“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Grass-Fed Beef and Real Food

Costa Rican Feed Lot

US Grass Feeding

One of the real treats of life in Costa Rica is the year round availability of home grown fruits and vegetables available in out door markets. These little markets appear one day a week in every town and neighborhood in the cities. Local farmers or just country folk harvest their garden vegetables, herbs, coconuts, fruits and anything else that grows and sell it in these local market. Everything is grown and raised to be picked, shipped a short distance, sold and eaten. It will be a shame if this becomes a casualty to industrial farming and mass-market distribution via CAFTA.

Anyway, the meat, poultry and dairy is similarly excellent.

Free range chicken eggs are startling in their richness and taste and the local all grass-fed beef has a flavor that is just outstanding. It is a moment to litteraly slow down and smell the coffee, and while at it, and in my opinion, Costa Rican coffee is as good as it gets. My favorite is Cafe Brit Terrazu .

A little piece on grass-fed beef and grading:


Redefining The Notion Of Beef 'Quality'

For years, purchasing a top-of-the-line steak meant finding one labeled "choice" or "select" and very rarely, "prime." To customers, these grades of quality, awarded by the USDA, marked tasty, well-marbled cuts of beef. Today, however, with concerns about E. coli-contaminated beef heightened by the increased frequency of meat recalls, more consumers are looking for a "grass-fed" label, a sign, they hope, of a leaner, more nutritious and safer type of meat. But is a "grass-fed" label a guarantee of high quality? That depends on what defines quality.

When grading for quality, the USDA looks for traits that relate to "tenderness, juiciness and flavor" (as stated on their Web site, In processing plants, graders evaluate carcasses by inspecting the meat between the 12th and 13th rib, the area of the ribeye muscle. Depending primarily on the degree of marbling (intramuscular fat) but also on the degree of maturity (ossification of cartilage, color and texture) in this area, the grader will mark the carcass prime, choice, select or standard (and very rarely, utility, cutter or canner).

Essentially, the only difference between a "prime" and a "standard" cut of meat is the fat content. And the price, that is - the higher the grade of meat, the more money it can sell for. As a result, most ranchers raise their cows on corn rather than on grass: Grain-based feeds create the marbling required to earn top USDA quality grades, and, in turn, generate more profits than grass-based diets.

While the USDA's system - one that determines quality based on fat content - certainly helps consumers identify tasty, juicy steaks, it cannot, by design, fairly evaluate the quality of grass-fed meat, the flavor of which lies in its flesh, not its fat. In fact, most farmers raising their cows on grass opt not to pay for this grading service. "It doesn't behoove them to," says Sarah Cain, manager of the Fair Food Farmstand in Reading Terminal Market. "At most, the meat would receive a select grade."

Upon closer look, the USDA's system, limited to identifying traits (fat) that pertain to the palatability of grain-fed beef, offers a very narrow definition of quality. For one, by rewarding fat, the system awards no points to meat that might offer some nutritional value. Allan Nation, editor of The Stockman Grass Farmer, a monthly publication devoted to the art and science of grassland agriculture, reports that grass-fed meat not only is lower in total and saturated fat, but also contains 75 percent more omega-3 fatty acids, 78 percent more beta-carotene, 300 percent more vitamin E, 400 percent more vitamin A and 500 percent more conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) than grain-fed cows.

Moreover, by rewarding fat, this grading system creates incentives for ranchers to raise cattle in an environment most likely to harbor disease. For beef to achieve the degree of marbling required to earn a "prime" grade, cows must eat a lot of corn, and for cows to eat a lot of corn, they must live in a feedlot. Scientists believe the strain of E. coli 0157:H7, responsible for the outbreak of food poisoning last fall (and several others), originated in the stomach of a feedlot cow. (Corn creates the ideal environment in the rumen of an animal's stomach for this strain of E. coli to thrive.) To survive in feedlots, therefore, cattle receive antibiotics regularly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, our food supply sickens 76 million Americans and kills 5,000 annually. And the frequency of food-borne illness is on the rise. In 2007, there were 21 recalls of beef related to E. coli 0157:H7; in 2006, there were eight; and in 2005, there were five. Though no beef related to the latest recall made anyone sick, the 21.7 million pounds of ground beef recalled last fall left 32 people ill from E. coli exposure in eight different states.

What label on beef, then, should Americans look for? Unfortunately, "organic," "natural" and even "grass-fed" offer as vague a definition of quality as does "prime." "Organic" cattle can still be confined in feedlots and fed corn for six months of their lives as long as the corn is organic. "Natural" cattle, although not treated with antibiotics or hormones, can also be confined to feedlots and fed corn. "Free-range" mandates that ranchers leave a corral gate open, but "free-range" cows may never actually venture out that door. And because the USDA has not yet adopted an official definition of "grass-fed," there is no guarantee that a steak labeled "grass-fed" came from a cow fed exclusively grass.

Though labels are no longer reliable, customers still know what they want: tasty and nutritious beef, produced from cows that spent their lives on pasture. This type of high-quality beef does in fact exist. Finding it, however, requires a little more effort and demands that shoppers start asking questions.

Few mainstream grocery stores carry any cuts of grass-fed beef. Whole Foods Market carries Australian grass-fed strip steak, tenderloin and ground beef, but does not disclose the name of the farm that supplies the meat. Trader Joe's, which recently stopped carrying grass-fed beef, similarly does not disclose the names of the farms that supply their meat.

In the Philadelphia area, definitive answers about grass-fed meat can only be found at the Fair Food Farmstand, or directly from the farms that supply them meat. Natural Acres Farm in Millersburg supplies the Farmstand with a variety of grass-fed cuts of beef, and Buck Run Farm in Chester County supplies the Farmstand with grass-fed ground beef. The farmers at both Natural Acres and Buck Run happily answered questions over the phone regarding the diet and life of their cows, and both farms welcomed visitors. (Grass-fed beef can also be found at select farmers' markets during the season, Greensgrow Farmstand in Kensington during the season, and year-round through the Farm To City buying club. Some farms, including Buck Run and Natural Acres, offer customers the option of purchasing a half or quarter steer.)

When it comes to flavor, grass-fed meat has improved markedly over the past few years. Though considerably leaner than corn-fed beef, grass-fed beef acquires the flavors of the pasture on which the cows graze. These flavors change with the seasons, and many consumers have grown to love - to prefer -the taste of grass-fed meat to corn-fed. If a one-time experience left you swearing off grass-fed meat forever, consider trying one of the Natural Acres' porterhouse steaks or picking up a package of the Buck Run Farm ground beef. The quality will speak for itself.

Alexandra Stafford can be reached at


  1. -- Mexico's Oiling Days Are Numbered --
    Stupid Freaking Mexicans.
    Exceeded only by DC Pols and US Libs.

    "Yet Calderon's taking this risk against all political odds to save his country's energy industry and perhaps convert Pemex into a viable state company like Brazil's Petrobras. He's also doing us a favor by fighting to modernize, because Mexico's oil accounts for about 12% of America's imports.

    What kind of courage, by contrast, does it take in the U.S. Congress and the presidency to fight for drilling in America's oil-heavy wildernesses? President Calderon shows a leadership that our own leaders should imitate. Because like Mexico, if we don't start producing, we'll lose much in five years, too.

  2. "Also, as Bush prepared to leave Washington, Senate Democrats introduced a resolution that would block $1.4 billion in arms sales to Saudi Arabia unless Riyadh agrees to increase its oil production by 1 million barrels per day.

    The Democrats said they introduced the measure to coincide with Bush's trip to send a message to Saudi Arabia that it should pump more oil to reduce the cost of gas for Americans.
    THEY should pump more, while OUR Pols and enviros refuse to.

  3. LARRY KUDLOW: Bush went begging to the Saudis again and McCain served up cap-and-trade. It was a sad week for energy policy.
    Striking Out on Energy

  4. In the US, free fed range cattle are almost a thing of the past. Federal policies on "Forest Management" have made it so.

    Just another in a series of incremental steps towards total Federal control of the "Circle of Life"

  5. All life is Carbon based.
    Big John's Big Govt will excercise Caps and Trade on Carbon.

  6. An unconventional 2008 election season.
    Michael Barone on Barack Obama & John McCain on National Review Online

    ...McCain, who effectively clinched the Republican nomination on Super Tuesday, Feb. 5. But look at the numbers: In January, McCain won New Hampshire 37 percent to 32 percent, South Carolina 33 to 30 percent, and Florida 36 to 31 percent. On Super Tuesday, he won more than 50 percent only in states that were essentially uncontested: Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. He won Missouri by only 33 percent to 32 percent and California by only 42 percent to 35 percent, but won big delegate margins because of Republicans’ winner-take-all rules.

    McCain’s strategy from July 2007 was to count on the other Republican candidates’ strategies to fail. That was risky. But it worked. Republicans have accepted his victory because they’re temperamentally inclined to fall in line and because it became obvious that he was the candidate with the best chance to win in the fall. But McCain was not really a consensus choice.

    As for Barack Obama, at this writing he leads Hillary Clinton by 153 in “pledged delegates,” those chosen in primaries and caucuses. But about 90 percent of this lead — between 130 and 140 delegates — came in caucuses, where the enthusiasm of his followers and the inexplicable failure of the Clinton campaign to mobilize hers gave him big victories.
    This election is different from all others in another respect: These two presumptive nominees have no particular regional identity. John McCain was born in the Canal Zone, no longer a U.S. territory; grew up on military bases; moved to his wife’s home state of Arizona and, running for Congress, noted accurately that he had lived in Hanoi longer than anywhere else.

    Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii and lived for a time in Indonesia, went to school in Morningside Heights and Cambridge, and made his career in a city where he had never lived before, Chicago. He has been universally accepted by the Chicago political and fundraising establishment and won wide margins in Illinois. But neither he nor McCain has spent much of his life in ordinary Middle America.

    Another way this election has been different from any other since 1960 is that neither money nor the thing it mostly buys — television advertising — has made much difference.

  7. DR: In the US, free fed range cattle are almost a thing of the past. Federal policies on "Forest Management" have made it so.

    We can't say these are liberal policies, since it is the Bush Administration which has been in charge of federal policies for seven years.

  8. Whoda thunk it?

    Changes Associated with Federal Land Policy and Management
    Act (FLPMA) of 1976

    Changing social values with respect to environmental protection and conservation of natural resources, as reflected by FLPMA, have brought more scrutiny to livestock grazing practices and the level of livestock grazing on public lands. Also, just the increase in the nation's population has created more public-land-use conflicts as more people seek to use the public lands for a variety of purposes.

    Because of these changes, livestock grazing, as a legitimate use of public lands, is increasingly competing with other legitimate uses of public lands, such as recreation, wildlife habitat, riparian management, endangered species management, mining, hunting, cultural resource protection, wilderness, and a wide variety of other uses.

    There are increased expectations from the public to reverse unacceptable livestock impacts on public lands. Although not directly due to FLPMA's land use planning requirements, the administration of evolving government regulations that address threatened and endangered species, archeological resources, cultural resources, riparian areas and wetlands, clean water, and wild horses and burros on the public lands has led to more frustrations and complications in the use of these lands by the ranching community. BLM's efforts to address this issue has resulted in many cases much more precise and exacting in grazing terms and conditions.

    To comply with this decreased permit flexibility usually requires the operator to implement more labor and/or capital intensive grazing management practices. Sheep operators in many cases have also had management stipulations placed on their grazing operations to ensure healthy rangelands and attainment of multiple-use objectives. In some cases, traditional grazing or operating methods have evolved to ensure more controlled grazing practices. More intense herding or grazing practices have increased overall operating costs.

    In summary, changing social values and competition for land use have required that public-land management decisions achieve greater balance among sometimes conflicting resource uses. These decisions can result in reductions to livestock grazing to protect other equally legitimate resource uses and resource protections. These decisions can have a negative effect on the economics of specific livestock operators, depending on the type of decision. However, public-land management decisions do not always lead to negative economic effects to livestock operators. Decisions leading to improved range conditions can also have a positive and stabilizing effect on ranch operations.

  9. My vote we be for good healthy beef.

  10. Come to think of it, what is the beef?

  11. I had to stop by. The anticipation of more comments from the trinity of choice was unbearable.

  12. I need to reveal something about my self. I need relief:

    I was born fifth of nine in a Roman Catholic household in Washington State. My father obtained American citizenship after enlisting in the US Navy under a unique law held over from the time when the Philippines was a colony of the USA. Although I am first generation Begotten I do not write Adobo but I can speak it to some extent and follow most Filipinos when they speak Adobo. From about age eleven I found myself staring at other girls and ignoring boys. When I realized why, this gave me a measure of peace. But when I followed my father's footsteps and enlisted in the pre Don't Ask Don't Tell Reagan Navy, I learned to keep secrets (ie. LIE). This ability was honed in my field of naval cryptology at Corry Station, Pensacola, home of the world-famous CPO Burger at the Tradewinds Club. I eventually went on to a career as a civilian employee guessed it! The Navy. I met my hot girlfriend Fely in 1987 and we have been married de facto if not de jure ever since. I have black hair which reaches to my lower back, and skin the color of Ovaltine. My philosophy closely aligns with daojia Taoism. My aesthetic is minimalism. Less is more.

  13. I have gray hairs that almost extend to adjacent follicles.
    Plenty of black hairs where I wish they did not exist,
    but they know not what they do, being newcomers.
    Skin, "white."

  14. Dougoism:
    More is More.
    Less is Less.

  15. I'm waiting to hear about Bobalism.

  16. I was born in a cross-fire hurricane
    And I howled at my ma in the driving rain,
    I was raised by a toothless, bearded hag,
    I was schooled with a strap right across my back,
    I was drowned, I was washed up and left for dead.
    I fell down to my feet and I saw they bled.
    I frowned at the crumbs of a crust of bread.
    I was crowned with a spike right thru my head.
    But its all right now, in fact, its a gas!
    As I took up blogging after being left for dead
    But it's all right now cause I'm
    Bloggin' bad bob
    It's a gas gas gas.

  17. I have an itchy sensation between my toes.

    No, not really.

  18. Bobalism--an eclectic philosophy designed to mimic real knowledge and pull the wool over the eyes of the unsuspecting.

  19. God Damn It, that's not me Deuce.

  20. Bobalism: Salt-of-the-earth cracker-barrel folksy wisdom tempered with good old fashioned pragmatic American common sense, humbly derived from the sacred text of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn.

  21. Sacred text of Huckleberry Finn--that's true.

    Gotta run, being pulled off to some important yard sale.

  22. Hello!!! is one of the most excellent innovative websites of its kind. I enjoy reading it every day. All the best.