grass-fed beef

Of Pink Slime and Pollen

Mm-mm good photo, courtesy of Uptown Magazine

I first heard of the pink slime controversy over a turkey sandwich lunch with a friend. When she described all the beef trimmings and by-products being ground up to--well--pink slime, my first reaction was, "how economical!" How almost Native American of us, using every last bit of the beef. Besides, despite the 85% grass-fed organic beef my family eats, there's still the 5% of God-knows-what-kind-of-beef-and-meat-products we consume in our beloved hot dogs and the 10% of close-your-eyes-and-hope-for-the-best beef we eat out in restaurants.

"But they soak it in ammonia or something, to clean off the e. Coli!" my friend added, since I didn't look properly grossed-out enough.

"They've been dipping chicken parts in chlorine baths forever, and we all keep eating chicken," I pointed out.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying I'm a fan of pink slime in kids' school cafeteria meals, but I figure anytime I let my kids buy lunch, they're eating Downed-Cow Stroganoff or Chlorine-Bathed-Overbred-Chicken Nuggets. I know it's crap, but I still let them buy once a week. And pink slime is edible, as much as hot dogs are, so I'm not gonna get too bent out of shape. Once in a while is fine. Not ideal, but fine. Check out this Food Safety News article for more information on pink slime's general okayness.

For those in the pink slime biz, however, I would recommend they hire a good PR agency. Look what wonders it did orange roughy, after it changed its name from Slimehead. "Slimeheads" didn't exactly fly off the menu, but we're all happy to eat orange roughy nearly to the collapse of its fishing industry. Would we be more willing to stomach pink slime, if we knew it as "Dairy Delight" or "Strawberry Soft Serve"?

If you're of the mind that pink slime by any name would still reek, it might be time to switch to organic, pastured beef. At our Bellevue Farmers Market, several of our farmers sell top-quality beef, chicken and pork. No slime, no where. When the Market opens May 10, get the farmers' opinions on the slime controversy. Ask about their processing practices. What happens to their by-products? I'm curious myself.

Speaking of the Market, another friend came for tea, and I offered her some local honey I'd bought at the Market last fall to sweeten it. Turns out she'd been at Pike Place Market recently, where one of the honey vendors advertised honey's effectiveness in combating hay fever(!). I hadn't heard this tidbit, but being a hay fever sufferer, I'm perfectly willing to dose myself, even just for a placebo effect. There are no published studies yet--just anecdotal evidence--but the recommendation is for local honey (i.e., local pollens), two teaspoons per day. Easy peasy. Can't hurt, might help.

Have a great week!

New Year's Food Resolutions

Launch yourself into dietary health

According to my oldest nephew, who runs the gym in a college town, the first two weeks of the New Year are total chaos at work. Hordes of us show up, resolved to be fit, irritating staff and regulars with our passing health whim. By mid-January we've given up and returned to our La-Z-Boys and cubicles, patting ourselves on the back that at least two weeks of exercise beats zero weeks. Maybe if we put that Rascal scooter on our Amazon Wish List...

Well, I'm here to encourage us non-exercisers (and if you are a regular exerciser, you can just feel extra smug while you read the rest of this post): exercising isn't the only way to improve your health. Diet is the other. And New Year's Diet Resolutions have a better shot of becoming habits.

Check out these possibilities and just pick one or two:

  1. Dump one processed food product permanently. It could be cake mix or pancake mix, storebought cookies, instant oatmeal, protein bars, anything! If it's something you could make easily at home, try it. I would love love love to get my family off breakfast cereal, but they gag over anything porridge-like, and I gag over the thought of having to cook every morning.
  2. If you can't afford organic dairy, at least go hormone-free. As Prevention put it in their article entitled "7 Foods That Should Never Pass Your Lips," growth hormones lead to "higher levels of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor in milk. In people, high levels of IGF-1 may contribute to breast, prostate, and colon cancers." Eeks! When it isn't Bellevue Farmers Market season, our family tries to stick to Organic Valley (pastured products) or at least Tillamook (hormone-free).
  3. Pick the one food your family eats regularly and make sure it's the best you can afford. If it's salmon, stay away from the farmed stuff. If it's ground beef, go for grass-fed or switch to buffalo. Going with the farmers market options may cost you more in the short-run, but hey--you may get to avoid the Rascal scooter later, and that's a savings.
  4. Eat vegetarian for one dinner a week. If you already do this, try two meals. This can defray the cost of Resolution #3. Our family regularly does breakfast burritos or lentil soup or homemade mac & cheese. If you must have some meat, it could just be some Skagit River Ranch bacon thrown in for flavor.
  5. Stay away from soy. As I've noted in this blog, 90% of soybeans grown in America are genetically-modified to resist Round-Up. Processed soy has been linked to hormone issues in people and possibly to the rise in food allergies. This is a toughie to eliminate because the American soy surplus, like the corn surplus, motivates the food industry to find millions of uses for it. Other than the tried-and-true fermented soy products (tofu and soy sauce), we stay away.
  6. Serve two healthy vegetables at dinner. Potatoes, corn and bagged-lettuce-salad covered in soybean-oil-based dressing don't count. In fact, you better add a third vegetable to the meal to make up for them.

If you have food resolutions for the New Year, feel free to share. My personal ones for 2011: (1) switch from canned tomatoes to boxed--per the abovementioned Prevention article; and (2) dump the seed oils (canola, safflower, etc.) for olive oil, butter, and Skagit bacon fat.

Happy New Year!

Whether You're a Mother or Whether You're a Brother

You could use some handy tips for staying alive this week, all involving our own Bellevue Farmers Market.

1. Pick up some fresh fruits and vegetables. According to Consumer Reports, local produce is higher in nutrients than long-distance goods.

2. Try a vegetable you've never had before. Yeah, we all get stuck in ruts. In our family it's green beans one night, broccoli another, spinach salad every other night. Our creative farmers not only grow familiar favorites, but things you didn't know you could eat! Take, for example, the squash blossoms and vines I saw at one booth. It turns out that tender young squash shoots and tendrils taste a little like peas. As always, if you don't know what it is or how to prepare it, ask the farmer.

3. Stock up on salmon and tuna. Especially if you've been feeling dumb lately. Because, as the NY Times concurred, "Fish is brain food." I even have anecdotal proof for you, from which I wildly extrapolate: when I was prepping to go on Jeopardy!, I studied and downed fish/fish oil like there was no tomorrow. I still got totally creamed, but I did manage to beat my young son at the card game Concentration for the only times ever.

4. Get some grass-fed beef and dairy products. The BFM has beef, eggs, cheese, butter, milk--the works! Red meat and dairy get bad press occasionally, but keep in mind they are always referring to your standard, agro-industrial, feedlot products. Pastured products are leaner, higher in Omega-3s and Vitamin E, and contain magical CLA, a cancer-fighter. Check this site for the gory details.

5. Get something for nothing. By which I mean, grab some free samples (though you'll most likely be wowed into buying) and sit in on the week's chef demo, Bradley Dickinson of Bellevue's Pearl. Dickinson thinks local, delicious and creative, as he explains in my interview with him on Bellevue.com.

6. And finally, show a little gratitude and buy someone some flowers. A couple Thanksgivings ago I read a handy little book on the health benefits of gratitude. Forgot the title of course, but I remember that studies have shown people who practice gratitude have measurably higher levels of well-being and fewer symptoms of physical illness. So think of someone you appreciate and pick up a bouquet for them this week. Not only will you help your health and your relationship, you'll also be giving our flower farmers a hand. It's been a tough weather year, as the Seattle Times pointed out, and we marketgoers are grateful for the bright spots of joy their flowers provide.

Saving the Planet, One Meatball at a Time

The good news is, if you can't find studies and articles to support your point of view, you need only let a little more time pass. Take, for example, this recent Time Magazine article on the environmental virtues of grass-fed beef. It used to be that vegetarians alone held the environmental high ground, but now fans of pastured beef are clawing their way up because--surprise!--when cows eat grass, it benefits the cows, benefits the grassland, and benefits the consumer. Next time you're at the Bellevue Farmers Market getting your Samish Bay or Skagit River Ranch grass-fed beef, remember this:

  • Cows benefit. They don't have all those stomachs for nothing. Cows are built to eat grass, not soybeans or corn. When cows eat grass, they don't require antibiotics to doctor their ailing stomach(s).
  • Grassland benefits. In short: manure and close-clipped lawn-mowing. Cows may also graze on land unsuitable for other purposes.
  • Eaters benefit. As Michael Polland and others have noted, grass-fed beef is higher in cancer-fighting antioxidants and Omega-3s, the same Omega-3s found in salmon! It's also leaner.

And, as added frosting on the hamburger cake, a recent study by the American Journal of Clinical nutrition discovered that, after all, Nina Planck might have been on to something because saturated fat does NOT seem to be correlated to reduced risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. All this time, it wasn't the butter and bacon grease, it was the trans fats in the man-made margarine and vegetable shortening!

"Yippee!" about sums it up, folks.

(Oh, and a P.S. for you pescatorians who wouldn't eat beef if it was the last thing between humanity and planetary destruction: on Feb 4, Ray's Boathouse will be featuring our very own fishermen, Loki and F/V St. Jude at a special dinner!)