Grassfed is Not Just About “Local”

Monday, April 1, 2013
Posted in category Eco-Agriculture

Paul Schwennesen is a rancher who raises only grassfed cattle on 12,000 acres in Arizona and New Mexico. Schwennesen published an article in 2010 for PERC (Property and Environment Research Center) that is even more relevant three years later: “Grassfed Beef and the Politics of Local.”

Schwennesen is a talented writer, and he has eloquently expressed his ideas that are very libertarian at the core. He discusses economics and how the market for his product moves beyond the economies of scale that produce 99-cent fast-food burgers in perpetuity for the masses. Additionally, he notes how his entrepreneurial pursuit offers many returns – happiness, human connection, and creative entrepreneurship – beyond the profit factor. He writes:

As to clientele, I have to say that the genuine appreciation we get for our product is a large part of our compensation package. Our customers are interested in what they eat, justifying their purchase on far more than price-point. They love the proximity of their food production, they love their connection to it, and they are willing to pay for our lack of economies of scale. I suppose it’s somewhat akin to the hunter who, if he actually breaks it down, finds he’s “paid” $35 a pound for elk meat. What you eat is about more than just shelf price.

Schwennesen also touches on the topic of stewardship – something that Joel Salatin calls “one of our ultimate freedoms,” as I wrote in this post a few months ago.

Sustainable stewardship is one of those wince-inducing phrases that means all things to all people. For us, it means profitably harvesting a wholesome food source with practically no external inputs beyond sunlight, water, and our own energy; an activity that can reasonably be expected to continue unchanged for generations to come.

…I care deeply about the landscape that supports me, in part because my good management benefits me, not Mother Earth. Maybe it’s not politically correct, but brazen self-interest (well understood) is the only way to make the world a better place.

I like Schwennesen’s dismissal of the all-too-common perception that the movement toward choosing grassfed beef (usually bought local) as an alternative to the Industrial Feedlot route always arises from an anti-bigness or politically correct “buy local” crowd that spurns the free market in favor of mom-and-pop economics. His customers value much, more more beyond the typical media line that describes a bunch of flakes who join the latest fad to promote their politically correct agendas.

At the end of the day, the model of sustainable ranching that we promote is by no means perfect. It’s costly to consumers, it’s physically and financially demanding for producers. But if nothing else, it is honest; the costs are a direct reflection of the necessary inputs. We live in intimate proximity to the processes that give (and take) life. We, in turn, give back to the land, leaving it richer and more fecund than we found it. As long as we have consumers who value that, our business will thrive.

As an appendage to this post, I want to point out the latest blog on the benefits of grassfed beef (and other pastured products) from Ancestral Health advocate Chris Kresser, an integrative medicine practitioner. I like that Chris doesn’t scare away the masses by insisting on grassfed beef, and instead, he correctly states that grain-fed beef, while not up to snuff with its pastured competitor, is still an excellent nutritional choice, especially when compared to the typical diet staples (processed food and other foods void of nutrition) of the average American. Grassfed beef, or other pastured meats, are an alternative choice for those who make their quality of life a priority and wish to take full advantage of the prodigious growth in the market for traditional, high-quality food products. Thanks to James Nellis for the article tip.

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