When a tree suffers stress, you can see it in its rings. Whether drought, disease, or fire, times of stress are permanently etched and visible to the naked eye.
Have you ever thought to think the same might happen to our food?
Stress can permanently, and negatively, influence the taste and texture of our food and in particular, meat. As stress leaves its mark in trees, stress in cattle leaves the meat darker colored, dry, and mushy.
Why don't we know this?
I think part of the problem is that many, including great people like Michael Pollan, have tried to inspire people to make ethical food choices by focusing on the absence of the negatives. Put another way, we've focused on what's NOT in the beef: no antibiotics, no growth hormones, no corn, no CAFO.
Others have focused on the negative impact that industrial agriculture has had on the small family farm or the environment. Finally, much of the conversation around humane treatment has centered on philosophical arguments or man's moral obligation to treat less intelligent, sensient beings with care.
A lot of people say they care about humane treatment of livestock but let's be honest, not many act upon it. The BSE scare and a widely aired, brutal video of "downer" cows didn't materially impact the sales of hamburger meat. Is this because we North Americans are so disassociated from the source of our food that we don't connect-the-dots? Or is it just too troubling to remember that meat comes from animals?
I don't know the answer to this but what I do know is that when I tell people that low-stress conditions lead to better tasting, more tender and juicy beef, they sit up and pay very close attention. In every single artisan steak tasting I host, the questions from the audience invariably focus on this very topic.
I think it is a life-changing moment for many to discover that humane handling isn't just a feel-good thing. Whenever I'm tempted by that supermarket special - Prime Rib Roast, $5.99/lb! - I tell myself, why risk wasting your money and your moral standards, and I do my very best to walk away.
If you have friends who want to do the right thing but are still on the fence, do them a favor, let them know too, that low-stress food tastes better.
And if you like this post (or even if you don't), may I strongly encourage you to pay a visit to Food Renegade and read other posts, like mine, that are part of Kristen's Fight Back Friday carnival. Let's take control of our food!