Common Ground: The Most Practical Meat to Eat
by Eric Steinman
Ground meat has gotten a bad rap of late, and deservedly so. With reports about “pink slime” dominating the headlines, along with the various pathogen outbreaks from ground beef contaminations, and the fact that a single pound of conventional ground meat is barely traceable back to its source (likely originating from 100+ animals spread over six different states), there is substantial reason to avoid the stuff (even if you are not a vegetarian or vegan). However, for the intrepid meat eater who is not deterred by such findings, ground meat is one of the most inexpensive, flexible, and a more ecologically wise choice than those more pricey cuts of meat.
This is at least the opinion of Brian Halweil, the editor of Edible East End and publisher of Edible Manhattan and Edible Brooklyn (and a colleague of mine) along with Danielle Nierenberg, the director of Nourishing the Planet. Both co-authored a recent New York Times opinion piece on the subject of ground meat being the “kindest cut” of meat available. The logic behind this argument is, once an animal is butchered and the popular cuts like steaks, chops and roasts are utilized, the rest of the meat is ground — 26 percent of a hog, 38 percent of a beef cow, 41 percent of dairy cows and 46 percent of lambs (science has yet to figure out how to breed a cow that is comprised of only filet mignon). Because such a high percentage of what is left over can only be ground for consumption, eating ground meat becomes a more cost efficient and practical way to consume the whole animal. As the article states, “In the same way that nose-to-tail butchery can save a household money, buying ground meat can encourage small-scale, diversified livestock farming, since it helps supplement income from the pricier cuts.”
But what about all of the pathogens, pink slime, and health risks that are associated with ground meat? Well, if you purchase and consume conventional feedlot ground meat, you are taking your chances and decidedly contributing to all of the problems that go hand-in-hand with feedlots, the mistreatment of animals, etc. However if you purchase grass-fed, local, and/or organic meat from a small (or environmentally and ethically responsible) producer, you are more likely to be consuming a safer and higher quality product (albeit a bit more expensive one as well). Still, eating meat is not for everyone (nor should it be) and the production, and harvesting of animals remains the most energy- and resource-intensive ingredient in our national diet. So if you have to have that meat fix, you are better off not paying top dollar for some top round trucked in from who knows where, and instead, source out some ethically- and environmentally-raised ground meat that utilizes the entirety of the animal.
If you are not a vegan or vegetarian and actually have a taste for meat (and are not boiling mad at this point) do you think you could be convinced to drop the steak and go ground? Is the low cost nature of ground meat unappealing to you?