Where’s the Beef?

Fascinating piece in today’s NYT, front section, all about grass fed beef: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/18/us/for-ranchers-an-uncommon-quest-for-grass-fed-beef.html?hp.

Sensibly, the editors decided that this is a news story and not really about food although the subjects of their piece would have it otherwise.  Ironically, the ranchers in the story, Tom Lasater and Prescott Frost, come to the industry from backgrounds that have nothing to do with food.  Mr. Lasater is described in the article as an “Internet entrepreneur” and Mr. Frost is said to have been, until recently, “a stockbroker and decorative painter.”  (Mr. Lasater’s family is in cattle raising, and he returned in 2009 as a modern version of The Prodigal Son.)

What’s clear is that this is the marketing of a product.

From the article: “When the wine industry started out in California, nobody had a language for what a bouquet was,” Mr. Frost, 55, said. “Vintners had to come up with a way an audience could have a conversation about hints of raspberries, of camomile. And that’s what we have to do with beef.”

Mr. Frost, a great-grandson of the poet Robert Frost, has numerous quotes from his illustrious ancestor on his website, and although none have anything to with beef, they imply that grass fed beef is somehow an artistic endeavor.

The issue, however, is taste: Taste comes from fat, and there is a lot less of it in beef from cattle that has a diet of grass rather than a diet of corn or whatever other grains are used to plump them up.  Prime graded beef and waygu beef sing with flavor due, in part, to their high fat diets.  Grass fed beef is good, but it’s really nowhere near as flavorful.  Nor is it any more “sustainable” than other cattle–in fact, the erosion of land caused by all that munching is of note.

Maybe the preferred poem regarding grass should come from another poet, Carl Sandburg:


“Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work–
I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?

I am the grass.
Let me work.”




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