The beef industry is notoriously responsible for the harmful effects of climate change — but could regenerative beef let you eat your steak with a clean conscience? After making a thorough review of all the literature available on the subject, we think that guilt-free beef is the real deal. If you’ve been wondering about how to keep hamburgers and steaks in your diet without abandoning the climate, this little guide is for you.
Today, we’ll be examining the history and revival of regenerative agriculture, including its use in producing guilt-free beef. Follow along, and we’ll explore what exactly guilt-free beef is, clear up a confusion about grass-fed beef, and point you in the right direction to buy your own guilt-free beef.
What Is Regenerative Agriculture?
To get into the nitty gritty of what regenerative beef and guilt-free beef are, first you’ll need to know a little bit more about regenerative agriculture. It’s a broad term that covers both old and new farming methods, with the goal of conserving and rehabilitating land used for farming and ranching. By focusing on soil health and conservation, biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration, regenerative farming practices seek to decrease or eliminate the harmful effects of farming and ranching.
Often based on land use philosophies like permaculture and holistic management, regenerative agriculture takes a close look at how to have living systems work together in harmony. In the case of beef production, this means that there’s actually a possibility of raising carbon-neutral cows! A far cry from the industrial farming that produces huge amounts of methane, regenerative agriculture is leading the way towards making cattle more sustainable. The core idea for cows is to upgrade the old method of rotational grazing into full regenerative grazing so that the soil is improved with all that cow manure while the healthy soil & rapidly growing pasture removes greenhouse gas emissions.
While a full explanation of regenerative agriculture is outside the scope of this article, suffice it to say that by changing how cattle are raised and their grazing patterns, farmers and ranchers believe that they can continue to produce beef without leading further into climate destruction.
What Is Guilt-Free Beef?
Guilt-free beef, then, comes from cows that have been raised using regenerative farm methods. Proponents of regenerative beef cite that having a healthy amount of grazing on land will actually lead to greater carbon capture — meaning that having the right amount of cattle in an area of land will help to reverse the effects of climate change (or at least not make it worse). Essentially, grazing cattle help to enhance the natural carbon cycle that grasses go through as they grow.
Additionally, guilt-free beef comes from cattle that have been treated humanely throughout the course of their life. Often overlapping with organic and holistic practices, regenerative and guilt-free beef production requires that the animals be left free to graze rather than kept in narrow confines and fed grains and antibiotics. The end result? Cattle that have lived happy lives, beef that is produced without a huge carbon load, and meat that is healthier to eat. In our minds, that’s a huge win!
Is Grass-Fed Beef Guilt-Free?
It’s easy to think, then, that any cattle that have been grass-fed would also be guilt-free. After all, aren’t both types of cows allowed to graze freely? While that’s true, it doesn’t mean that all grass-fed beef cattle (or livestock / grazing animals for that matter) will be guilt-free.
The trick of it is, some grass-fed beef is still raised using clearcutting methods of agriculture that don’t give anything (like organic matter) back to make healthier soil. Even though the cattle live freer and happier lives (i.e. better animal welfare), they’re allowed to eat grasses down to the roots — thereby preventing any carbon capturing benefit. If grass feeding is not combined with holistic stewardship of the land, it can produce the same sort of carbon-producing detrimental effects as other methods of factory farming.
You should know, however, that all guilt-free beef is grass fed beef. It’s a consequence of the way that cows can interact with the land to produce positive carbon capturing effects. Every time cows are allowed to graze lightly in an area, eating grass but not chewing it down to the roots, those grasses will grow back stronger and capture carbon dioxide in their root systems while they do it. So if you find guilt-free beef, you can rest assured that it’s grass-fed as well.
Where to Buy Guilt-Free Beef
If you’re looking for truly guilt-free wholesome meats, you’ll have to go straight to the source: Farmers and ranchers in your area who practice sustainable methods of raising beef. Try looking at your local farmer’s market, and asking around for contacts to find a farmer that’s licensed to sell guilt-free, grass-fed beef. And keep in mind that, aside from supporting your local economy, you’ll also be eliminating the carbon emissions that come from having conventional beef shipped across the country!
Of course, not everyone will be fortunate enough to live in an area where they can buy locally-grown guilt-free beef. If that’s the case for you, we recommend checking out White Oak Pastures. They’re a Georgia-based family farm that specializes in regenerative agriculture practices, saying that their farming methods are “A bold return to giving a damn”. Judging from the quality of their carbon-negative growing and processing methods, we’d have to agree! They offer all cuts of beef from steaks, to ground beef, jerky, roasts, and bones.