Written by CORO Fellow Mykia Long on January 18, 2010.

If you’re like most people, you probably eat lots of different foods: asparagus, bread, Skittles…just to name a few. But if you want to be a conscious carnivore, answer this question: what does your beef eat? Do you know its diet? What about your milk? Do you know if it’s healthy? I would hope so, because that’s a pretty intimate process – making the decision to ingest, savoring each particle, and then allowing those ingredients to serve as sustenance for your being.

I hadn’t thought much about this before visiting Ron Gargasz Organic Farm in Volant, PA (home of Franktuary’s famous Locavore). It makes sense though…what goes into the cow makes up its flesh and in turn goes into me (and many other meat and dairy consumers). What blew my mind was the fact that most beef in our country has a concentrated high-corn diet. Burgers in restaurants and steaks in supermarkets come from grain-fed cows housed in feedlots. A high-corn diet helps to produce rapid weight gain and isn’t that expensive since the government pays for part of its production; hence, farmers can get more bang for their buck with their cows solely eating corn and grains.

But there’s one big problem. Cows can’t digest corn.

Cows are ruminants, which means their stomach ferments grass and converts it into protein and fats. They are not physically equipped to digest grain. Replacing a cow’s diet with grain instead of corn poses a host of serious maladies, like the presence of E. coli, which can only be interrupted by a constant diet of antibiotics. Ugh.

Ron eliminates this problem, and feeds his cows on a poly-culture diet. Not only does he avoid corn and grain diets, which is surely boring to the cows and lacks a wide range of nutrients, he also feeds them with hay crops consisting of multiple grasses.

“I try to give them a mixed salad of forages…alfalfas, orchards, and drier hay when they’re near processing,” says Ron. “The more diverse I make their diet, the more minerals [are present in the products].”

All in all, grass-fed beef and dairy with a varied diet is better – for the animal, and for us meat eaters and dairy consumers.

P.S.: Happy MLK Day – it was intriguing to see the influence of diversity in another part of life.