Day 174–GMO Grass and Cyanide

Hereford Steer

Many years ago, before I was a mom, I decided one summer that I would read all the classic nineteenth century gothic horror novels. Some were good, some were terrible, but the one that stuck with me was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The novel (unlike the movies) was not focused on violence and gore, but on the implications of man playing God with science and the awful responsibility we take on when we create things that perhaps should not have been created. Yes, Monsanto, I’m talking to you.

There are some days when I think I just really don’t want to know anymore information about food. The whole subject can be so daunting and often very, very frustrating. I thought I had the beef thing figured out–reduce beef consumption and rely on only grass-fed, pasture raised beef. Enter, the Modern Prometheus.

Yesterday I read an article and watched a news report about cattle in Texas dying from eating Tifton 85 Bermuda grass. Tifton 85 has been described as both a GMO and a hybrid of Tifton 65 and an African Bermuda grass that is known to produce cyanide under certain situations. Apparently the grass has started producing cyanide and the cows eating the grass died fairly quickly. Here is the link to the article. While only cows from one farm have died, grass on other nearby Texas farms has also tested positive for cyanide gas. Now, there is some debate about how and why this happened, whether drought in the area affected the grass and/or fertilizer, and whether Tifton 85 is a standard hybrid or GMO. Regardless, it is a powerful lesson in how modifying our food structure, even with the best intentions, can have lasting effects. And sometimes we don’t know what those effects are until years later.

I have to say, at first I thought this was an urban myth because how weird is it that grass would produce a neurotoxin. So now I guess I should be asking our local farmers what kind of grass their cows eat? Could cows eating the grass have meat contaminated with cyanide? I don’t know the answer to that question, but it is a bit worrisome.

And, more importantly, what if this grass is in my neighborhood or school? Could mowing the grass kill you or make you sick? Blech. The whole genetic modification of crops and domestic plants is so insidious and pervasive in American farming that I have to say, I am a bit alarmed. Will keep watching for more information and share it as I find it. In this day of self promotion by big agriculture companies, though, it is hard to know what the truth actually is!

Day 61–Coon Rock Farm

Lately I have been buying produce and eggs from Coon Rock Farm, a family owned farm on the Eno River in Hillsborough. From Harukai turnips to fresh carrots and tatsoi greens, everything I’ve purchased has been delicious. At the Western Wake Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago, I tried a sample of their chorizo (it is impossible to pass their tent without trying it since you can smell it cooking and for “some reason” I am always hungry). It was amazing. I keep forgetting to add it to our rotation, but maybe next week.

Coon Rock Farm (www.coonrockfarm.com) is the epitome of “farm to fork”. The Holcomb family not only operates the farm (which dates back to the 1800s), they also operate two highly reputable restaurants, Zely & Ritz in Raleigh and Piedmont Restaurant in Durham. Both restaurants feature the vegetables, fruit, eggs, lamb, beef, pork and eggs produced on the farm.

According to the Holcombs, farm produce is all organic and mostly heirloom varieties (which explains why my carrots were unbelievably “carrot-y” in flavor). All animals are pasture-raised and grass-fed, with no hormones or antibiotics. I love that this is a family all working together to bring us good food while nurturing the young farmers who will continue to feed us into the future.

Coon Rock Farm sells at three local farmer’s markets–Midtown Farmer’s Market at North Hills, Western Wake Farmer’s Market in Cary and the Chapel Hill Farmer’s Market. They also have a CSA which you can read about on their website.

As for the name? Apparently, the name Coon Rock Farm comes from a large rock that juts into the Eno River and has the historical name of “Coon Rock”.  Regardless, the food produced by this family is wonderful, sustainable, healthy food, and I for one am looking forward to some chorizo on Saturday!

Day 54–The Carbon Footprint of Food

The older I get, the more I appreciate the aspects of strength and balance in my life. If I live to be 90, then I officially reached the mid-point in my life this month, which is cause for some introspection. While there are some issues (and my patient husband sees this more than anyone else) where I still have strength of conviction along with hair-trigger emotional responses, I also have a greater ability to step back from life, watch what is happening, and be more balanced and patient in my reactions.

So it is with the choices we make about how we live. I have the strength of conviction that I want a healthier, less toxic life for my family (and your family, too), but I also realize that we have to make balanced choices and sometimes those choices involve tradeoffs. It would be nice if we could have zero impact on the earth and the environment, but I’ve read stories of people who have tried and it nearly drove them mad. Maybe the goal should be to make the choices necessary to have the least impact while maintaining a healthy personal life.

Here is a link to a great resource on understanding the carbon footprint of the food we eat. This tool is helpful (and especially fun  if you have children) in understanding how the choices we make about food have an impact on the health of the world. Just one more resource to bring informed decision-making and, hopefully, greater balance to our lives.

http://eatlowcarbon.org

But sometimes food options that have a low carbon footprint are not necessarily the best foods for you. Homemade cookies, for example, have a fairly low carbon footprint, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them at every meal. And eggs have a low carbon footprint, but factory chicken farms are notoriously inhumane.

So it all becomes a balancing act. Maybe you have a steak one night, but balance the impact of that with lower impact dishes during the week. Or maybe you switch to chicken. Or buy only pasture raised eggs. Or maybe you decide meat isn’t important enough and go vegetarian altogether. Whatever you decide is right for you, it’s good to have the tools needed to make strong and balanced decisions about your life and your body.

This website isn’t a cure-all, but it is fun, engaging and informative. I hope you enjoy it and learn something new, as I have! Now, maybe I’ll go have a cookie 🙂

 

Day 41–Farmhand Foods Meatbox

Meat in a box. When we began our journey almost 7 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure what resources were available to our family other than what we could find at the farmer’s markets (and that was more than I though also!). What a wonderful coincidence that I saw a tweet from @farmhandfoods for a winter meat box. Meat in a box sounded strange, but in the spirit of adventure, we thought we would give it a try. I promised an update on our experience, so here it is!

Farmhand Foods of Durham works with NC pasture-based beef and pork producers who have a commitment to sustainable livestock production and who raise antibiotic and growth hormone free animals that are pasture-raised and pasture-fed. After doing a bit of research and reading their online protocols, I found that Farmhand Foods is a highly reputable organization with a sincere passion for improving food supply options. Founded and operated by two smart women–Tina Prevatte and Jennifer Curtis, Farmhand Foods also works with small-scale, inspected processing facilities that practice humane animal handline and care. Together with Sales and Distribution Manger Drew Brown, Farmhand Foods connects pasture-based farmers with the consumers who love their products throughout the Triangle area. I really love their business model and commitment to having a sustainable food system.

But back to the meat box. When we ordered our box in January, I wondered if it would be an affordable addition to our budget. We ordered three boxes (Jan, Feb, March) and each box worked out to $45. Each box includes three different cuts of meat–a braising cut, a grilling cut and a roasting cut. Two of the cuts are beef and one is pork. I’m not positive, but I think our first box was about 8-10 lbs of meat, which is a decent amount of food for three people!

We just finished the last of our January box for Super Bowl Sunday, and I think we all agree as a family that it was a great choice. Our January box included two meaty beef shanks, a large skirt steak and a 3 lb. mini boneless ham. The beef shanks were braised for an Italian ragu and they were, quite frankly, amazing. The skirt steak was very flavorful and surprisingly tender (I think I had confused skirt steak and flank steak, but skirt steak is much, MUCH better). And the ham, which we roasted with a local honey and mustard glaze, was so darn good that I dreamed about it. Really. I have never had ham that tasted so good.

Each cut of meat provided more than one meal for our small family (the ham alone provided at least three meals), so were able to work it into our weekly budget very easily. The meat tasted a lot better than store-bought, was healthier for us, and provided us opportunities to experiment with new recipes and cooking methods. All in all, we deem this experiment a success. And we can’t wait for our February box, which arrives next week!

This is all to say, that if you are in the Research Triangle area, Farmhand Foods is a high quality resource that we recommend. If you aren’t in this area, I would encourage you to find out if something similar exists near you and to give it a try. You just might be pleasantly surprised!

Day 35–Grain Fed or Grass Fed–Is There a Difference?

Is there a difference between grain-fed and grass-fed beef or is it just marketing?

Our family is not a statistically representative sample by any means, but in our 5 weeks of eating locally produced, grass-fed, grass finished beef and pasture-raised pork, we can say that yes, there is a definite and pronounced improvement in taste with the pasture-raised animals. So, is it just a taste issue? I recently read a wonderful article “Grass Fed vs. Feedlot Beef: Is There a Difference?” by Gail Nickel-Kailing in Good Food World (www.goodfoodworld.com) and she graciously gave me permission to share some of it with you. For the entire article, go to http://www.goodfoodworld.com/2012/01/grass-fed-vs-feedlot-beef-whats-the-difference/. Here are some interesting points:

Studies have shown that an animal’s diet can have an impact on the nutritional content of the meat on the consumer’s table. Grass-fed meat has been shown to contain less fat, more beneficial fatty acids, and more vitamins and to be a good source of a variety of nutrients. According to a study published in the Journal of Animal Science in 2009, eating grass-fed beef provides many benefits to consumers(3):

  1. Lower in total fat
  2. Higher in beta-carotene
  3. Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
  4. Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin
  5. Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium
  6. Higher in total omega-3s
  7. A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs 4.84)
  8. Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter
  9. Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)
  10. Lower in the saturated fats linked with heart disease
Lower Fat – Meat from grass-fed cattle is much lower in fat, and therefore lower in calories. A 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished animal has almost 100 fewer calories than the same sized-piece from a grain-fed animal. If, like the average American, you eat about 67 pounds of beef a year, switch to grass-fed beef and you’ll save nearly 18,000 calories a year.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 fatty acids are fats that are essential to human health. Sixty percent of the fatty acids in grass is omega-3, which is formed in the chloroplasts of green leaves. Grass-fed cattle can contain as much as two-to-four times more omega-3 fatty acids than grain-fed animals.

At the same time, a high ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids has been linked with an increased risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, allergies, depression, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. A ratio of four to one or lower is considered ideal, Grain-fed beef has a much higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids than wild game or grass-fed beef. In grass-fed beef the ratio is approximately 2 to 1, while the ratio in grain-fed beef is more than 14 to 1.

More Vitamins – In humans vitamin E is linked with la lower risk of heart disease and cancer. Meat from grass-fed cattle is higher in vitamin E.; as much as four times higher in vitamin E than meat from feedlot cattle.(4)

Rich source of CLA – Meat from grass-fed animals is the richest known source of “conjugated linoleic acid” or CLA. Grass-fed cattle have been found to produce 2 to 5 times more CLA than cattle fed high grain feedlot diets. In laboratory animals, a  diet containing even a small amount of CLA greatly reduced cancerous growths.

The full article provides citations for her information and those are pretty interesting as well. The article and our own preference for the taste of pasture-raised beef and pork reinforce to us that we would rather eat a smaller portion of meat in our diet and have that meat be of higher quality that fill up on higher fat, cheaply produced meat. Whatever you decide for your family, it is interesting to note that even what animals eat influences how they affect our own bodies!

Day 23–Beautiful Braised Beef Shanks

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Our January meat box from Farmhand Foods (www.farmhandfoods.org ) included two large and meaty beef shanks from one of our local farmers in Efland (about 40 minutes away). I have to say, I have never even considered buying beef shanks, let alone how to cook them. So, this was another learning experience in our journey–not only buying locally produced meat and vegetables, but also being open to new ways of cooking. As it turns out (and you may know this already), beef shanks are a braising cut. That is, they are a bit tough and need long, slow cooking to break down the meat and produce a tender result. Since this was one of our chilliest weekends, it was perfect timing for slow cooking (and it also meant that I had more time to watch the NFL playoff games :-).

I found a recipe that sounded promising on epicurious (LOVE this website and app) at www.epicurious.com for a beef and sausage ragu. I tweaked it a bit and am including my version below. Mainly, I reduced the amount of meat, upped the level of vegetables in the ragu and reduced the overall liquids to make a thicker sauce for pasta and polenta. It is AMAZING. Not only did the final product taste delicious and tender, but my entire house smelled like I had Super Chef visiting. Yum, yum and YUM. I could actually eat this out of a bowl by itself.

So, if you’re in the mood to try something new and make the most out of a less expensive cut of beef (especially if it is locally produced and hormone/antibiotic free!), give this a try!

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragu (12 servings)

  • 3 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. Mae Farm Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 3 1/2 lbs beef shanks with bone
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cups of chopped organic carrots
  • 2 cups of organic mushrooms
  • 1 bunch of organic kale or other greens
  • 2 28 oz. cans organic whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small can organic tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle dry, red wine
  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. organic dried Italian spices
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in an oven proof pot and add sausage. Brown in pot for about 10 minutes, breaking up chunks with the spoon. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pot and put aside in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pot. Sprinkle beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown at medium high heat for about 6 minutes on each side. Transfer to bowl with sausage.
  5. Add onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and greens to the pot and sautee until brown and tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return beef shanks and sausage to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, fennel seeds, spices to pot. Bring to simmer.
  7. Cover pot and put in oven. Braise 2 1/2 hours until beef is very tender and falling off the bone.
  8. Transfer shanks to a cutting board and remove meat and dice. Return diced meat to the pot and simmer on stove for about 10-15 minutes to thicken and reduce the sauce.
  9. Skim fat off the sauce (I actually cooled the sauce, put it in the fridge and skimmed the fat off the next day.)
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve over pasta, polenta or bread.

Day 14–Farmer’s Market Spotlight–Rare Earth Farms

Beef cattle at Polyface Farm.

While I was on my very brisk mission to the farmer’s market today, I met Jennifer with Rare Earth Farms, a local farm partnership, and thought I would introduce you to this wonderful, family-owned resource for local beef and lamb.

Rare Earth Farms is a story of farmers and friends. Mann Mullen of Bunn and Karl Hudson of Zebulon, are friends and farmers whose shared interest in sustainable agriculture and the humane treatment of animals led them to found Rare Earth Farms. Their beef is pasture raised (on grass), pasture finished on grass, antibiotic free, steroid free and without preservatives or colorings.

Recently, Mann and Karl entered into a partnership with another friend, Carvel Cheves, who raises lamb with the same care and standards that Mann and Karl put into their beef. Carvel was also inducted into the NC Livestock Hall of Fame, so now you can get your lamb kabob meat from a celebrity (and he is probably much nicer than Kim Kardashian, just sayin’).

Rare Earth Farms has a meat CSA that they are starting in February, or you can find them at the State Farmer’s Market. You can find a price list and contact number on their website as well, so you can preorder what you need (including, apparently, a whole carcass). I may try some lamb soon and I will let you know how that is.

Here is the website, if you’re interested: www.rareearthfarms.com