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Going out for a steak dinner used to be a big treat, reserved for birthdays and anniversaries. Back in the Frank Sinatra days, such a special occasion would have landed you at some swanky steakhouse, with tall booths and subtle neon lights that ran along the floor. The choices were easy back then: should you order a New York strip steak or the bacon-wrapped filet mignon? Undoubtedly both cuts of beef would have come from corn-fed cattle and gotten served with big baked Idaho russets. Now, ordering a steak can be rather confusing. Here are a few things you should probably know.

1) Bland Beef: ‘It’s What’s For Dinner’

America has a long history of feedlot cattle ranching. The Midwest is often associated with mass-produced, grain-fed beef–products that still have a stronghold at many grocery stores and corporate restaurants in the new millennium. The main problems with corn-fed (think Omaha), feed lot cattle is that they often get pumped full of growth hormones and antibiotics, and they are packed into stinky, tight spaces for the entirety of their lives–not at all a healthy environment. It also must be noted that grain-fed cattle produces mild-tasting beef, a muted flavor that Americans, unfortunately, have grown to love.

2) “The Steer Ate Grass?”

The grass-fed beef movement has gained much momentum in recent years. Cattle ranchers, some of which have done it this way forever, are abandoning the notion of feedlots and opting for greener pastures. It’s no secret that cattle raised on a steady diet of grass are much healthier (for human consumption) than the questionable feedlot variety. Medical researchers have concluded that the omega-3 fatty acids found in grass-fed beef are incredibly healthy, especially for cardiovascular patients, as opposed to the artery-clogging omega-6 fatty acids found in feedlot beef. But many people who were raised eating grain-fed beef simply don’t like the pronounced taste of grass-fed beef.

3) Green Steers

Like the standard grass-fed beef movement, the organic cattle ranching scene has burgeoned across the U.S. Of course, as one of its fundamental tenets, organic beef must come from cattle that have spent their lives eating sustainable grasses, herbs, legumes, and other government-approved feeds. (Plus, they are obviously never to be given hormones or antibiotics.) Yet it’s important to state that not all organic cattle spend their entire lives in the pasture–some operations use feedlots of sorts, but the cattle generally are put back out to pasture to continue chomping on grass. The norm in organic cattle ranching is for the ranchers to bring the approved supplements to the pasture so the animals can stay in their natural environment. But some organic ranchers are getting too big for their britches and have to fudge the truth a wee bit.

4) It’s Natural, Man

The lines really get blurred when it comes to the labeling of what’s considered to be “natural” beef. There’s some consumer deception that goes on under this name, due to the fact that natural beef doesn’t have to follow the same stringent guidelines as organic beef does–at least for now. As a general school of thought, ranchers that raise natural cattle are never suppose to give the ruminants growth hormones, artificial ingredients, and antibiotics. But that doesn’t mean the cattle spend their entire lives in the pasture, or on the open-range–many natural operations now look like corporate feedlots.

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