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Well, now that the storm has passed and things have returned to normal once again (meaning it is sunny and hot and humid), we will return to our regularly scheduled programming of all things food related. Today I am going to talk about meat – specifically Happy Meat.

So what makes a steak “happy” (as my friend Judy calls it)? Well for those of you who haven’t read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, it has to do with the way the cow that becomes your steak lives its life. A cow that spends its post-weaning life on a feedlot eating grains and “additives” (read: cow parts) that it is not equipped to digest (and thereby given antibiotics in its feed to essentially keep it alive) is going to have a very different taste to it than a cow that lives in a pasture eating fresh grass and hay and living its life, well, like a cow is supposed to. Taste is one thing – but what does all those hormones/ antibiotics and cheap food it is fed do to you when you eat it? I won’t even go into the ethical debate(…watch me just fly right past that one…)

I don’t talk a lot about food ideologies on this blog, because I am a strong believer and affirmer of “to each their own”, especially when it comes to food. I learn so much from people by what they eat and so never in a million years would I try to convince someone to eat differently. The only reason I bring this up now is because until I read The Omnivore’s Dilemma I didn’t realize how bad things really are. So maybe you don’t realize it either. I mean, I knew about corn syrup, and additives and processed foods, been off those for years, but I didn’t have the foggiest idea how BIG and overarching this issue with corn is. I am horrified by the fact that Americans are like walking tortilla chips, made from CHEAP INDUSTRALIZED corn.

It is in everything from a corn chip, to the meat we eat, to things like coffee creamer and BBQ sauce. I mean I like corn with barbecued ribs, but I don’t so much like the idea of corn making up the raw ingredients of those ribs, especially when it is cheap and crappy. For more info on this read The Omnivore’s Dilemma or check out the documentary called King Corn (the part that really got to me is when the makers of this film eat some of the fruits of their labors, corn that they grew on an acre of rented farmland in America’s Heartland (which is pretty much all that is grown there) and spit it out because it is basically inedible.

Over the past year, I have been making a conscious effort to eliminate “unhappy” meat from my diet because I find it distasteful. It has been difficult because of the lack of available sources, not to mention the financial investment (the upside…you end up eating less meat). Luckily though when I worked for a holistic doctor for many years, I got converted to eating buffalo as the main red meat in my diet and buffalo meat is fairly easy for me to find at the grocery store – however, only as ground meat or hot dogs, which can get boring after a while.

So what’s the big deal about buffalo meat, you ask?
The big deal is that CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) is only found in the meat of ruminants that are grass fed. Well, unlike cows, buffalo literally cannot survive on anything but grass. So they are full of CLA. Meat and dairy products from grass-fed animals can produce 300-500% more CLA than those of animals fed the usual diet of 50% hay 50% grain.

Why should you care about CLA?
Well CLA has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Think of it as the omega-3 (or fish oil) of the hunter-gatherer, as opposed to the fisher-gatherer. CLA reduces body fat and decreases whole-body glucose uptake.

So why can’t you just take a CLA supplement?
Well, there is a catch again to not going au naturale, CLA supplements contain isomers – which are compounds that have the same molecular structure but a different structural formulae than the naturally occurring CLA that you find in meat and dairy products. Which to me raises a red flag about what happens over the long term with taking CLA supplements – maybe nothing, but maybe something it is too early to tell. CLA supplementation has, however, been shown to increase C-reactive protein levels (which causes inflammation in the body), possibly to induce oxidative stress..so you be the judge for yourself. I know what I’m doing, going au naturale of course!

Anyway, back to the “happy meat”. It is way more expensive and harder to find. So I find that we eat less and less meat. Both Roberto and I have spent several years as vegans and vegetarians in the past, so it is not a big deal. Alternately I have also participated in the slaughter of sheep and goats while living on the Navajo reservation. So I have been on both sides. I was a vegetarian prior to going to the Reservation, but these people are the poorest of the poor and I wasn’t about to burden them further by being fussy about what I could eat. Someone else might have brought a 5 month supply of PB&J and protein bars, but I felt it was important to share meals with my host family out of respect for their culture and way of life and for interpersonal connectedness. That was my choice. Eating meat out there was the first time I felt “energized” after consuming meat. Normally it made me sluggish. This was my first time experiencing grass fed ruminants as meat.

I can’t say that I am perfect. Sometimes, when I am at the home of friends or family and I get some meat on a plate, I don’t go into the whole “happy meat” thing, because for me personally at this juncture, I still like the idea of sharing a meal together more than worrying about those few times I let some grain fed meat pass my lips. Heck, sometimes I have done it out of choice by ordering something meaty off a menu that I can be almost sure is not “happy”. But it always makes me stop and think. Which is important. Thinking. Which is what this post is about.

The good news is that we now have a new vendor at the Farmer’s Market – a nice young couple who own a cow farm in Jacksonville (about 30 miles from us) who specialize in grass fed organic (although they are not certified) beef. We brought home a skirt steak, a T-bone and some ground beef.

South of the Border Skirt Steak with Fresh Salsa

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I rubbed the skirt steak with olive oil and a blend of green chili powder, cumin, a little mole seasoning, salt and pepper. I let it marinate over night. The next morning I have it another nice massage. For dinner, I cranked up the oven to 475 F and heated up my cast iron skillet. I threw the meat in the skillet and didn’t move it until it was easy to flip. I flipped it to the other side and browned that side too. Then I threw the skillet in the scorching oven and finished it off for about 5 minutes.

In the meantime Roberto made salsa!

He diced up:

1 large tomato
1/2 vidalia onion
1 jalapeño
handful of parsley

and threw it in a bowl. Then he squeezed the juice of one lime over top, threw in some cumin and cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. Mixed it around and we served it on top of the steak.

On the side we had some black beans spiced up with the green chili powder and served with diced avocado, scallions and Greek yogurt! Ohhhh yeahhhh…Happy were we.