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Opinion

Amuse Bouche: Steak or milkshake?

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PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DU PREEZ

By Scott Mechura EBS FOOD COLUMNIST

With each passing year, we hear more and more criticism of the consumption of meat, more specifically beef. Much effort has been put forth towards the creation of items like plant-based burgers, or impossible burgers—all designed to replace real beef.

Not to split hairs, but to me, if it’s plant-based, it’s not a burger.

In a time when factory processed foods are causing more obesity and diabetes than ever, a piece of meat cultured in a petri dish suddenly makes that processed frozen dinner look like health food.

While we have demonized beef cattle and ranching, we hear very little criticism of dairy cattle and dairy production. 

I can tell you from several ranch tours I’ve done that part of the reason ranchers work such long hours and rarely have a day off is because of the passion, hard work and dedication to maintaining a circle of life that respects the animal, the land and the environment.

The overwhelming majority of ranchers take great ownership in the stewardship of the land and their livestock. They will tell you that the animals are just another tool in the proper healthy maintenance of the land.

I have seen up close what untouched native prairie looks like versus properly grazed cattle land. The cattle-grazed land is healthier by a long shot, with more vegetation diversity and biomass that regenerates much quicker than native land. 

Both beef and dairy cattle graze about the same as far as pasture coverage and management, but they begin to part ways from there. 

It is as natural as human evolution itself to eat meat. There are as many benefits as there are issues with consuming red meat. But what is not natural is consuming cow milk. In fact, we are the only animal that consumes another animal’s milk with any regularity.

Why is that?

Why is it that consuming red meat is deemed odious, but enjoying milk, cheese or ice cream is not?

Recent counts tell us we have 94.4 million head of beef cattle in the U.S., and we have 94.8 million head of dairy cattle.

Beef cattle are slaughtered anywhere from 18 months to 36 months of age with the overwhelming majority falling right in the middle at 24 months. 

A dairy cow produces healthy, viable milk for up to five or even six years before being sent to slaughter, but they can still produce healthy enough milk to be utilized for breeding up to 10 years. 

Beef cattle don’t alter their food and water consumption a great deal throughout the year. Hot months mean more water and cold months mean more food, but it doesn’t change drastically.  A beef cow eats about 27 pounds of feed and silage and drinks about 8 gallons of water per day. 

A dairy cow will consume 50-55 pounds of feed per day. But when they are lactating, a dairy cow consumes almost three and a half times the feed as a beef cow and substantially more water.

A beef carcass gets utilized almost entirely. Their hide is used for leather, their bones are ground and used in a plethora of ways and the entire carcass’ meat is used.

A dairy cow, when put out to pasture, rarely gets used for quality meat consumption. They are usually the Holstein Friesian breed as opposed to Angus and get used for meat in poorer countries for humans and in the U.S., much lesser quality foods. Think again about processed frozen foods. 

All cattle in general have the capacity to improve the land they occupy when managed properly. But when we do a side-by-side comparison, a beef cow has much more complete utilization, has a much shorter life span and impact, consumes less resources and there are fewer of them.

Seems to me like we are barking up the wrong tree.

Given the choice between a beautifully marbled, protein-packed rib eye, or a lactose, sugar-laden, chocolate-syrup-packed milk shake, it’s steak over milkshake every day for me.

Scott Mechura has spent a life in the hospitality industry. He is an executive chef, former certified beer judge and currently the multi-concept culinary director for a Bozeman-based restaurant group.

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