Getting Real About the High Price of Cheap Food

He's raised on grass and hay and lives happily on a pasture by the ocean. His meat is free of antibiotics, but can we afford to eat it? We can't afford not to

  • Share
  • Read Later
Jonathan Sprague / Redux for TIME

One of more than 100 cattle on Bill Niman's California property, home of an ongoing experiment in sustainable ranching.

(8 of 8)

LIVING CONDITIONS DIET SUPPLEMENTS ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT HUMAN HEALTH Organic (1% of all cattle) This is the way all beef used to be raised--and how some people still imagine it is. Bill Niman tends a small herd with one of the lightest hands in the business and produces what Bay Area chefs swear is unparalleled beef GRASS Niman's cows eat only grass, along with a smattering of hay. That's the normal diet for cattle. Their rumen, a digestive organ, can break down grasses we'd find inedible NONE Niman gives no supplements whatsoever to his cattle--no drugs, no hormones, no additives. That's not ironclad for organic beef--some companies might use antimicrobials--but generally the animals are supplement-free LIVING WITH THE LAND To prevent his ranch from becoming overgrazed, Niman shifts his cattle around the land, ensuring that the grass has time to recover between feedings. The result is a surprisingly low-impact hamburger, since grass doesn't need chemical fertilizer to grow and its presence helps prevent soil erosion. There's no need to clean up manure--with Niman's low cattle density, the waste just fertilizes the land THE OMEGA EFFECT Beef has a bad rep among nutritionists, but that might be partly unfair for grass-fed steaks. According to research from the University of California, grass-fed beef is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids than conventional beef Conventional (99% of all cattle) The vast majority of all American cattle start off on open ranges, but that's where the similarity to their organic cousins ends. They're shifted after a few months to the tight quarters of an industrial feedlot, to be fattened up as fast as possible GRASS AND CORN Conventional cattle feed off grass pasture for the first several months, but at the feedlot, they're switched to a heavily corn-based diet, which makes them gain weight faster but also makes them get sick more easily CHEMICALS In part to help them survive the crowded conditions of feedlots, where infections can spread fast, conventional cattle are given antibiotics in their feed, and sometimes growth hormones, bloods and fats WASTE A 1,000-head feedlot produces up to 280 tons of manure a week, and the smell can be powerful. All that feed corn requires millions of tons of fertilizer and, ultimately, a lot of petroleum FAT ATTACK Feeding corn to cattle for the last several months of their lives doesn't just get them fatter faster; it also changes the quality of the beef. Corn helps produce that marbled taste many of us love, but it can result in beef that is higher in fat--helping to fuel the obesity epidemic
  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. Next Page