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How To Be a Better, Smarter, Happier Meat Eater

Sure, you’ve heard that red meat is cruel and unsustainable, and that it’ll destroy the environment if it doesn’t give us all heart attacks first. But it’s so delicious! Which is why we begged Mark Bittman to reconcile our principles with our appetites—and teach us the new rules of red meat.

1. Start Beefing with (Most) Beef

Under natural conditions, cattle are an almost perfectly beneficial part of a regenerative agricultural system. Their waste feeds the fields on which they’re pastured; carbon is sequestered in that grass; and their meat, in limited quantities, is good for us, good for the land, and good for the community of farmers, ranchers, butchers, and the variety of small businesses that raise, butcher, and sell it.

Take the cattle off those fields, multiply their numbers by thousands, feed them industrially produced grain encouraged by subsidies, damage some of the world’s best farmland to grow that grain using a destructive assortment of chemicals, pump the cows full of antibiotics (to prevent illness in the unnatural conditions), scale and intensify this process so that almost anyone in the world can afford to eat meat daily, and…that’s not good for us. Or the farmland. Or the planet. Or, needless to say, the cattle. And yet beef raised this way is what almost everyone in this country has eaten exclusively for the past 50 years.

Fortunately, a growing cadre of ethical ranchers and butchers have started turning this system around. They’re pasture-raising cows on grass and mother’s milk—which gives the meat a wonderfully complex flavor, pleasantly minerally and deliciously beefy—and they’re using whole animals, minimizing waste and expanding our palates. Here’s how to find, buy, and order beef that’s not only better for the planet but tastes better, too.

2. Expand Your Vocabulary

Just about anything is better than the industrially produced grain-fed feedlot beef. The best alternative, and I’m being very specific here, is “grass-fed, pasture-raised,” especially if it’s raised locally (to reduce the carbon footprint) and organically (to prevent the widespread use of pesticides that harm the environment). There are other good alternatives that play with those variables, but the bottom line is that most of what you find for sale isn’t cutting it.

3. Open Your Wallet

The price for pasture-raised beef does vary, but it’s expensive. Beef finished in a feedlot should be somewhat cheaper, but it’s still going to be steep. Ground beef—which constitutes about a third of the yield from every animal—should be $5 to $10 a pound; less is suspect, and more is, well, high. The premium cuts, like rib eye and filet mignon, are likely to be around $30 a pound; more is common.

4. Learn from Your Butcher

If you’re able to speak to a human who’s willing to engage you in conversation about the meat they’re selling, then you’ve already overcome a huge hurdle, says Samantha “Sam” Garwin, butcher and CEO of Fleishers Craft Butchery. “The odds that the answers are the ones you want are going to be very high.” Here’s what else Garwin says any good butcher should love to talk about.

Weird Cuts
The last time I was at Fleishers, I saw two cuts that you almost never see. One was deckle, the succulent part of the prime rib that always tastes so good, even when it’s well-done, and the other was boned lamb neck, which, simply roasted, is incomparable.

The Cow’s Age
Cows sold in shops like Fleishers are usually slaughtered at a more mature age (just around 24 months) because a grass-fed cow simply takes longer to get to slaughter weight. (Which is yet another factor leading to more expensive prices.)

The Cow’s Breed
The meat you see at Fleishers—a lot of Angus and Hereford—is similar to what you’d see at MegaFoodVille. It’s the practices that are so different.

5. Seek Out These Meat Stands

More and more butchers are opening in conjunction with restaurants (an excellent way to use the entire animal) or becoming creative and offering value-added products—like pet food made with offal—along with raw meat. All of these butchers sell pasture-raised beef, and they know their farmers. That’s what matters.

Salt & Time, Austin
An epic charcuterie list—and ground Wagyu for the best burger you’ve ever made.


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