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Dear Mark: Cheap Meat?

Posted By Mark Sisson On March 24, 2008 @ 8:58 am In Big Moo,Dear Mark,Diet,Health,How To,Nutrition,Protein | 106 Comments

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 [7] for grass-fed and/or organic meats [8], many with competitive pricing.

Another option: small area farms that sell direct to consumers [9]. 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 [10] Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein [11]

Imitation Crab: What is That Stuff? [12]

Dr. Michael Eades: Another Reason to Eat Grass Fed Beef [13]

Typical North American Diet is Deficient in Omega-3 Fatty Acids [14]

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[7] mail order market: http://www.eatwild.com/products/farmsthatship.html

[8] organic meats: http://www.theorganicpages.com/topo/commercialactivity.html?ca=mailorder&commid=34&keyw=1043

[9] small area farms that sell direct to consumers: http://www.localharvest.org/

[10] ILoveButter: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jdickert/539619160/

[11] Dear Mark: Pondering Protein: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/dietary-protein/

[12] Imitation Crab: What is That Stuff?: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/imitation-crab/

[13] Dr. Michael Eades: Another Reason to Eat Grass Fed Beef: http://www.proteinpower.com/drmike/good-eating/another-reason-to-eat-grass-fed-beef/

[14] Typical North American Diet is Deficient in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080307133659.htm

[15] Damage Control Master Formula: http://www.masterformula.com/

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