Gastronomically speaking, what does Memorial Day Weekend mean to you? Heaps of juicy watermelon, perhaps? Sticky brownies, chips and salsa, a cheeseburger or two in paradise? We know it’s not polite to point at others’ plates, but Humor Bar us for a moment, if you will. We have something to say about beef.

This year, when you head to the supermarket—or, better, farmers market!—to shop for your Memorial Day cookout, do yourself, cows nationwide, and The Planet a favor: consider opting for grass-fed beef. Why should you shell out the extra cash? And what exactly is all this grass-fed hype about, anyway? Allow us:

For starters, corn-fed cows are on drugs. And not in a summer-of-love kind of way. In order to survive in our Fast Food Nation, cattle ranchers these days have to get their cows fat as fast and as cheaply as possible. That means stuffing them with corn-based animal feed, instead of letting them roam and graze on grass, as cows are meant to do. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, these animal feeds can also contain: same species meat, diseased animals, feathers, hair, skin, hooves, blood, manure and other animal waste, and plastics. Dee-lish. This unspeakably grody corn-based diet wreaks havoc on cows’ stomachs, causing ulcers and acidosis. The result is that farmers have to keep their cows hopped up on antibiotics, which you the consumer then ingest.

Genuine grass-fed beef, though, comes from healthier, happier, leaner, and more humanely treated animals. It’s higher in beta carotene (Vitamin A), conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), and Omega-3 fatty acids, but lower in fat and cholesterol. There’s practically no risk of getting E. coli-induced food poisoning from cows that are truly grass-fed, and you’re also a heck of a lot less likely to get mad cow disease (BSE) from grass-fed beef, since BSE enters the system through feed that contains animal byproducts. Lastly, cows that are allowed free range naturally fertilize their pastures. For this and lots of other reasons, their impact on the earth is much less than that of their cooped-up counterparts.

 

Makes you think twice about what kind of burger you slap on the grill this weekend, doesn’t it? For more info, check out Eat Wild and the American Grassfed Association.

By the way (this courtesy of an accidental Google search), if you’re in the market for a gigantic, five pound, free-range, grass-fed beef tenderloin, you can order it right from Amazon. How about some beef with that beach reading? 

This article originally appeared in Plenty in May 2007. The story was moved to MNN.com in July 2009.