Meat with meaning at Whole Foods

Many Whole Foods stores in the Rocky Mountain region are featuring a special kind of meat right now, a meat that has some meaning. Panorama Grass-Fed Meats Inc. and the Arapaho Ranch, a native American enterprise, have partnered to bring organic, grass-fed meat to you.

At the Belmar Whole Foods yesterday, I got to hear all about it from Panorama CEO Mack Graves and members of the tribal council for the Arapaho Ranch, which is located in west central Wyoming. In Boulder, I am so used to being around people harping about sustainability that I feel reasonably guilty if I buy orange juice out of season. But these men have a good cause and good beef, and I found their discussion inspiring.

The ranch's 400,000 acres on which 4,500 cattle graze are also full of other species, including wolves and mountain lions. When I asked councilmember Ronnie Oldman how they deal with that, he replied simply, "We co-exist."

They respect those animals because they were there first, he explained. And the ranch's employees (up to forty people in the summer) all use horses and not ATVs. This is no publicity stunt, no excuse to knock up prices -- it's just better for the land.

So is the recent transiion to organic, but it won't be easy. "During this economic downturn, it's hard to find the words to express what this means to the Arapaho tribe," chairman Harvey Spoonhunter said.

Graves expanded on that, explaining that the ranchers need to suspend their income for three or more years as they make the conversion to organic.

Finally, after a prayer from co-chairman Norman Willow Sr., it was time to eat. I found myself sitting between Spoonhunter and Graves's son, a ten-gallon hat, big shiny belt buckle and cowboy boot-clad senior at the University of Colorado. Apparently he's the guy who leads Ralphie the buffalo around Folsom Field at CU football games.

Although my conscience feels a little better eating organic, my palate often can't tell. But beef that is grass-fed is a different story. The stuff is notoriously lean, with essentially no marbling, which is the intramuscular fat commonly associated with the tenderness and flavor of the meat. I'd always assumed that marbling meant flavor, because this slice of meat (Kobe beef) is considered to be pretty much the best in the world.

But the Arapaho Ranch meat had a completely different flavor -- it wasn't gamy, but just so much more meaty than the usual steak. In burger form, it created a much more flavorful burger, meaning I could eat a hunk of meat on a bun with no adornment and feel like I wasn't missing anything.

The Arapahoe Ranch meat will be only a dollar or so more a pound than other natural beef options. If I'm going to buy a few nice steaks this summer, these are the people I want my money going to.

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