With beef, grass-fed is retro-chic

Field Notes
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There was a time, not too long ago, when what we now call “grass-fed beef” was just called “beef.” What else would one feed one’s cattle? That’s what the beasts eat.

But then came the ambitious years following World War II, when Americans were hellbent on doing everything bigger and faster. If cows could reach slaughter weight after just a few months on a diet of cheap surplus grains, it must be better, right?

Most of us know by now that there was a small flaw in that logic: Cattle are not meant to eat grain. And so chaos, in the form of stress and disease – for the livestock, the human consumers and the environment – has ensued. You can’t fool Mother Nature.

Back in the mid-1990s, Etwenda “Tink” Wade reached that conclusion, too. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and nearly incapacitated by weekly injections of medications, she decided to return to a lifestyle led by her great-grandparents on their Florida cattle farm. Luckily, she and her husband had just purchased a farm in Wilkes County.

“I wanted to be normal again, I wanted a normal life, I wanted to enjoy my children and the farm,” she says. “The diet kept returning as a key point in all that.”

They were already raising beef and pork for themselves, but they were following modern protocol by turning over the young livestock to a feedlot for fattening. Wade determined that grass-fed meat would be part of her new strategy to improve her health. “I just decided I’d man up and take it on and try to do it,” she says. “And I did.”

Wade says she’s now medication-free and committed to raising grass-fed, black Angus beef on her 230-acre farm. Her 120 cows are not exposed to pesticides or herbicides. “If we have a thistle problem, I get out and dig the thistle,” she says.

Grass-fed beef is leaner and faster-cooking than that other kind of beef, significantly lower in saturated fat and higher in Omega-3 fatty acids. How does it taste? Atlanta magazine’s own food critic, Bill Addison, says grass-fed beef has a “concentrated richness” to it. “Corn-fed beef certainly develops a lot of marbling, but all that fat doesn’t necessarily deliver much flavor,” he says. “The texture can be mushy and the flavor is often wimpy compared to grass-fed.”

You might have noticed that I didn’t give you my own opinion of how it tastes. That’s because I’ve never tried it. I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 20 years. But I can say this: If you do eat beef, then you might want to try grass-fed – if not for personal health, humanitarian or environmental reasons, then just out of curiosity.

> You can find Tink’s Grass-Fed Beef on alternate Wednesdays and Saturdays at Decatur Farmers Market, alternate Saturdays at Lawrenceville Farmers Market, once a month at InTown Farmers Market, and on the menu at Parker’s on Ponce in Decatur – or you can place an online order for local pickup at atlanta.locallygrown.net. Her prices start at $5 a pound for ground beef, or $20 for a five-pound bulk pack.

> You can also try grass-fed beef from another Georgia farm, White Oak Pastures, at area Whole Foods. Today (Sept. 3) only, just in time for Labor Day weekend, the market is selling grass-fed ground beef for $3.99 a pound (save $2 a pound). Ready-made patties are $1 each.