difficult and costly to treat. Lately I’ve been spending much of my time pushing for legislation that will require the FDA to limit this unnecessary and dangerous use of antibiotics in farm animals.

So that’s what I do. And luckily for me, my grass-fed cow was antibiotic free and climate friendly, so all the more reason to buy grass-fed beef!

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To bring it back to the beef, please do check out White House Meats. In addition to beef, they sell pork and poultry products as well. The prices are great too – around $9/pound for beef and $5/pound for pork. Shares in various sizes are available through their draft events, which are held a couple of times a month, and you can also arrange for a custom order. The drafts and pick-ups take place on scheduled dates at A.M. Wine Shop in Adams Morgan, Christ Church on Capitol Hill, and Cross Fit in South Arlington. Click here for more details on how to purchase.