The Locavore’s Bookshelf: Pasture Perfect

Jo Robinson is the driving force behind the website, a clearinghouse for information on the health benefits of pasture-based farming which includes a comprehensive, state-by-state directory of sources for pasture-raised meats, eggs and dairy products.

For those who are not net saavy, she also happened to write this concise book, Pasture Perfect: The Far-Reaching Benefits of Choosing Meat, Eggs, and Dairy Products from Grass-Fed Animals. While she isn’t able to provide the list of consumer sources for the food products she touts in the book, and refers readers to the EatWild website, she does include the basic factual information that a consumer would need to investigate exactly why grass-fed animal products are healthier for themselves and their families to eat than the foods produced in factory farm concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

A fine writer and researcher, Robinson first came across information that led her to understand that the meat, eggs and milk from animals raised on grass was fundamentally different from those raised on grain (and less savory foods such as manure, feathers, animal by products and food waste from restaurants and grocery stores) when she was doing research for The Omega Diet, a book she co-authored with Dr. Artemis Simopoulos that explored the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. When she found this bit of information, it compelled her to dig further, and she started examining the scientific literature on the subject of how livestock animals’ diets reflect on the chemical and physical composition of their meat, milk and eggs, and how this relates to human health. What she found out astounded her, and caused her to not only write this book, and create the website, EatWild, but also to start speaking to ranchers, government regulatory agencies, consumer advocacy groups and supporters of sustainable agriculture. In this way, she took her message on the road to whoever would listen, and has been a large part of the newly arising movement of small grass-based farmers who are offering products with superior health benefits which are better for the environment to the American consumer.

While Robinson is a fine writer, especially when she is compiling the facts surrounding the unique chemical and physical properties of grass-fed products and their affects in the human body. I couldn’t help but be somewhat bemused when she claimed she didn’t understand why researchers in the pay of industrial farming interests never investigated the idea that what goes into a farm animal affects what comes out of it–the meat, milk and eggs. She claimed to be confused as to why any researcher who would investigate the feeding of stale chewing gum, complete with wrappers (she cites the sources–it is a real study and yes, Virginia, some dairy cows are fed chewing gum), would not take their research any further than noting that it seems to cause no harm to the animal and it does not cause the animal to lose weight or fail to thrive, nor does it deposit untoward amounts of aluminum (from the wrappers) in the muscle tissue of the animal.

Either Robinson is trying to be nice and give the benefit of the doubt to these researchers, or she is naive or she just doesn’t want to come out and say why no one in the CAFO industry wants anyone to research the compositional differences in the meat from animals fed on grass and those fed on whatever cheao crap CAFO operators come up with to feed their animals. They don’t want to budge from their party line of “meat is meat, eggs are eggs and milk is milk, no matter where it comes from or how it was raised” because to do so threatens their bottom line. If they ever were forced to admit that they were producing an inferior, often unsafe and unhealthy food product for the American consumer, they might as well fall on their butcher knives and admit that BSE is their own damned fault, and that they never cared for the health and well-being of their animals or the people who ate their products.

All they care about is the bottom line.

Other than Robinson’s seemingly naive ignorance of the possible motivations of meat, milk and egg industry officials who want the public to remain ignorant of the fact that what goes into an animal affects what comes out (any breastfeeding mother should be able to figure this out; think of all of the injunctions against foods and medications that mothers are given because these things come -through- the mother’s milk; if this is true for humans, then logically, it is true for cattle as well), my main criticism of her work is that she does not address the issue of whether it is possible to feed all Americans on pasture-raised foods.

This is an issue that not many authors address, but it is a question that really needs to be answered. While I disagree with the way CAFOs do business, and I refuse to support them with my money, I also recongize that I have the money and the time to seek out smaller, local producers whose farming methods are more in line with my own ethical guidelines.

Not every consumer is as lucky as I am. I live in an area that is blessed with local food producers whose vision of agriculture is one of sustainability. I also, as I mentioned, can afford the higher prices these producers charge for their products, but I recongize that not every American is able to afford what I can.

This -is- an issue. While I think that it is likely that as demand for pasture-raised products rises and more farmers enter into the marketplace, the price will come down, I also recognize that it will likely never reach the rock-bottom prices that CAFO’s can offer the consumer. (On the other hand, CAFO’s are terribly petroleum dependant–as oil prices rise, it is likely that industrial meat prices will rise as well. It may even be that at some point in the future, smaller, local producers may be able to compete directly with industrial producers on the basis of price.)

Most authors, including Robinson, duck this issue by not addressing it at all.

I think this is a shame–and someone, somewhere, -should- think about the fact that most of this better, healthier, local food, is not going to be eaten by lower-income people, but by those in the middle class and on up. While it is true that the middle to upper classes have always had access to better food than the poor, one could argue that in a supposed democratic nation like the United States, this should not be the case.

Other than that one glaring political flaw in the book, I thought it was a well-written argument in support for a more natural, sensible method of raising food animals, and is well worth the read. It is a great book to give to your parents, your aunt Sally or your co-workers when they ask you why you insist on eating grass-fed beef or lamb or pork. It is concise, simple to follow and persuasive, and includes recipes from grassfarmers in the back for how to cook their products in the most flavorful way possible.

It is also a good reference to have on hand to use in martialling your facts in order to effectively argue with skeptics, though I have to admit that much of the same information in the book is also available on the EatWild website, in their free articles section.

All in all, it was well worth the few hours it took for me to read it cover to cover.


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  1. Barbara, you are once again so helpful! I have been looking for a list of sustainably-raised eggs/milk in CA and now here it is.

    I’ve also wondered if pastured animals can feed everyone. I think the answer is NO at current consumption levels, but maybe people will be willing ot eat less meat of better quality someday.

    Comment by Alexis — August 13, 2006 #

  2. EatWild is a wonderful resource, I am so glad you wrote about it here. I haven’t seen this book yet, never even heard of it actually, so I am going to have to keep my eyes peeled now. Thanks again for all of the information.

    Comment by risingsunofnihon — August 15, 2006 #

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