By Stanley A. Fishman, author of Tender Grassfed Meat
Bison are huge, magnificent creatures designed to roam the vast plains of North America and to graze on the native grasses. The meat of these noble animals has a wonderful flavor of its own, with a sweet, clean taste found in no other meat. I have found that bison meat is one of the most energizing and rejuvenating foods I have ever eaten. Recently, I was horrified to learn that feedlots have been introduced for these magnificent animals who were never meant to be confined. But there is something we can do about this. We can decide not to eat any bison meat that is not 100% grassfed and grass finished.
Bison Thrive on Pasture
Once, more than 60 million bison roamed the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. These herds were so vast that it would take them days to pass a single spot. The bison ate the native plants and grasses, growing strong, healthy, and numerous. A number of Native American nations lived off the bison, getting almost all of their food from these healthy animals. The meat and fat of the bison provided high-quality food; the bones provided nourishing broth, and were often made into tools; the furry pelts were made into robes that kept the people warm during the winter, and provided blankets and clothing; the sinews were made into glue that was used to make bows and other tools; and the hides provided tough shields and footware, as well as clothing.
The Native Americans who lived off the bison were noted for their strength, endurance, physical beauty, intelligence, and robust good health. The bison thrived on the native grasses, and the people thrived off the bison. But this happy balance was doomed.
Industry Almost Exterminated the Bison
In the nineteenth century, the clothing industry discovered that bison hides were perfect for making warm clothing, coats, hats, and other apparel. They paid buffalo hunters to use specially designed buffalo rifles to slaughter the bison for their hides. This was made economically viable by the railroads, which could cheaply transport huge numbers of bison hides to the factories. The bison were slaughtered by the millions. The professional buffalo hunters would take only the hides and leave the rest of the bison to rot. This mass slaughter of the bison was encouraged by American industry and government, as a way to remove the main food source of the Native Americans living on the Great Plains, and as a way to clear the land of bison so it could be used for farming. By the end of the nineteenth century, there were less than 600 bison left alive in the United States. Over 60 million had been slaughtered for their hides.
The Bison Return
Fortunately, efforts were made to finally protect the bison. The numbers increased, and bison were once again used for food. Some creative ranchers learned how to raise bison and increase their numbers—and soon there was a substantial increase in the number of bison. These early ranchers raised and finished the bison on grass. They found that bison eating their native grasses were sturdy, healthy, hardy animals, who provided wonderful meat. However, raising bison naturally required a great deal of knowledge and effort on the part of the ranchers, and it took a while to raise a bison for meat. Some bison ranchers began to feed grains to their bison. These grain fed bison grew and matured faster. However, bison were never intended to eat grain, and the very composition of their meat and fat changed.
How to Make Bison Taste Like Beef
A bison industry was formed. The industry decided that they would sell more bison if they could make bison taste like beef. This led to the bizarre “beefalo” experiment where bison were interbred with cattle to provide hybrid animals who were turned into meat. Consumers had no interest in this product, and it was dropped. The industry then developed ways of feeding unnatural diets to bison that were designed to make them grow faster, and have their meat taste like beef. The industry succeeded completely. Grain finished bison tastes just like grain finished beef. The sweet, clean taste of grassfed bison was lost.
Comes the Feedlot
Feeding grain to bison was bad enough. Not only did it destroy the wonderful, natural taste of the bison, making the bison taste just like grain finished beef, but it changed the nutritional qualities of the meat. The situation became much worse when feedlots were introduced for bison. A protocol of 100 days of eating nothing but grains in a feedlot was introduced. For example, a recent study showed that grassfed bison had an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 4 to 1. Putting the bison on a grain diet in a feedlot resulted in an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio of 21 to 1. This huge imbalance of the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio does not occur in nature, and is not what our bodies were designed to eat.
Recently, the USDA Food Inspection Service announced that approximately 66,000 pounds of bison were recalled because of possible E. coli contamination.
Bison were meant to roam the prairie, eating the native grasses, not to be confined in a feedlot, eating food that is unnatural to them.
The Grassfed Solution
Fortunately, there are some bison ranchers who keep their animals on the pasture, and do not feed them grains, or send them to feedlots. These animals are healthy, and are free to roam the prairies as they were designed to do. Their meat is sweet, and nourishing, with the wonderful clean taste that is equaled by no other meat. This is the only kind of bison meat that I will eat. I encourage everybody to vote with their pocketbooks and buy only grassfed and grass finished bison. Let the buffalo roam.
My Sources Page has links to two wonderful bison ranches that sell only grassfed and grass finished bison.
This post is part of Real Food Wednesday Blog Carnival at Kelly the Kitchen Kop.
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