To the naysayers who claim beef is “ruining the environment,” Colorado farmer-turned-chef-restauranteur Alex Seidel says he knows from his decades of training that this couldn’t be further from the truth. He knows beef is key to maintaining a sustainable food system, which is why he continues to feature it on his menus, sourcing only from the best ranches that consider themselves animal welfare experts and stewards of the land. Read why Alex is proud to serve U.S. beef to his customers.
When I first moved to Colorado in 1999, I quickly fell in love with the ingredients that Colorado is known for— Palisade peaches, Rocky Ford melons and, of course, beef.
More than that, I fell in love with Colorado residents’ desire to learn about their food, where it comes from, and the farmers and ranchers behind it. For the past two decades, I’ve been committed to developing restaurant concepts like Mercantile dining & provision and Chook that better connect consumers to their food and its journey from pasture to plate. In 2018, I was awarded the James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest. This is an accolade that I am very proud of. But more than pride, to me it signifies a commitment to showcasing food in a way that is delicious as well as sustainable.
It may surprise you, then, that my commitment to sustainable food is exactly what compels me to feature beef on my menus. There’s been a growing chorus of beef naysayers, suggesting that it is ruining the environment. But as a chef with decades of training, I know that beef is key to maintaining a sustainable food system.
I continue to feature beef on my menus because I’ve taken the time to learn about raising beef, and about the people in the industry. Part of a chef’s job is sourcing quality ingredients, and it’s something I take very seriously. It’s all about people, planet and relationships. The ranches that raise the beef on my menus are committed to the environment. They view themselves as stewards of the land and animal welfare experts, first and foremost. They emphasize rotational grazing, which cycles nutrients through the soil, increasing moisture for the surrounding ecosystem. The best part? I don’t have to look very far for ranchers who share this commitment to the climate. More than 98% of U.S. farms and ranches are family-owned and have a shared mission of sustainability.
While I do have vegetable-centric dishes and dishes that feature other proteins on my menus, I know that beef plays a role in keeping these other ingredients healthy and plentiful. Ninety percent of what cattle eat is forage and plant leftovers that people can’t eat and would otherwise go to waste. But cattle are able to upcycle these human-inedible plants into high-quality protein for people. In the Southwest, much of our land is too rocky or arid to support growing food crops, but it is perfectly suited for cattle to graze on. Beef cattle help make use of land that would otherwise be unusable to feed our growing population. And they do so in a way that works with our natural landscapes.
I know first-hand what it feels like to raise products with sustainability, quality and consumers in mind. In 2009, I became a farmer myself when I opened Fruition Farms Creamery in Larkspur, Colorado. It has always been important to the Fruition team to share with our community what we’ve learned about the fundamentals of farming and creating animal products. Being a chef is hard but being a farmer has proven to be my toughest challenge yet in a career that is loaded with obstacles. While I don’t raise beef on my ten-acre farm, I know what it feels like to wake up each day to raise quality food for people. I dove into learning about sustainable farming headfirst, and I now apply this same curiosity and knowledge to every single ingredient that makes it into my kitchens.
Consumers deserve to know where their food comes from, and that is the guiding principle behind my menus. We’re all looking more closely at our environmental impacts and what role the food we eat plays. Because of this, I’ve done my research, I’ve visited ranches across the U.S., and I’ve even become a farmer myself. After all that, I still feel good about beef’s place in my kitchens. Contributing just 2 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (per the EPA), beef is not ruining the environment. Instead, it’s supporting and maintaining ecosystems so that we can have sustainable, well-balanced diets, inclusive of a variety of ingredients.
I love when diners ask me about the dishes they order and where the food comes from. A connection to and curiosity for food is what inspires me each day. I believe food is medicine, and that includes beef.
Alex Seidel is chef-owner of Fruition Restaurant, Mercantile dining & provision, Füdmill and Chook. Named Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef in 2010, he was also awarded the honor of 2018 James Beard Foundation Best Chef: Southwest. In addition to his restaurants, Seidel owns Fruition Farms Creamery, Colorado’s first artisan sheep’s milk creamery, located in Larkspur.
This article first appeared on Westword.