Awakening to the spirit and beauty of the northern Great Plains
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Marketing grass-finished beef
[banner from the Bite Beef website]
It would be wonderful to live in a world where something as good for us and as good for the environment as grass-finished beef would just sell itself and catch on like, say iPhones. Truth is, grass-finished beef needs marketing. Unfortunately, people who raise cattle are not often good at marketing (and the inverse is true too). And while meat from animals that only eat grass can be as tender and tasty as the best grain-fed beef--some would say better than--sometimes it is tough and it almost always requires the cook to take a different approach.
American grass-fed beef producers are ahead of us in Canada in the marketing department--five years ago it made the cover of Time--but we are starting to see some interesting efforts here too. From Alberta recently I heard a story about a couple of young women who have launched something they are calling Bite Beef. They are promoting the health benefits of grass-finished beef and working with local producers to get something ready for market this fall. Their website is quite sophisticated and it looks like they are hoping to sell a high-end boutique beef product to the urban foodie and restaurant markets. Here is a video and article about the two women, Nicole Lamb and Carli Baum, in the Calgary Sun. Hard to tell if they have any native grass in their operations but they refer to alphalfa a lot in their material. Ultimately, we need processing and marketing systems that will bring grass-finished beef from pasture to the supermarket at prices people will pay for food that is healthier for themselves and for prairie ecosystems.
In the meantime, any cattle removed from the industrial feedlot system and finished on grass--whether it is native or otherwise--is at least an improvement over the grain-and-drugs system most cattle are pushed through to put meat on our plates. I hope the Bite Beef people can make a go of it and show Albertans that beef raised entirely on grass is tasty and healthy.
left to right, Bite Beef's Nicole Lamb and Carli Baum
An interview with Ian Tyson on CBC Radio One last year ended with him holding out hope for the prairie if people can make the switch to grass-finished beef. You can listen to the podcast here (scroll down to hour three on the Sunday Edition when it was replayed on Jul10 this year.)
"The cowboy life is fading, and there's only a few places left where it's the real deal," Tyson said. "But if grass-finished beef can make the cover of Time magazine, who the hell knows what's going to happen? They'll need cowboys if they're going to raise grass-finished beef. They're going to have to have guys to chase them on horses."
Cattle on native grass, cowboys on horses herding them--it's an old dream but a worthy one.