Are Restaurants Lying About Serving Grass Fed Beef?

Grass Fed Beef

Ten years ago, the majority of Americans didn’t know what grass fed beef is.  Since then, it’s become a household word.  Whether it was through Michael Pollan, cross fit trainers, the Weston A. Price Foundation, farmers markets,  or a number of other possible outlets, people have learned about the benefits of pastured meat.

The demand for grass fed beef has led to grocery stores ranging from the natural foods companies like Whole Foods to the conventional supermarkets offering different varieties of it.  And more restaurants have included grass fed beef options on their menus.  At the end of last year, Carls Jr. became the first conventional fast food business to offer a grass fed burger.

But are these restaurant practicing what they preach by serving meat from cows that were fed on a diet of 100% grass?

What makes me believe they’re lying?  Why do I have to be the bearer of bad news when it seems like a great breakthrough in the world of real food is occuring?

If you know me, you know that I’m foodie who loves checking out new restaurants.  You also know that I’ll find out where everything on restaurant menus is sourced and cooked.  I want to know what farms foods come from.  I want to know what fats or oils are used to make the foods.

Many restaurant now actually list the farms that foods originate. And the menus will also often say if the meat is grass fed.  But as someone whose familiar with farmers and knows about their practices, I’m able to spot a needle in the haystack… or perhaps corn in the haystack.

A restaurant near where I work serves a burger that their menu describes as “Harris Ranch 100% Grass Fed Organic Prime Chuck”.  The problem is Harris Ranch doesn’t have any grass fed line of beef.  If you drive up the I-5 in California, you can smell their feedlot miles before you pass it.   Harris Ranch even tries to defend feeding cows grains.

This may be an extreme case, but it shows what restaurants are capable of.   A more common farm that I see listed as grass fed is Niman Ranch.  Niman Ranch themselves also make it known that their cows are given grains.   Mind you their practices are more sustainable than Harris Ranch as Niman’s cattle are raised on pastures, but then finished on grains.  Niman also never gives hormones or antibiotics to their cows.  American Meat director Graham Meriwhether had said to me during an interview that he believes the restaurant owners might not know that Niman Ranch isn’t completely grass fed.

While calling grain finished meat grass fed could be an honest mistake, it still makes me wonder what kind of other consumer deceit is going on.  Unlike chickens and pigs, all beef starts out with the cows being raised on pasture, even if it’s just six weeks.  So technically, any restaurant could call their meat grass fed.  To be more truthful, some farmers use the label grass fed and grain finished.

It may be cliche to say it ain’t easy being green, but it holds true.  Like any area of the environment, you have to do your due dilligence.  5 Bar Beef rancher and owner Frank Fitzpatrick says “The only way you can buy real food is find a man that grows it, ask him how he does it. If it meets your standards buy it. Otherwise forget it.”

And if you’re someone like me who enjoys going out to eat, but wants to do so responsibly, a bit of activism is also required.  Tell restaurants that they should start saying where their food comes from.  And if their sources don’t quite meet your requirements, tell them how they can improve.  It’s clear that the restaurants recognize the importance and growing demand of grass fed beef.  Now it’s time they recognize that we want real grass fed beef.

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