Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
24 Mar

Dear Mark: Cheap Meat?

Dear Mark,

I am curious what you recommend for people who either don’t have access to or can’t regularly afford grass-fed, organic, free-range meats? It [cost] is a lot of the reason we are mostly vegetarian – we could have organic meat on a regular basis, or we can have fresh fruits and veggies for us and, more importantly, our young sons, to snack on. I believe the fresh produce is more important, and our budget just won’t allow for both, so we stick to mostly vegetarian – and less expensive – sources of protein. I’d like to hear tips for how to actually apply some of this in these situations, and what you recommend then. Is it better to eat less meat and make sure what you have is organic, or keep eating the same amount of the conventional stuff (which is worse for our bodies and the environment)?

Judy, you raise a number of great points, and I know they’re common concerns. Ideally, we would all eat grass-fed/grass-finished meat all the time, but because of a variety of circumstances (budget, limited availability at home/during travel, etc.) it’s not always possible for people, myself included. For these reasons, the Primal Blueprint also looks at logical, reasonable compromises. If I can’t eat grass-fed meat, I look for the cleanest meat I can find (no hormones, no antibiotics, etc.). But I absolutely suggest that people include meat in their diets, even if they don’t have access to grass-fed.

First, let’s look at the issue of availability. Unfortunately, grass-fed and/or organic meats aren’t carried by many grocery stores. However, I think that trend is beginning to change. While Whole Foods, Wild Oats and community co-ops seem to be the most common sources for these items, more and more “regular” supermarkets are getting in the game. As always, the more people request it, the more likely stores will consider adding these options. That said, there’s a substantial mail order market for grass-fed and/or organic meats, many with competitive pricing.

Another option: small area farms that sell direct to consumers. You’ll usually get the best deal by purchasing 25 lbs. to half a cow, lamb, goat, etc. If you have a deep freezer, it’s ideal. Otherwise, find a few friends, neighbors, or family members who you can split an order with.

Also, just a note about labels… Meat that is labeled grass-fed isn’t necessarily “grass-finished.” Nearly all beef cattle eat grass at some point. Others, those usually labeled grass-fed, eat grass until the final few weeks before slaughter, when they’re switched to a grain diet. During this relatively brief window, the omega ratio reverses to pretty much that of mostly/entirely grain-fed cattle. Look for “grass-finished” or “100% grass-fed.” Though many farms that raise grass-fed cattle also follow other “clean meat” standards, not all do. USDA Organic uses the most stringent rules and certification, including the absence of any pesticides or herbicides on grazing land/feed and moderate animal treatment standards. But keep in mind, also, that USDA Organic doesn’t mean grass-fed. On top of all of this, we’re seeing a new class of “animal-welfare” labels offered by industry certification as well as animal-rights groups. (Whole Foods manages its own standards and labeling.) (I know, Judy, you’ve asked about this element as well.) Standards for these certifications vary considerably. If you buy direct from a farm, you may be able to get the most information about how the animals are raised.

While it’s true that “100% grass-fed, organic” offers the best of all worlds, it’s usually more expensive and more difficult to find. My advice for best compromises: first look for a label that says 100% grass-fed with “no hormones” and “no antibiotics.” This kind of meat encompasses important “clean” elements (in terms of an individual’s consumption) and offers the better grass-fed omega ratio. Next choice: clean, grain-fed meats. Just be sure to add more omega 3s from fish, fish oil supplements and vegetables sources to make up for the 6:3 ratio deficit.

Thanks, as always, for your questions and comments. Keep ‘em coming!

ILoveButter Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

Imitation Crab: What is That Stuff?

Dr. Michael Eades: Another Reason to Eat Grass Fed Beef

Typical North American Diet is Deficient in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

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You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Anna….. your dinner sounded (somewhat) similar to ours…. fried squash, snap beans & pasta with “vegan” cheese – It was very good – We’re fortunate here in Florida to be in the height of strawberry season – gosh they are yummy over hot biscuits!

    Anyway, guess maybe the thing about trying to feed “all” will be a problem till “forever” – Para-phrasing here: “the hungry will always be with us. I just don’t see how the increased population will be able to consume all the “right” foods. I do agree though that there’s some major concentrations of big money in the food industries now. Names I know: Conagra, Tyson, Smithfield, Cargill, Monsanto…… and squeezed in between each of those is a little bit of “Wal-Mart”. It’s said 90% of our foods come from these mega-giants…. That’s a lot of power – I sympathize greatly with the small farmer and rancher…… I don’t know how they survive. This new farm bill of course is a joke – HA!

    Yes, it’s strange how the ills Upton Sinclair concerned himself with a hundred years ago still surface today….. I know his thrust regarded the working conditions (and animals) – but got consumers more concerned with what was on their plate. Actually, I don’t think you can cure the later (safety part) without addressing the other issues. It’s terrible that the (mostly immigrant) workers get paid so little – but are responsible for so very much. When will we consumers (society) learn…. ya get what ya pay for? Unfortunately the animals don’t get much of a break either. In fact a very disturbing 10 year study was just released by the AWI – This is pre-Hallmark scandal. The information is disheartening – I won’t go into details, but if interested it’s called “Crimes without Consequence”.

    Everyone here on this post is much better off with your grass fed – locally grown choices….. I know if I ever changed my diet – it would never, never be for factory farm anything!

    Yes, hard to improve on nature….. it would have to be considered “artificial meat” though, right? I know they’ve grown an ear on a sheep – The whole cloned GMO “science” is too Franken-food to me…. Like the tomatoes that have genes from flounder – Thank goodness I live in a warm climate and can grow my own!

    Well, it’s been wonderful chatting – I’ve got a trailer full of top soil to get unloaded…… my bones are gonna protest I know – but better get to it –
    Take care, Bea

    Provoked wrote on March 28th, 2008
    • In response to the words I wrote over a year and a half ago: “If I ever changed my diet”… This is no longer a valid thought.

      Those words I wrote then – “if”, are totally untrue today. With more information and experiences of a vegan diet, I’m certain this is how I will always eat and live.

      And why not? I feel healthier, lost some pounds and have more energy than in decades! Even spiritually… being vegan has given me ethical grounding as well. I like living without harming.

      So, there is no “if” to “factory-farm” meat, feedlot meat, free-range meat, organic meat, or, the most placating of all: “humane meat”. Nah… cross “meat” off my list entirely-

      I do believe it is in our nature to evolve, and progress to our better world. Having respect for life, manifested in a vegan diet is the way.

      Bea Elliott wrote on July 13th, 2009
  2. Provoked:
    “1. If there is a future that science will “grow” animal parts – as healthy and beneficial as grass-fed & free range animals meat – does anyone here think there will still be arguments – “it’s not as good as the real (living) thing” or the opposition: (beyond vegatarian, beyond vegan, beyond PETA):”it’s flesh, and still wrong to consume”. I think this is an ancient conflict – else why would so many versions of religions have special mandates, customs, rituals and rites surrounding man’s use of animals? Thoughts?”

    It’s not really an ancient conflict. Religious rules surrounding animal consumption were mainly about giving priests power over meat consumption, a source of considerable power.

    Jason wrote on March 28th, 2008
  3. Jason….. couldn’t agree more! Power isn’t in weapons, votes or money. It’s who controls the Food. Food = Life

    Provoked wrote on March 28th, 2008
  4. Hey!
    I just stumbled upon this site (literally via Stumble Upon) and while I didn’t read all the posts, I did notice the one about the beyondveg website. I wanted to add that is another great one. Ok, I’ll be honest, the site changed my life, my health, my future for the better. Most definitely worth checking out for anyone concerned about health, nutrition, etc etc etc etc!!!

    Ann wrote on July 4th, 2008
  5. Weston Price — please no! They are sister to Center for Consumer Freedom –who are the biggest lobbiests who have supported the supporting tobacco, sugar/corn, alcohol, meat/dairy industries. They are against any kind of social awareness that effects corporate (mono & GMO) foods or consumer interests associated with these products…

    And that they are not fond of PETA – good for them… but they dislike peta for all the wrong reasons.

    They do not adocate healthier or more sustainable food… They advocate *not questioning* the bad foods that exist!

    They particularly dislike Obama’s choice of Cass Sunstein for Office of Oversight and Regulation because Sunstein encourages open debate in public forums… About issues that would concern a community — so that they may be resolved in a grass-roots manner. Thus restoring some say in our immediate government.

    And if one of the issues or “problems” that might be discussed would be… OF ALL THINGS – what we eat!!! Oh then the sparks would ignite!

    But isn’t it about time that social gatherings included the open discussion about all the issues regarding animals, meat, sustainablity and ethics?

    There’s good reason organizations like Weston Price and CCF would discourage such open debate… Knowledge always leads people to smarter choices. It discloses secrets and gives rise to better solutions.

    Power only exists with ignorance and apathy. And I assure you CCF & WP operate under some very powerful strings.

    Bea Elliott wrote on July 10th, 2009
  6. “who are the biggest lobbiests supporting tobacco….”

    Bea Elliott wrote on July 10th, 2009

    TOMAS wrote on September 21st, 2010
  8. Thank you for a very educational discussion folks – very reassuring too how a warm finish can blossom from such bitter opening salvoes. This will be remembered next time I nearly yell at someone! This topic of feasting on the cheap particularly piqued my interest because I am a typical broke student (a fresher) contemplating how to square Mark’s magic bullet philosophy with finances even Gordon Brown would think a bit dodgy. Having read this however, I think I may branch out next term and press my casserole dish into service to make sure I can eat lots of tasty animals (ethical, quality ones!). Beef shanks? Liver? I think so. And a special appreciation for Anna’s posts which greatly opened my eyes in this regard :)

    I’ve only enjoyed 2 days of primal eating but I can certainly attest to the point made about over eating. I tried to cram down carrots, omlettes, ham, tomatoes; mostly out of curiosity – and it just didn’t work. I was completely sated, and probably nowhere near the carb level of last week. Tomorrow is a fast day, but dinner will be a feast if I have anything to do with it 😉

    Thank you Mark for teaching me your very promising eating habits. I can’t yet wax lyrical over the benefits, but give me a few months and I may be joining the revolution. If it means anything I finally pressed my 20kg kettlebell today after weeks of negatives and assists. I will keep at it (both the diet and the lifting of heavy things) and will tell you all if anything interesting happens.


    Ayad wrote on December 9th, 2010
  9. I don’t know if Aussie beef is inexpensive in America or not, but it’s relatively inexpensive here in Japan and the tenderness and taste are really good. According to this article, Aussie beef is predominantly grass-fed (as of 2007). When it comes to beef or lamb, Aussie meat is all I eat.

    Jarrett wrote on February 19th, 2011

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