Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A local cattle rancher explains why we should eat his beef: part one

Being in Orange County for 30 years allows you to see some big change. Things I miss: orange groves, farmland, and seeing grazing cattle on the hills while driving near Jeffrey and the 405 freeway. I thought the OC cows had all disappeared until my husband and I met Frank Fitzpatrick at the farmer's market a few months ago. He's our local rancher that raises grass-fed cattle up El Toro in the canyon.

I visited his ranch, saw the cows, and had a honest conversation with Frank about beef  (how it's sold, raised, what real grassfed beef looks like and how we should buy it). It was an interesting morning...

What kind of cows do you raise and where do you get them?
"Barzona pure-bred cattle." Each bull weighs about 1400-1800lbs. and "the fattest ones go first." You get about 1100lbs. of meat from a 1700lb. cow. "I'm a one-stop-shop/ conception-to-the-plate business." Frank is one of only three ranchers in California that breed, raise, and sell their own grassfed cattle retail.
Do you have any sort of attachment to your cows?
"Oh God, yes. If I could figure out a way to make money off of them without killing them, I'd do it.  ...well, no I wouldn't, I'd eat them myself."
What do you do if a cow gets sick?
"Let them get over it. I'm not going to let a cow die so if it got really bad I'd take them in for treatment. But I'm not giving you a cow pumped full of chemicals."
What exactly do the cows eat all year?
The real term should be "forage-fed", not grass-fed. They eat leaves, grass, brush, the perennial grasses, whatever is available to the cow. In the winter I give them some tomatoes, potatoes, parsley...anything that's less than 15% sugar."
Tell me about grain-finished beef vs. grassfed beef...
"Grain-finishing beef is when you take a grassfed cow and finish it on grain for 30-60 days to fatten-up the meat before the cow is slaughtered, then call it "grassfed."
So how can we tell the difference between the two?
"It only takes 21 days to turn fat white on a steer. We have been sold on this white fat thing because it's pretty, but the white fat means the animal is out of vitamins and minerals. So what color should the fat be? "Real grassfed beef has yellow fat. If you're buying grassfed beef in the store and the meat's really red and the fat's white..just don't buy it, 'cus it ain't grassfed. If you want to buy real food, buy it from the man that grew it. Ask him how he did it. If you like what he did- buy it. If you don't like what he did, go someplace else."
And what about these stores that sell grassfed beef?
"They don't sell you the right stuff. It's an absolute promotional gimmick and they get away with it because they're big and glitzy and glamorous. This is not glitzy. It's not glamorous and it's not big shot- but it's real food." (For the record, the grassfed beef Whole Foods currently sells is 100% grassfed beef from Eel River. The Eel River website is sold out, presumabily because WF buys most to all of their beef. WF also sells out of its grassfed beef within two days of receiving it, which is indicative of a shortage of real grassfed beef (which I've also heard from a "higher up" that works for WF). That makes me very grateful to have Frank (who can tell you some more about why he wouldn't do business with WF) as our local beef supplier.
So why is it so important to buy grass-fed and not grain-fed?
"Every animal you feed naturally has a 3:1 ratio of omega 3 fats to omega 6. You can't change this naturally occurring trend (by feeding cows grains, which they don't eat naturally) then expect everyone to be healthy eating your food" (cows fed grain are high in omega 6 fatty acids which are inflammatory and over-abundant in our American diets, grassfed meat is high in omega 3 fatty acid, which is more rare in our diet and anti-inflammatory, which helps prevent disease).
Is your beef as good as salmon when it comes to having omega 3's?
"It's as good as salmon all year and better than salmon about three months of the year."
What's so special about those three months of the year?
"Beef is seasonal. Here (Orange County), the cattle are fattest and the healthiest about February, March, April, and the beginning of May, depending on the season. That's when the grass is greenest and most abundant and the vitamin and mineral content of the fat is the highest.
So if we are going to buy some beef, now is the time to get it?

How to buy our local grass-fed beef (which is about 30% less expensive than Whole Foods FYI):
  • you can buy Frank's beef at three farmer's markets: Laguna Hills on Fridays (9am-1pm), Irvine-UCI on Saturdays (8am-12pm), or Beverly Hills on Sundays (9am-1pm) (feel free to call him first to see what he has available that day) Frank Fitzpatrick (714) 749-5717
  • order 50lbs. or more and he'll deliver it to your door free (in OC) - you may want to buy a freezer!
  • you can also buy a whole or half a cow (the most economic route and something perhaps to do with friends that want to split the costs and the beef)
Stayed tuned for more on beef, omega fats, and Frank's take on how our chicken is processed. All this beef talk is making me hungry- we're having filet tonight for sure :)