I think it is time to admit to something. My name is Stanley, and I am a grassfed beefophile.
Many people are familiar with oenophiles, who are people who deeply appreciate wines and have great knowledge and appreciation of them.
With respect, I could care less about wine. But grassfed beef is something else entirely. I love it, in many of its endless variations. I love the endless variety of flavors, caused by the different configurations of meadow plants from pastures all over the world. I love the way it makes me feel—renewed and strong after eating it. I love the wonderful aromas that delight my nose as it cooks. There is no use denying it. I am a grassfed beefophile.
How I Discovered my Obsession
I came to realize this yesterday, after I picked up a package of grassfed ground beef from Uruguay. I noted the deep red color, rich with promise. Even the way the meat was ground caught my attention. I was excited about knowing that this beef had come from cattle who ate grass all year round, as there is no winter there. I wondered what wonderful taste would come from the rich grass eaten by these cattle, on some of the most nutrient-dense soil on earth. I could not wait to get home and cook it!
Seriously, folks. Who gets excited about hamburger?
All the way home, I kept thinking about how I would cook it. I know dozens of ways of making hamburger, and I am not exaggerating. I was torn between my desire to add some spices to enhance the flavor, and my fear of masking the wonderful natural taste. Should the burger be thick, thin, or in between? Should I fry it, or barbecue it, or broil it?
Should I cook it until grey, as the government advises for safety, or should I make it less done, to make it more nutritious and enjoy more of the natural flavor?
So many decisions, so many thoughts. So hard to decide.
Again, I ask you—who torments themselves over the best way to cook a hamburger?
I finally decided to use some flavors from the region, trusting that the traditional flavors would not ruin the meat, or mask the flavors. I added a touch of oregano, a mere hint of garlic, a dollop of olive oil. I sautéed it gently in a pan rubbed with a small amount of olive oil. I cooked it rare, at my own risk, trusting that good grassfed beef would be alright, and knowing that I personally have never had a problem after eating it.
O my gosh, it was WONDERFUL! The meat had a unique, beefy, slightly sweet flavor. There were hints of something I did not recognize, but it was pleasant. It made me feel better with every bite. I enjoyed the lovely aroma, the very mouth feel of the burger, and the sensation of strength and renewal as I swallowed it. I was torn by the desire to wolf it down and the desire to appreciate the eating experience, to savor it, to pay careful attention to it, which could only be done by chewing slowly, and pausing from time to time.
It was a struggle, but the art of tasting won out over ravenous hunger, and I savored this wonderful meat.
Seriously, who gets this kind of deep experience and joy from eating a hamburger?
A grassfed beefophile, that is who.
The Benefits of Being a Grassfed Beefophile
Now that I have admitted to what I am, I must discuss the benefits. Unlike factory meat, which tastes about the same, bland, blah, and boring, has horrible mouth feel, mushy texture, and never makes me feel good—grassfed beef has endless variations in taste.
Most of these variations are good, and many great, if the meat is properly cooked. I always get a different taste by eating grassfed meat from different ranches. Even grassfed meat from the same ranch will taste different at various times of the year, because the forage changes with the seasons. I enjoy grassfed meat in the form of hamburgers, steaks, roasts, stir-fries, pot roasts, pan roasts, stews, and soups. My cookbook Tender Grassfed Meat has many delicious variations of all these forms of grassfed beef, bison, and lamb. I fry it, broil it, barbecue it, stew it, sauté it, simmer it, and often combine these techniques. I use traditional flavor combinations from all over the world, and create my own. My newest cookbook Tender Grassfed Barbecue also has many different flavor combinations for grassfed ground meat.
I eat almost every variety of cut, from nearly every part of the animal. The variety is endless, the taste wonderful, and the nutrition fantastic.
Grassfed beef is far more nutritious than factory beef. See Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products.
If I were to make an analogy to a wine connoisseur, my personal opinion is that factory beef is like the cheap, sweet wine favored by people who just want to get drunk, while grassfed beef is like a variety of fine wines, that are drunk to be savored and enjoyed.
There is some grassfed beef I would not recommend, just as there are some fancy wines a true oenophile would not recommend. But properly cooked grassfed beef, from a good ranch, is a true joy. And since the beef from each ranch is different, I never get tired of it.
In our modern, “advanced” culture, eating is often a burden. We are taught to fear our food, and avoid many foods that our bodies crave and need. Everyone is busy, and meals are often gulped down quickly after being “nuked” in a microwave.
Most of our ancestors viewed meals as being of great importance, and tried to arrange a pleasant, happy setting to eat and enjoy the real food they valued.
The need to get to work or school at an early hour often means a hurried breakfast, gulped down quickly. The time allowed for lunch at work or school is usually short, and eating lunch is often a race against the clock. People are busy in the evening as well, and the time available for cooking and eating dinner is often limited. It is common for people living in the same family to eat at different times. Most people do not know how to cook, and meals often come from a package nuked in the microwave, or consist of takeout from a restaurant. Upset stomachs and digestive ailments are common. Many people try to relieve this discomfort by gulping pills, which only masks the problem, at best.
Of course, many of these problems come from the poor quality of factory food. But the fear of food and the race to hurry through a meal are huge factors as well.
Our ancestors would have been appalled by this modern way of eating. To most of them, meal time was a carefully conducted ritual, where healthy natural foods were enjoyed without fear or hurry, where every custom was designed to bring harmony and joy to the table. Discussing the taste and quality of the food being enjoyed was a tradition, and it was usually forbidden to argue or raise controversial subjects at the table. Being friendly and courteous was expected. Everyone was expected to do their part to create and sustain a pleasant atmosphere while eating. The cook was praised and complimented for the good food prepared, and thanks for the food was often given before eating began.
There was a definite purpose behind the ritual of a pleasant meal. It was considered absolutely necessary for the food to be properly digested. Our ancestors knew there was more to digestion than cramming food into their mouths.
Our ancestors did not need studies to tell them that eating a delicious meal in harmony , peace, and happiness was important for digestion, and the absorption of nutrients, and they were absolutely right. Modern research has confirmed that stress, hurry, and rushing through meals impairs digestion, and often results in stomach problems, with a variety of unpleasant symptoms.
It is not enough to have good food, it must be properly cooked, eaten in relaxed, pleasant circumstances, and deeply appreciated. This is the time-honored way to help our bodies process the nutrients in food. The importance of having pleasant surroundings as an aid to digestion, and to avoid conflict or stress while eating was mentioned by many ancient, medieval, and pre-twentieth century writers. While circumstances such as war or famine could prevent the tradition of a happy meal from taking place, a peaceful meal of great real food was the ideal, and almost everyone tried to make it happen when circumstances would allow it.
Having a pleasant meal of great real food is a challenge in our modern, hurried culture. But it can be done. I select the best real food I can find, without extravagant cost. I cook from scratch, using only real food. If eating out, I select the most real food from what is available. Wherever I am at mealtime, I do my best to relax, think happy thoughts, and focus on eating and enjoying the food, and the company of the people I am with. I try to maintain a pleasant discussion as we eat, and to focus on the good things in my life. I do not rush when I eat, as I believe it is better to eat at a pleasant pace, even if time is short, even if I might not finish the food.
When I can influence the time available to eat, I do the best I can. Then with the invaluable help of my family, we arrange delicious real food, in pleasant surroundings, without hurry or worry.
I know for a fact that the wonderful feeling of well being I usually get after eating is due not only to the good real food, but to the happy pleasant atmosphere in which it is enjoyed.
Our ancestors were right about this, in my view. This kind of meal is a happy, wonderful experience, and I highly recommend it.
Your first reaction to the title of this post might be, “What!? Cooking is important?”
That is typical of a culture that no longer values cooking, one of the oldest and most vital human skills. In fact, two-thirds of American adults know almost nothing about cooking, and never cook. To these folks, cooking means heating up an already prepared product in the microwave, or warming up takeout that has gotten cold.
Suppose you had the power to create an almost magical medicine that had no side effects, yet gave you strong bones, powerful muscles, strength, stamina, great vision and hearing, a happy optimistic viewpoint, a clear mind that can focus on anything, a great memory, an immune system so strong that you almost never get sick?
Suppose this power and this medicine brought great happiness and pleasure to all who used it?
Would you want this power?
Well, you can learn this power, and make that medicine.
The power is cooking, and the “medicine” is real food.
The Power of Real Food
Nothing affects the health of our bodies as much as the food we eat. Our bodies are made of the food we eat. Our bodies use the food we eat to repair themselves, to run the natural functions of the body, and to get energy. We need the right kinds of food, and enough of it. If people do not have enough food, they die. If people do not get enough good real food, their health deteriorates and they become vulnerable to all kinds of diseases.
Doctors and hospitals can be very good for traumatic injuries, and some very serious conditions, yet their drugs and surgeries and radiation cannot keep our bodies healthy.
Only food can do that.
Hippocrates, the most famous of doctors, said it best:
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”
In ancient times, and actually until the twentieth century, most food was real, and grown and produced in accordance with the laws of nature. Countless generations of humans had eaten this kind of food, and our bodies adapted to using it. The main problem was getting enough of it, and obtaining certain foods that could be hard to get.
In modern America today, most of the food has been raised with chemicals, and has been altered. Fruits and vegetables are grown in poor soil with the use of chemical fertilizers. Produce has been altered to have a longer shelf life and better appearance, at the cost of taste and nutrition. Meat animals are fed substances unnatural to them, that cause the very composition of their fat and meat to change. Antibiotics, growth hormones, and other drugs are used to cause meat animals to grow faster.
Humans have never eaten this kind of modified food before the twentieth century.
Real food is the unmodified food of our ancestors, grown in good soil, or grazed on good grass, without the use of chemicals. It is what our bodies know how to process, and we thrive on it. But it is not enough to just buy real food. You have to know how to cook it.
The Magic of Cooking
The art of cooking transforms produce and meat into almost magical creations that give our bodies the nutrition they so desperately need, and create great pleasure for the people who eat a well cooked meal. You cannot get this kind of food in a can or microwavable container. You can almost never get it in a restaurant. But you can learn how to cook it. You can create the magical “medicine” advocated by Hippocrates, which can keep your body healthy and functioning perfectly.
Our ancestors knew this, and knew what foods to eat, and how to combine foods to sustain life and health. Much of this knowledge has been lost, yet much has been preserved. My major motive in writing my cookbooks, Tender Grassfed Meat and Tender Grassfed Barbecue, has been to rediscover and preserve some knowledge of how to cook grassfed meat, perhaps the oldest and most valued food of humanity. Learning how to cook and eat this meat and other real foods healed all the problems that modern medicine could not help me with.
I am an attorney, yet cooking real food is my most valuable skill, without a doubt.
We are told to only eat lean meat, and avoid fatty meat. This is part of our culture’s fear of animal fat, due to intensive marketing of this view. The mistaken belief that lean meat is healthier has resulted in farm animals being bred to produce lean meat, and many animals are even given drugs to make their meat leaner. Butchers compound the problem by trimming off as much fat as possible.
The result is tough, often tasteless meat, with American factory pork being a great example.
Our ancestors would have been shocked by this preference, as they preferred meat with fat, the fatter the better. Our ancestors believed fatty meat was healthier and tastier, and would add large amounts of fat to meat that was too lean. Some even threw the lean meat to their dogs, while keeping the fatty portions for themselves.
When it comes to grassfed and pastured meats, this is how I see it:
The fatter, the better.
Traditional Animal Fats Contain Vital Nutrients
Contrary to popular belief, traditional animal fats have many vital nutrients that are important for human health and development. This is what our ancestors believed throughout most of history, and their belief has been vindicated by research. See The Skinny on Fats.
Factory Fat Is Different than Traditional Fat
It is important to know that the modern way of raising most meat animals, which is dependent on processed grains and other foods that are unnatural for these animals, changes the very composition of their fat. Grassfed animals, which humans have eaten for most of history, have a perfect balance of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. Animals fed in modern feedlots and CAFOs have a huge imbalance of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids. See Health Benefits of Grass-fed Products. An oversupply of omega-6 fatty acids has been linked to many illnesses. Other vital nutrients are also much higher in traditionally fed meat.
Paleolithic and Traditional People Ate Animal Fat
While nobody truly knows what Paleolithic people ate, we do know some of what they ate. In fact, every cave dwelling that is believed to have been occupied by Paleolithic people had a pile of bones, which had been cracked open for the marrow. Bone marrow is almost completely fat.
We also know that traditional hunting peoples prized the fat of the animals they killed, and this fact was verified by the extensive on site research of Dr. Weston A. Price. Because the meat of wild animals is often lean, some believe that only lean meat was eaten by Paleolithic peoples. But nearly all wild animals store fat, but it usually located on the back, rather than in the meat. This back fat was often eaten by itself, and mixed with the leaner meat , which was never eaten without animal fat. For example, Pemmican, the famous survival food of the Native Americans who lived on the great plains, was one third bison fat. Organ meats, which are very fatty, were prized by all of these traditional peoples.
Traditional Cuisines Call For Fat, Fat, and More Fat, when Cooking Meat
A review of older cookbooks and histories reveal the fact that meat-eating cultures, such as European cultures, greatly prized animal fat as a food and as a cooking medium. Fatty meat and organ meats were the prized cuts, and meat was always cooked with fat, usually animal fat. Fatty meat was valued in most of the rest of the world, with fatty pork being the most prized meat in traditional Chinese cuisine.
Our ancestors agreed, both in their words and actions, that fatty meat from grassfed and pastured animals is best.