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Jan 5, 2010 09:56 AM

Commodity Beef [split from California]

Josh, with all due respect to your preference for grass fed beef, you seem to misunderstand or misuse the word commodity. Brandt beef is from a specific ranch, raised with specific standards, and not mixed with other products, Thus it is NOT 'commodity' beef. Commodity beef is of indeterminate origin, and may be (usually is) a mix of beef trimmings from several states and/or nations.
I agree Brandt beef is not the ideal product due to its heavy use of imported corn. (they also use local feed.) But it is regionally raised (for San Diegans), hormone and antibiotic free, and, most importantly to me, traceable to its place of origin. That's a far cry from the commodity beef served at most restaurants.

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  1. I didn't say Brandt is commodity beef. I said: "I have no idea how Brandt got any cachet as a better option than commodity feedlot beef".

    I think that's a valid observation, because the problems of CAFOs aren't limited to the scale or volume of production. They also include what happens to the cow and the beef as a result of a corn-based diet. To me, Brandt is not really better than commodity beef because it's still raised unsustainably, the meat still has a bad Omega 6/Omega 3 ratio, and the cows' guts are still acidic environments.

    So, is Brandt commodity beef? No, obviously. Is it better in any of the senses in which commodity beef is bad? Not in any significant way. It deals with only one problematic aspect of meat production, while leaving the others intact.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      Not to turn this into a meat lesson, but I am trying to get a better understanding of some of the terminology here. I tried looking it up but didn't find what I am looking for. You said that Whole Foods carries organic and pastured meats. Is it labeled this way or is all organic meat also pastured? Is grass fed meat always organic? It seems like an animal can organic even if it is fed corn but maybe I am missing something.

      I might try getting some of the chickens from Curtis Womach at the farmers market. Where is the market does he usually set up? Does he sell only whole chickens? If so, about how much are they? Thanks for the information.

      1. re: sdaints

        All organic meat is not pastured and all pastured is not organic. I bet it's actually more common to see pastured meat that is not organic than the other way around too because they normally come from small farms who don't care about the certification.

        Curtis' chickens do come whole and I think they're $18 for young ones and $12 for old ones (if he has any). In Hillcrest he's setup on that main strip towards Lincoln Ave. and I believe he's somewhere in the middle at Little Italy.

        1. re: sdaints

          What Doug said. Curtis also has started a pastured/sustainable pork, goat, and sheep program, and I heard he also has a steer that will be available at some time in the future.

          Organic simply means the animal was raised on organic feed. This has nothing to do with it being pastured or not, though I think one could make a case that pasture-raised and species-appropriate feed should be a requirement for any kind of future organic meat certification program.

      2. I think the most important things is the questions if the beef gets a corn-based diet or not. (Issues like locally raised etc are of course also important but not as important as hwo the animals are treated). Since Brandt beef is using corn to feed their beef they don't adress one of the key issues and therefore are not an improvement over commodity beef.

        9 Replies
        1. re: honkman

          You may think that corn in the diet is the most important issue, but it is not the only issue important to me. Brandt beef differs significantly from commodity beef. I know where it comes from and how it is raised.
          To say Brandt beef is not significantly better than commodity beef because its diet includes corn is like saying a Prius is not significantly different than a Hummer because they both consume gasoline.
          Brandt beef isn't perfect, but it is very different from commodity beef.

          1. re: juantanamera

            I don't agree with your analogy at all. Hummers and Priuses both are designed to run on gasoline. Cows evolved specifically to eat grass, not corn, so a better analogy might be trying to run a gasoline engine with ethanol. Cows are not supposed to eat corn, and would never eat corn in nature - their stomachs, called rumens, are essentially fermentation vessels for breaking down grass.

            Claiming that it's appropriate in any way to feed cows corn is to completely ignore biology, and it's extremely inhumane given the effects on the cow's rumen of a corn-based diet. The reason feedlot beef is given antibiotics is try to mitigate the disastrous effects of corn on cows digestive systems.

            Corn-based diets aren't only bad for the cow's health and well-being, but they also make the meat much unhealthier for human consumption.

            1. re: juantanamera

              To put it another way, it's all well and good that you are concerned with whatever you're concerned with, but the science involved can only lead to one conclusion. To say that Brandt is "very different" from commodity beef is to completely ignore the fact that their cows are eating a diet that no cow would ever eat in nature, because it's a diet that makes the animal sick. I don't see how feeding cows a diet that they're not designed to eat can be considered anything other than cruel.

              The reason this really bothers me personally is because local restaurants like Cafe Chloe sell Brandt beef, then put on their menus that they use sustainable meats. Either they are ignorant of the facts, don't understand what sustainable means, or assume their customers are too ignorant to care. EIther words mean something or they don't. If you're going to make claims of sustainability in your ingredients, then you should probably understand all that implies.

              When I asked the Cafe Chloe owner why she called their meat offerings sustainable given Brandt's practices of bringing in corn by train, she basically blew me off by saying that, paraphrasing, "well it's better than some other options." Brandt seems to give local places cover to sell the same bland, unhealthy, unsustainable meat, while waving the sustainability banner, but it's misleading at best.

              1. re: Josh

                I hear you Josh, and appreciate your argument for the combined underpinnings of less cruelty/better tasting to your culinary worldview, but I think that your selection of the word "designed" to describe the genetic state of livestock is both flawed and correct: flawed for the implication that evolution has any goal or purpose other than successful continuation of genes, but correct in that livestock animals have been "designed" by human civilization to do many things and taste good while doing it, even while consuming less-than-naturally occurring plant (or animal) diets. Feel free to criticize my use of the term "human civilization."


                1. re: SaltyRaisins

                  I don't see where I'm implying a goal to evolution, and the word "designed" was meant metaphorically. The function and chemistry of the rumen is well understood, and just because a cow is physically capable of consuming flaked corn doesn't mean that it should. Feeding corn to ruminants is hardly an underpinning of human civilization, and is a recent development owing to the overabundance of cheap corn in the US.

              2. re: juantanamera

                As long as you force cows to eat something which they can't really digest and is painful to them it doesn't matter if they are more local than other cows. (How would you feel if you are forced to eat stones, would it make a difference for you where you live to improve your situation or would be more important that you wouldn't be forced to eat stones anymore ?). Brandt is not real improvement of commodity beef if soembody cares about cows.

                1. re: honkman

                  To my mind, the biggest problems with feeding corn to ruminants (cows, goats, sheep) are that 1) it tends to make them sick, which often necessitates the destructive-to-humankind use of antibiotics in order to keep the animals healthy, and 2) humans evolved along with cows so that pastured, grass-fed beef tends to be wholesome for us to eat, and corn-fed beef not so much.

                  To keep this San Diego-specific: Brandt have found alternate approaches for the 1st issue (hi-tech breeding and diet calcuations, very arid environment, additional space for each animal compared to other feedlots). Nobody has figured out an issue for the 2nd.

                  Add to that the superior flavor and texture of well-farmed grass-fed beef, and the intense ecological and social damage caused by the corn economy (dead zone in Gulf of Mexico, depopulation of the Midwest, families dispossesed of their farmland), I find the premium of grass-fed/pastured beef to be worth it.

                  1. re: jayporter

                    To respond to Jay, Josh and Honkman:
                    I agree that, in general, grass fed beef is preferable to corn fed beef. Yet, Brandt beef is far superior to 'commodity beef.' It is hormone and anti-biotic free. It uses local food, although it also uses imported corn. It is local to me. It does not contain the blend of multiply sourced meats that the commodity beef industry uses to intentionally obscure the source of meat in order to avoid responsibility for poisoning people with e-coli. Is it perfect? No. Corn feeding beef is problematic for many reasons. Is it significantly different from commodity beef? Yes. That's all for my part in this argument. Love the interest in this topic, please keep being attentive, learning and following your own conscience.

                    1. re: jayporter

                      What about using bison as a meat source? I know that most are not feedlot raised and are grass fed. They evolved on the plains of North America and would be in enviromental harmony with our land. I know to get a pound o' cow, it takes a tremendous amount of water compared to a pound of bison meat., Plus I do like the flavor.