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Natural/Organic Beef [Split from California board]

b
BeachGrub Feb 20, 2007 12:11 AM

I don't know anything down in SD unfortunately. However, I am fortunate enough to spend a lot of time in Central Coast and have been buying all my meat locally for about a year now. I can't say enough good things about all the people we shop with. Most of which you would need to come up to Templeton or Paso Robles to get.

However, Old Creek sells online and they are a very nice family with wonderful product. They hit many of the farmers markets in the area and recently added really nice pork to their sales (fed often with some leftover avocados also from the ranch). It would really be worth doing a nice big order from them to check it out. And by all means come up to the coast to check them and the others out. If I hear of anything closer, I will let you know.

BTW: Niman ranch is a pretty huge factory operation. It is nothing at all like the small family farm you get with ones like Old Creek.

  1. j
    jayporter Feb 20, 2007 02:37 PM

    Here's most of my post which was relocated from California board, in response to honkman's question to me about restaurants serving truly sustainable meat:

    Generally speaking, I believe that affordable neighborhood restaurants should make at least a small place for grass-fed beef (and pasture-raised pork), and in cases where sustainably raised meat isn't appropriate or available for a menu item, the restaurant should try to serve thoughtfully-raised, natural industrial meats.

    As the state of American agriculture and food consumption improves, I hope that restaurants in general change their balance to more greatly emphasize truly sustainable agriculture and minimize factory agriculture altogether. It's a long road, though, and thoughtfully raised industrial meats -- by people who care about the land, the animals, and the ecosystem -- is a step in the right direction.

    Some of the reasons grass-fed beef isn't always an option for everyone include the very high price, which reflects the true costs of agriculture. Almost every piece of meat Americans see is dependent on fossil fuel, which means a huge portion of it is subsidized. As a result, folks have prices they are used to paying for meat and the sticker shock -- Old Creek Ranch meat can cost 3 to 4 times what factory meat costs, so it could require an $80, or at least $50 price for the standard restaurant steak -- is really difficult for them to overcome.

    Additionally, grass-fed beef is often very tough (because they're not marbled) and very difficult to cook properly, so restaurants have a much higher risk of guest dissatisfaction with grass-fed meats (particularly when it's so expensive). This means that serving grass fed beef requires a lot of education, a lot of extra labor, higher prices to the guest, and culinary creativity in order to make it work, and is still very risky. All of those things (except perhaps higher prices) are great and worth it, but are barriers nonetheless.

    One more issue: real grass-fed California beef is simply difficult to procure. I bought pretty much the last of Old Creek's beef in December, and when I talked to them a couple weeks ago they had finally got a little more beef, which I believe sold out immediately except for ground meat (or at least the cuts I was able to use). So, supply is an ongoing issue for anyone who wants to serve meat raised in the old-fashioned style.

    All that said, I can say that it is very much possible for affordable local restaurants to serve truly sustainably raised meats, although it takes a lot of effort and I don't know if it's yet possible to do it with everything on one's menu. Time will tell.

    1. Alice Q Feb 20, 2007 09:55 AM

      I found this thread, which seems to undermine the "factory operation" idea. It's actually more of a "brand" than a facility. This is more in line with what I believed to be true based on what I've read elsewhere and on their website. If you have some info that conflicts with this though, I'd definitely be interested.

      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/30299...

      7 Replies
      1. re: Alice Q
        b
        BeachGrub Feb 22, 2007 11:48 AM

        Alice,

        My understanding is while they do procure meat from smaller family "ranches" they are a large animal finishing and processing operation. They finish all of their animals on grain and at large finishing and processing centers. If you have ever been up the 5 freeway you will see what a large cattle finishing operation looks like. Thousands of cattle all under big roofs being fed grain while they fatten with huge waste pools all around.

        I couldn't say anything in particular about Niman's processing practice but just because they buy cattle from small ranchers doesn't mean they are not a factory meat producer.

        Just be aware that there are many large scale operations trying to wedge into the whole sustainable farm and small farm label.

        1. re: BeachGrub
          Alice Q Feb 22, 2007 01:07 PM

          Are you claiming that Niman Ranch is a large cattle operation in the Central Valley? I have certainly never seen or heard that before, and it contradicts my understanding of their practices. I'm just not sure where this information is coming from. If you have a source I'd be interested in checking it out. I am aware that there are many large scale operations that produce organic and "natural" products, and I do think that smaller is better - but size is not the only indicia of quality. In my mind, a large operation that engages in humane and responsible practices is better than one that does not.

          1. re: Alice Q
            honkman Feb 22, 2007 01:40 PM

            The problem (or at least one of the problems) with Niman is what they feed to the animals. Again like all big cattle operation they feed them as part of their diet corn (Number Two corn), molasses etc. which is again a sign that they don't care enough about the animals but the consumers. It they care about their animals feed them what they naturally eat and not what might make the meat taste like the consumers want. Old Creek Ranch takes a much more serious approach which relies on feeding the animal what is in saison and what they naturally would eat. (BTW, this will also make the meat more healthier than the cornfed animal but more complicated to cook.). What farmers feed their animals (over their whole life and not some periods of time) is often a good sign to distinguish between those who care more about the animals and those who care more about the consumer.

            1. re: honkman
              Alice Q Feb 22, 2007 03:16 PM

              I did a little research, their protocols indicate that cattle must be allowed to graze until they reach a certain weight - then they are moved to finishing facilities and fed on a blend of grain and other products, but they are not fed animal byproducts or antibiotics. Most conventionally raised cattle are fed antibiotic feed and which includes blood and bonemeal from other animals. Calves are often fed blood instead of milk. That is repulsive to me.

              After reading these materials - I am convinced that Niman Ranch's methods are vastly preferable to conventional producers, at least if they are doing everything they say they are doing - if they aren't, then that's another story. Thus far I haven't seen anything to indicate that this is the case.

              Grass fed, organic, etc. is great - but they don't claim to be either of those things. To me, that doesn't mean they aren't still better than the majority.

              hog protocols: http://www.nimanranch.com/is-bin/intershop.static/WFS/NimanRanch-NimanRanchStore-Site/-/en_US/assets/Hog_Protocols.pdf

              cattle protocols: http://www.nimanranch.com/is-bin/inte...

              1. re: Alice Q
                honkman Feb 22, 2007 04:03 PM

                I really recommend to read Omnivores dilemma regarding corn fed vs. grass fed beef and all related issues which are sometime not that obvious. Sentences like "only vitamins, minerals, and supplements approved by Niman ranch may be fed..." show that they don't feed naturally. Did you see that they nowhere claim that the animals can graze free during their whole life like other farms who are really interested to treat the animals humane ?
                Niman might be a little bit better than some conventional producers but they are still far from humane. Humane for me means to treat animals in a way that they don't have to do anything what they normally wouldn't do. I think it is wrong to say that Niman is better than the worst producers and so we should support them even if they are still not treating animals humane. There are farms who take the issue of humane treatment serious, these are the farms we should support only and not Niman

                1. re: honkman
                  Alice Q Feb 22, 2007 09:21 PM

                  I think your blanket statements are a bit unrealistic (unfortunately) but I hope we can move in that direction eventually. If you think they are just a little better than ordinary producers you should read Dominion - in addition to the Omnivore's Dilemma.

                  1. re: Alice Q
                    honkman Feb 22, 2007 10:06 PM

                    Sadly, I am more than aware that my statements are very unrealistic and it is very unlikely that much will changes in the future but I have always a little bit of hope that more and more people are getting better knowledge about food and where it comes from.

      2. Alice Q Feb 20, 2007 07:14 AM

        I know it's pretty big - but isn't it still better than ordinary pork? We don't have that many other options around here. As far as I know it's that or what they sell at Vons, unless you want to mail order. If I am missing something, or if you have any other ideas - please let me know!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Alice Q
          honkman Feb 20, 2007 08:05 AM

          Niman is hardly better the ordinary pork. It is only a small step forward in comparison to stuff you get Vons. There is a lot if literature about this.

          1. re: honkman
            Alice Q Feb 20, 2007 09:48 AM

            Can you provide more specifics - maybe links?

            1. re: Alice Q
              honkman Feb 20, 2007 10:40 AM

              I wrote longer replies but they get deleted. As a starting point you might read "the omnivores dilemma"

              1. re: honkman
                Alice Q Feb 20, 2007 11:02 AM

                I actually do plan to read that - I will check it out. Interesting that the info seems to conflict. I know Niman Ranch is not organic, but it's my understanding that it is "humane" and they have standards much higher than conventional livestock growers. The book "Dominion" paints a pretty grim picture of large scale hog farming.

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