I eat meat.  Not as much as I did growing up but I do eat meat.  Growing up on a farm we ate meat at least two meals a day if not three.

Today, a knowledge gap exists about meat; its origin, preparation, environmental impact, health impact… the list goes on and on.

I and my husband recently celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.  We marked the occasion with our wedding party at a restaurant chef’s table.  Our chef prepared our meal to perfection but he made a couple of comments that were a little less than accurate.

“The meat comes from Bavarian Holsteins.”  There is no such thing.  And when I visited the producer’s website the term he was looking for was “Batavian,” but even that was a stretch.  The Holstein breed came about 2000 years ago when Batavian (black) cattle  were crossed with Friesian (white) cattle.  The term “Batavian” was pulled from the Holstein’s past and probably sounded more interesting. Marketing!  Holsteins, known for their milk production, are the cow of choice for milk producers, typically not meat. But Holstein steers culled from dairy herds are becoming a larger and larger percentage of the meat eaten by Americans.*

“The cattle  from this farm have a choice of pasture (grass) or grain (most likely, ground corn).”  Ahhhhh, given the choice, cattle will eat grain.  Growing up on a dairy farm, our Holsteins would occasionally break down the fence to invade the nearby cornfield.  And, then proceed to eat until they were sick… and sometimes die from overeating.  Cattle breeds vary significantly on how much and how fast they will put marbling down within the muscle (intra-muscular fat).  Holsteins need a significant amount of grain (energy) to deliver a Choice steak, let alone Prime.  The meat I was eating in this restaurant was finished on a very high energy (grain based) diet.

Outside United States most cattle are grass fed or pasture raised and braising and slow roasting is the cooking method used. This meat has very little fat in the middle of the muscle and will not be the best meat for high heat grilling or pan frying and will not have the flavor of grain-fed beef.  Fat carries flavor so it is not surprising that there will be a taste impact. But when you braise it or slow roast it in a flavored liquid… it is wonderful.

As a child growing up on a dairy farm in the midwest, we also ate Holstein meat.  And, because these cattle were raised on grass it was almost always prepared by roasting or braising.  Pan searing was not in my mom’s repertoire.  My kids have grown up on hamburger from my brother’s grass-fed Highlander cattle and they are now a little taken aback by a juicier, grain fed  burger.

I tried to do research on the nutritional value of grass-fed versus grain fed beef but the studies were all over the board.  Many of the studies say there is no difference but they were also paid for by beef industry groups.  I am not a nutritionist but I strongly believe that what an animal eats impacts its nutritional value.   Consumer’s understanding of this subject  “is (more) perception and not based on scientific data” according to one study.  This gap needs to be closed so that we can make better choices.

I applaud this restaurant for building a relationship with a producer and educating the public.  I  want to know where my meat comes from and how it was raised.  Mindful eating is something we all could do better at…  I’m trying.

  • Given the distinctive Holstein coat color pattern and lack of crossbreeding in the dairy industry, Holstein genetics may be the largest recognizable single-breed source of beef in the U.S. Dairy cattle breeders have selected for milk production and milk components, and not meat yield or quality traits, so the resulting finished Holstein steer population has the potential to be relatively homogeneous in meat yield and quality if management and other environmental sources of variation are minimized. Beef derived from Holstein cows culled from the dairy herd is also a significant source of beef in the U.S. “ From – YIELD AND QUALITY OF HOLSTEIN BEEF, Daniel M. Schaefer,  Department of Animal Sciences University of Wisconsin-Madison