A foodie's quest to turn up the heat through strength and conditioning with whole food and a hungry mind.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Meet Your Meat

A fellow follower of the Just Add Cayenne blog mentioned how they thought I was vegetarian because I never mention meat in my food literature. Well, it’s true I haven’t really mentioned it before, but I do like many animal proteins and include them in my weekly diet. Since I only want “clean” animal products, buying meat is expensive, so I just don’t buy a lot of it. By clean, I mean grass-fed beef, pasture-raised animals that were in a clean environment.
Labels toss around phrases like “All Natural,” “Cage-free,” and “No Added Hormones.” These terms are so loosely governed, that many companies can slap these buzzwords on the front of their product and have many consumers thinking they’re eating better. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t, and it’s a sad thing that we just don’t know exactly where a lot of our food has been.
I always hear people complain about the cost of the better option grass-fed beef over the “other,” packed tight in pens filled with their own feces beef. The term “you are what you eat” can be turned into “you are what you eat eats” too. Cows, sheep, deer, camels, bison, etc. are all considered ruminants.
Wikipedia defines a ruminant as:

“A ruminant is a mammal of the order Artiodactyla that digests plant-based food by initially softening it within the animal's first stomach, then regurgitating the semi-digested mass, now known as cud, and chewing it again. The process of rechewing the cud to further break down plant matter and stimulate digestion is called "ruminating". There are about 150 species of ruminants which include both domestic and wild species. Ruminating mammals include cattle, goats, sheep, giraffes, bison, moose, elk, yaks, water buffalo, deer, camels, alpacas, llamas, wildebeest, antelope, pronghorn, and nilgai.”

When these animals have food other than grass (i.e. grain), a chain of problems occur throughout the animal’s body. Over time the animals become very unhealthy, which is why many are given a daily dose of antibiotics to “try” and offset the health issues before being slaughtered and sold to….us.
Fooducate.com has a great article on meat sources and several key words to look for and stay away from.
Here’s part of the article:
“When most people imagine where their food came from, they conjure up idyllic images of animals meandering on pastured farms. The truth though, is most animals these days are confined to cages or overcrowded pens, and may never see daylight. If you want to (accurately) imagine your meat or poultry as having roamed on green fields, then the “Pastured” or “Pasture-raised” label is the one you want. Meat or poultry with this label was raised outdoors using movable enclosures located on the grass.
As a basis for comparison, other common standards are: caged, cage-free, free range, and free roaming. Each is described below:
“Caged” is not a label you will see. Producers are not legally required to state whether animals were pastured or confined, so you can be sure they will not choose to advertise when their animals spent their lives (quite literally) cooped up. Sometimes what a label does not include can be as informative as what it does!

“Cage-free” means animals were not confined to a cage, but it does not mean they ever set foot outside, or even saw natural daylight.

“Free Range” or “Free Roaming” indicates the animals had access to the outside for over 51% of their lives, although it doesn’t mean they actually went outside.

It really is true that you are what you eat, so if you want to eat healthfully, it is best to eat animals that ate healthfully as well. But what should animals eat, anyhow?
The labels “Grassfed”, “100% Grassfed”, and “Grassfed, Grass-finished” all refer to ruminants that ate grasses throughout their entire lives. (Note that although most grassfed animals are also pasture-raised, this is not necessarily the case. Animals may be confined and fed a grass diet.)
Grassfed animals should not have been fed any grains, animal by-products, or synthetic hormones. They also should not have been given antibiotics to promote growth or prevent disease, although use of antibiotics to treat disease is permitted.
Other common labels you’ll see describing ruminants’ diets are:
“Grassfed, Grain supplemented” or “Grain-finished,” which means the animals ate solely grasses for a portion of their lives, and then grains were added to the grasses in controlled amounts. The animals should not have been forced to eat the grains, and by limiting grain levels, these animals are less likely to get sick and develop digestive problems than are strictly grain-fed ruminants .

“100% Vegetarian Feed” means animals were not fed any animal by-products, and should not have been given any supplements or additives. (Check with producers about supplements and additives though, because this is not regulated.) Vegetarian feed includes hay, silage, and other feed found on pasture. It also includes grain.

As with caged animals, you are not likely to see a label advertising the feed most widely used on factory farms. It includes corn or soy supplemented with by-products including chicken manure, plate waste from restaurants, and animal blood (to bulk up the quantity and protein content of feed). Hormones are also commonly used to promote growth in beef cattle and lambs (though not veal calves); and antibiotics are used to prevent illness.
See the Hamburger?

Hogs & Poultry

Decoding the feed for hogs and poultry is less obvious with our current labeling system. Natural, healthy diets for these animals include grains, so a “grassfed” label simply isnt relevant. Of course, the quality of grains is important, but there is not a regulated labeling system for hog and poultry feed equivalent to the grassfed standard for ruminants. Instead, it is best to seek pastured hogs and poultry that were not given antibiotics for growth and disease prevention.
Pasture-raised hogs and poultry are most likely to have consumed their natural, healthy diets. For hogs, this includes corn, barley, wheat, rye, and oats. For poultry it is a mix of grasses, grains, insects, and worms.
In contrast, the feed for confined hogs and poultry is far inferior, and routinely includes antibiotics to prevent illness and anti-microbial drugs (containing arsenic) to promote growth.

Labels to learn:
“No Antibiotic Use” means antibiotics were not administered to animals under any circumstances. If an animal became sick, it would have been removed from the herd for treatment, and would not be sold with this label.

“Not Routine Antibiotic Use” means an animal may have received antibiotics if it was ill, but not for disease prevention or growth enhancement.

“No Added Hormones” is a misleading label on hogs and poultry, because producers in the U.S. cannot legally administer hormones to them. In fact, the claim can only be used on hogs and poultry if it is followed by a statement reading “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones on the given animal.””
Good meat is a precious commodity and we cherish it in our household. I usually include pork or poultry item and fish weekly; grass-fed beef or bison is purchased when on sale or every 3 weeks. You don’t need a lot to enjoy the flavor and benefits of quality meat. I will only buy a half-pound of ground meat and make a meal with some beans to boost the flavor and protein. Also, don’t worry about getting the super lean ground meat. Save some money and buy something with a little higher fat percentage; cook in a skillet, drain, and rinse to make your less expensive meat just as lean.

Don’t be afraid to ask the butcher to pound some chicken breasts flat and trim any visible fat. This will save you time and allow you to unwrap, flavor, and cook to your liking. I will always ask for chicken breasts or pork chops to be pounded flat and trimmed. Then, I heat the grill, season the meat with salt, pepper, cumin powder, garlic powder, cayenne, and a mixture of dried herbs and cook until well done. This will be used in a meal for one of our weekly lunches and the rest is saved for a great protein salad topper for dinner. Kelley loves to have some extra for salads, and I love to make it for her.
I will be sure to post some great ways prep meat, poultry, and fish in upcoming posts. For now, I felt it necessary to help inform any readers of the healthy meat options to look for.

Don’t forget, for a little spice in your life and Just Add Cayenne!

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