Saturday, November 29, 2014

Fred Flintstone not a reliable guide (and - let's learn about beef)

The palaeolithic diet and the unprovable links to our past

Quite an interesting article here looking at the "palaeolithic diet" idea and why it's a bit of a crock.

I forgot to previously mention - there was a Michael Mosley documentary recently on SBS that looked at the issue of meat in the diet.  His final position f tended to be not very surprising - on health grounds he admits the evidence is not 100% clear, but he leans towards most people eating less meat, especially beef, and certainly not much processed meat.  (I think the evidence against processed meat is pretty strong, not matter who you ask.)

The second part of the documentary was a bit more interesting, looking at the type of meat which is most environmentally friendly.  A bit surprisingly, industrially raised chicken meat came out on top.  Yes,  chickens living all of their short lives in an electronically lit and heated English shed are much better for the planet that a lot fed cow.  But, he did have a bit of a hippie looking farmer scientist who argued cows raised in the old way - on small farms with plenty of grass - were not particularly bad for the environment, given their fertilizing effect and the handy thing they do by making milk as well.

Now, this raises a question that I don't know the answer to - what's the inter-relationship between dairy and meat?  Do we eat dairy cows, or do they end up somewhere else?

Here's a post from an American blog that starts to shed some light:
Dairy cattle are unique in the fact that they can produce high
amounts of milk without significant emphasis on muscle mass.  Muscle
mass is an important trait that is sought after in modern beef
production.  Holstein cattle are a breed of dairy cattle and are the
typical black and white spotted cow that is routinely seen through
today’s popular media when references to cattle and beef are made.

So do we eat dairy cattle?

According to the USDA’s cattle inventory for 2012 there were
approximately 39 million head of beef cows in the US and 9 million dairy
cows. (These numbers reflect cows that have calved)  The inventory for
steers over 500 lbs (steers are castrated males) was an astounding 15
million with heifers (young female cows that have not had a calf) a bit
further behind at around 10 million.  Of this 25 million only 13% are
typically of dairy influence.

Though dairy cattle are the “minority” of the cattle industry (from a
total number standpoint) a portion of them do indeed make it into our
food chain.  Since only cows can produce milk, the male dairy calves are
typically castrated and placed on feed after weaning (weaning is a term
that is used when calves are weaned off of milk) and fed to about 1250
lbs to be harvested for our consumption.

As I mentioned before, the dairy breeds don’t typically exhibit the
muscle mass as typical beef breeds however, they do in fact have a
tendency to show evidence of higher quality grades on average.  Quality
grades are how the industry grades beef cuts, you will see them
displayed as; prime, which is the highest, followed by choice, select
and standard.  Quality grades are based on a combination of age and
marbling (the fat that is deposited within the muscle, it can typically
be seen best on fresh ribeye steaks).  On the other hand, dairy cattle
that enter the food chain typically have much smaller muscle surface
area.  This means, your typical ribeye in square inches is much smaller
than those produced from a beef type animal.

When older dairy type cattle enter the food chain the beef derived
from them usually ends up as “ground beef” used for burgers and patties.
 As far as what happens to male calves of dairy cows - they have a short life and end up as veal.  A lengthy article in last year's Age describes the process, and the controversy.

And let's not forget that male chicks in the chicken industry face an industrial grinder!

By all rights, more men should be vegetarians than women, given the way our gender is generally treated in farming!

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