So I hope I have satisfactorily explained how complicated and confusing the ‘organic’ label can be. Today I’d like to provide you with a concrete example as well as expand on it a little bit.
In discussing my newfound discoveries with a friend, she gave me a dissenting view- try all you might, it doesn’t matter. You can’t escape the beast. Sometimes I have to admit that it feels that way. And when it boils down to the most basic conclusion, if I’m not growing the food or hunting and gathering the food myself, she’s probably right. I can’t fully and completely unplug if I am reliant on others to provide my sustenance.
To drive her point home, she sent me this link with the words “why it doesn’t matter”. Except it didn’t change my mind or make me feel daunted. Because, as I mentioned in the organic blog, there’s a difference between organic meat and pastured meat. And I have moved to only eating PASTURED meat. And PASTURED meat, unlike ORGANIC meat, has a very low chance of containing the virulent strain of E. Coli O157:H7. This is why “going organic” isn’t quite good enough if you truly are looking to protect your health, especially when it comes to your meat.
I’ve said it before but I think it’s so important that it bears repeating- cows are not meant to digest grain. As Washington Farmer Erick Haakenson explains in his January Newsletter:
…the specific strain of E-coli that is fatal to humans (O157:H7), was unknown before 1980, when the first feed-lots were started and when beef in the US started its shift from being nearly 100% grass-finished to being 100% grain finished. This is a new phenomenon whose appearance was made at the exact time the feed-lots appeared. The gut of grass raised cattle is acidic, as ours is. E-coli O157:H7 is a microbe that needs a neutral environment to survive; hence this kind of E-coli cannot survive in the acidic stomach(s) of grass-fed cattle. But when cattle are fed large amounts of corn and grain, the pH of their stomach rises to the point of becoming neutral, and as such, becomes a suitable host for this virulent E-coli.
So this brings me to another important point. All cattle, even feedlot cattle, start their lives off grass-fed. It is entirely too expensive and there is too high a death rate if they feed the cattle grain right off the bat. But because of USDA food labeling laws, you can technically say your meat is grass-fed, even if it wasn’t grass-FINISHED.
Ahh, so what is grass-FINISHED? It means that the only time your cow left its wonderful grass pastures was for its once-in-a-lifetime visit to the butcher-man. The cow started its life on grass and ended its life on grass. It was not ever fed grains or anything other than God’s green earth. (The reason for the grain feeding is so your steaks get that nice marbled look that people seem to like so much. I love beef fat but it’s not that serious.)
My father and I took a trip to a natural food market and he picked up some ground beef and showed it to me. “Is this good?” he asked. I looked at the label. 100% Grass-fed! But all cattle is grass-fed at some point, I know. I call for the butcher. “Excuse me is this meat grass-FINISHED?” I ask. “No it isn’t. It’s grass-fed and grain and potato finished”. Now this answer came from a NATURAL FOOD MARKET. At least my father can feel good knowing that his E. Coli would be “organic” E. Coli. <Insert Eye Roll Here>
Will you ever completely get rid of food poisoning? Probably not. I think it’s sad, however, that the simple act of feeding cows something it’s not meant to eat causes such a significant increase in food-borne illnesses. I find it sadder that no one feels we should just change this. Isn’t grass cheaper anyway? I mean, it’s certainly abundant. I know a few yards that could use some attention.
So be mindful. Don’t assume that the label is telling you the whole truth. Find out for yourself. I’ve only been eating this way for about 3 weeks and already one of the butchers at my local market knows me. And he already has my answers. I pick up some stew beef and he tells me the name of the farm it came from and whether or not it’s what I want. Now that, my friends, is service.