It was just after the first U.S. case of mad cow disease was confirmed in December of 2003 that it became clearer to me than ever that my diet needed to consist of more natural, organically produced meat. That was also the first year my folks took a step into a more eco-responsible diet as well. My family collectively purchased 1/2 side of Angus beef and a 1/4 side of hog. Both animals were raised responsibly and were harvested to our specifications. Why should we care though?

Today’s industrialized process reduces the nutritional value of the meat, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals. Not to mention the sort of treatment given to the animals when they are maturing. You may remember the viral video of the sick and twisted commercial farms both here and here. (warning: videos are quite graphic in nature) Such is the reason a number of people choose to go vegetarian or even vegan. There is a growing lack of respect and stewardship for animals and the role they play in our world.

Before factory farming gained popularity in the 1960’s (motivated largely by a growing export in beef by the American gov’t as well as an insurgence in public school lunches and menu options), cattle were raised on family farms or ranches around the country. The process was elemental. Young calves were born in the spring and spent their first months suckling milk and grazing on grass. When they were weaned, they were turned out onto pastures. Some cattle were given a moderate amount of grain to enhance marbling (the fat interlaced in the muscle). The calves grew to maturity at a natural pace, reaching market weight at two to three years of age. After the animals were slaughtered, the carcasses were kept cool for a couple weeks to enhance flavor and tenderness, a traditional process called dry aging. The meat was then shipped in large cuts to meat markets. The local butcher divided it into individual cuts upon request and wrapped it in white paper and string.

This meat was free of antibiotics, added hormones, feed additives, flavor enhancers, age-delaying gases and salt-water solutions. Mad cow disease and the deadliest strain of E. coli — 0157:H7 — did not exist.

However, today’s industrialized process brings cattle to slaughter weight in just one or two years. It reduces the nutritional value of the meat, stresses the animals, increases the risk of bacterial contamination, pollutes the environment and exposes consumers to a long list of unwanted chemicals. The beef typically contains traces of hormones, antibiotics and other chemicals that were never produced by any cow. Next time you are at your grocery store, take a look at the hamburger. It may look fresh but it may be up to three weeks old and injected with gases to keep it bright red! Oh, and the label? “Guaranteed tender and juicy” is code for “enhanced” with a concoction of water, salt, preservatives and other additives.

After talking for some time about our overall red meat consumption and the family budget Crystal and I decided that we no longer wanted anything “guaranteed tender and juicy.” We wanted actual hormone-free, antibiotic-free, pasture-raised, local beef. We began our search on which is a tremendous, online resource for finding he best organic food grown closest to you. It was there we came across Nooherooka Natural.

According to their marketing material, Nooherooka Natural LLC is a 7th generation farm family growing North Carolina Angus Beef. They are dedicated to bringing healthy and safe beef to market and to our tables! Their animals are humanely raised on grass pastures their entire lives, and are fed all-natural, GMO free whole grains raised right there on the Nooherooka farm. Their product is USDA inspected and are free from added hormones and antibiotics. I think their t-shirts say it best though, “Our Cows Don’t Do Drugs!”

And yes, while the meat is more expensive by the pound, I think the largest advantage of purchasing at this level is that the weight before cooking is almost identical to that when finished cooking. A meatloaf using 2 lbs. of ground beef is, in fact, a 2 lb. meatloaf thanks to the 90/10 meat:fat ratio! It was an absolute pleasure to go by the farm, meet some of the family, purchase our fresh beef, and be invited back to tour the operations anytime we wanted. Our total expenditure was just over $200 giving us 4 – Filet Mignon steaks, 4 – Sirloin steaks, 3 – lbs. of Kabob meat, 14 – pounds of ground beef, 1 – round roast, and some cube steak to try. It was quite a haul!

So far we have used nothing more than two of the sirloins steaks for last night’s Pepper Steak and Rice. It was beautiful to cook; almost no grease or fat content. The beef cut smoothly and was so easy to chew. I must say that for this homesteader, while raising our own beef may not be a viable option for us or our size land, it is great to know we have such a dynamic local resource.

What about you? Do you buy meat from a local rancher or farmer? Do you raise your own? Have you ever even thought about your meat consumption and its actual quality both before and after harvesting?

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Some material sourced to Jo Robinson from the February/March 2008 issue of GRIT.