More chefs like Kurt Friese say grass-fed meat is a tastier choice.
Sarah Beth Glicksteen/The Christian Science Monitor
When it comes to vegetables, even urban "locavores" can get their hands dirty in the effort to eat only local foods. All you need is a bit of sun and a patch of soil, and by summer's end you can decorate salads with your own "locally grown" produce.
Meat, on the other hand, is another challenge completely. That's best left to farmers and ranchers.
Local meat – livestock consumed within 150 miles of the place where it was humanely raised – is still a relatively small industry. However, more farmers' markets, mail-order companies, and stores that specialize in organic or local foods are featuring local meats. (To find a store near you, visit www.localharvest.org.) Proponents are quick to point to the benefits: Local meats aren't exposed to the same stresses commonly found in feedlots, and there is a noticeable difference in taste, too.
"Grass-fed meat tends to be leaner overall, but I would contend far more flavorful," says Kurt Friese, a chef from Iowa City, Iowa, whose restaurant, Devotay, serves mainly local produce, including meat from area farms. "For beef to taste like beef, cows need to eat what they are built to eat."
Cows aren't designed to digest corn, a primary sustenance used in feed lots. As a result, most beef tastes sweet, like corn, and contains more fat.
Along with grass-fed beef and chestnut-fed pork, Devotay also offers bison, or buffalo, on its menu.
"Bison is so fantastic I often say it tastes more like beef than beef does," says Mr. Friese who shares his recipe for Devotay (bison meatball tapas) in his new cookbook, "A Cook's Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland" (see recipe). Devotay buys its bison meat from a farm in nearby Solon, Iowa. There the bison roam in grass-filled paddocks on 110 acres.
Grass-fed cattle, however, do take longer to reach market weight and the yields aren't as high, so it is more expensive than meat produced on feedlots, says Friese. But food-industry critics – from Barbara Kingsolver to Michael Pollan – say the average American's diet would improve with less emphasis on meat. Even Friese, whose restaurant sits smack in the middle of steak-house country, contends it isn't hard to satisfy customers with a less-is-more approach.