The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Health

Where’s the beef? (And where does it come from?)

—GARY W. PRIESTER
What sounds more appetizing: grass-fed beef or corn-fed beef? I must confess, until I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I would have opted for corn-fed beef. I love corn, and I love beef, so what could be better than corn-fed beef? But think about it a moment. When you picture a cornfield, do you see cattle grazing on the corn? Probably not. Our idealized vision of the source of our hamburgers, roasts, and steaks is from small herds of cattle lazily grazing on endless grass-covered pastures with puffy white clouds against a deep blue sky, with a quaint white farmhouse and barn on the horizon.

The reality, Pollan tells us, is tens of thousands of cattle in feedlot pens with hardly room to turn around, standing knee-deep in their own excrement, eating a diet of corn fortified with growth hormones and antibiotics. The antibiotics are essential because the extremely cramped conditions, plus the side effects of a corn diet foreign to grass-eating ruminants create a litany of health problems that are only contained by the antibiotics mixed in with the feed. Idyllic it is not!

After they are weaned from their moms, the young beef are moved to Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), where they are fattened on a diet of corn, growth hormones, and antibiotics. CAFOs are the reason McDonald’s can sell a Big Mac as cheaply as they do and why beef can be on almost every table. CAFOs are extremely efficient and cost-effective, compared to raising cattle on the prairie.

But these days, the cattle are not the only ones eating corn. Pollan reveals that corn and processed corn is in almost everything we eat, in the form of high fructose corn syrup, modified corn starch, citric acid (and you thought citric acid only came from citrus!), xanthan gum, maltodextrin, and the list goes on and on. If you don’t believe me, read a few labels. You can’t escape it!

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is subtitled A Natural History of Four Meals and is divided into three parts. The first part deals with corn, agribusiness, and CAFOs and ends, as all three parts of the book do, with a meal. The first meal is at McDonald’s, where Pollan traces the ingredients of the meal back to an Iowa corn farm.

Part two goes from the ridiculous to the sublime as we visit a small farm in Virginia that uses a very different approach to growing beef. On Polyface Farm, beef is raised, grass-fed, in a pasture. The farmer moves the cattle to a new area of the pasture every few days to give the grazed pasture time to regenerate. A fastidious flock of grass-fed chickens grazes on the pasture after the cattle have moved on, ridding the soil of pests and adding their own natural fertilizer to enrich the soil. The result is a sustainable system in which animals are humanely raised. This is better for the animals and better for the environment. Because no herbicides or pesticides are used, there is no environmental damage caused by these poisons leaching out of the soil and into the rivers and aquifers. And because the cattle are rotated from grazing area to grazing area, the pasture is maintained and nourished naturally. There is no need for growth hormones or antibiotics.

The meal produced at the end of part two is more appetizing than the foray into fast food at the end of part one. In part three, Michael Pollan does a bit of hunting and gathering, including hunting a wild pig and gathering wild morel and chanterelle mushrooms.

Grass-fed beef has less fat, fewer calories, and less LDL cholesterol than corn-fed beef. It has about the same fat as skinless chicken. It is higher in “heart-friendly” Omega-3 fatty acids. There are several ranches in New Mexico raising grass-fed beef, some of which you can find at the La Montanita Co-op in Albuquerque and Santa Fe. You can also find grass-fed beef and chicken at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and Wild Oats markets. You can find Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma in any book store.

Udall announces grant to help aging and disabled with long-term care

U.S. Representative Tom Udall, D-NM, announced that the New Mexico Aging and Long Term Care Department (NMALTCD) will receive a $191,000 Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) grant to develop tools to help New Mexicans understand and access long-term care services in their communities. The funding is intended to help New Mexicans make more informed health care decisions.

“This funding will help New Mexicans receive the health care they need,” said Udall. “By building a more user-friendly system, New Mexico will be able to provide better health care at less cost.”

In other states, agencies have used ADRC grants to:

• create web-based resource directories which provide consumers and professionals easy access to information on the specific services available in their communities;

• streamline access to public services by co-locating eligibility staff from different agencies in a single location;

• use technology to create online consumer decision tools and electronic Medicaid applications; and

• use portable technology to conduct data entry and scanning of documents, thereby allowing staff to gather and submit service eligibility information from a consumer’s home.

Udall said, “Our disabled and elderly citizens should not have to wade through red tape to get long-term care. With this funding, we can make sure that they do not.”

NMALTCD consists of six offices and divisions, including the Consumer and Elder Rights Division, the Elderly and Disability Services Division, and the Office of Indian Elder Affairs. The Department will use the ADRC grant to coordinate their various programs and provide a one-stop shop where individuals and families can learn about available services and enroll in the appropriate programs.

“I want to applaud the work done by the Aging and Long Term Care Department to help our most vulnerable citizens,” concluded Udall. “I will continue to support their efforts by finding them additional resources to help them do their job.”

Udall is a member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, which provides funding for ADRC grants.

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