Grain Fed Beef is Off the Menu as Recession Bites

Consumers Shunning Steak - For Burgers
We've long had debates here at TreeHugger about whether recession will help the environment, or whether an economic downturn will derail our green efforts. At least one effect of constrained household budgets that may prove a huge boon for our stressed planet is a change in meat consumption habits. We've already seen middle class families around the world limiting their meat consumption, and now CNN reports that consumers are shunning steak, and grain fed steak in particular. But it's not all good news.
While we environmentalists might hope that this consumption pattern is seeing a shift to vegetarianism, or at least quality grass fed beef - CNN claims that much of the shift is simply from Outback to McDonalds - not exactly the green/happy meat utopia we, or at least the meat eaters among us, might hope for. But there is still a plus side - much of the hamburger meat that is consumed is either grass fed or it's produced from dairy cattle, both of which result in a lower energy footprint than their grain fed counterparts.

I'm a little confused, however, by CNN's unquestioning assertion that the foodies among us crave grain fed beef:

"The United States is somewhat unique amid global beef producers in that most of its cattle are fattened in feedyards on grain and other nutrients, as opposed to grazing on lush pastures. These grain-fed cattle produce the juicy steaks preferred by gourmands, fine-dining restaurants and cookout enthusiasts.

OK, it's true that many in the US do prefer the sweeter, fattier meat produced by grain fed cattle - but tastes change. I personally find most US beef waaaay too sweet. And I don't consider sweetness the primary quality I look for in a fillet or a rib roast. I'll save that for my ice cream.

Check out one of my local farming heroes, Charlie Braeburn, on the health, environmental and taste benefits of grass fed beef, not to mention the hazards of the grain fed variety. Hopefully the decline of the grain fed feedlot will eventually result in a permanent shift to real beef from local farms from cows raised on the food they were meant to eat. And hopefully some more vegetarians too.

More on meat eating, vegetarianism and the environment
Bill Niman Boycotts Niman Ranch
Emeril Green Episode: Meat Me Half Way
Foodprint: The Surprising Impact of a Little Meat
From the Forums: A Vegetarian World?
On Moving Toward Vegetarianism
Less Meat=Less Heat
Making the Meat Go Further: Your Ideas for Reduced Consumption

The River Cottage Meat Book: For Carnivores with a Conscience
Green Glossary: Meat Guzzler

Tags: Agriculture | Beef | Economics | Farming | United States

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