“An animal dies so we can have this nutrition to enjoy. So please enjoy the nutrition and be appreciative,” she said during a March interview at her central Nebraska feedyard as she recounted her experience with a group of visiting fourth graders who asked how she gets the meat off her steers without killing them.

Freelance Writer and Photographer
Bunting is a freelance writer in eastern Pennsylvania.

Taking the students’ question in stride, she focused on respect and appreciation because those are guiding principles as she runs her feedyard and writes her blog, “Feedyard Foodie.” In fact, she blogged recently on her range of emotions about consumer trust after a long day of third-party animal welfare verification. And she has a weekly series going right now (Love Food Friday) consisting of tips to avoid food waste and appreciate nutrition.

A Dartmouth-educated psychology major and admitted animal lover, Burkholder enjoys working with the cattle at Will Feed, Cozad, Nebraska. She is proud to produce curious, confident cattle that grade well and provide nutrient-dense beef for consumers. Even though the blog takes at least 10 to 15 additional hours a week of her time – and opens her up to some unkind criticisms by activists – it has been largely rewarding.

Lately, Burkholder has been writing about the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and she wrote an official letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on the unintended consequences of the nutrition politics that seek to further demote the role of beef in the American diet.

cattle herd

Just when the more than 40 years of a “heart-healthy diet” for the masses has come under fire with the New York Times bestseller The Big Fat Surprise, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) has turned to a subjective measure of “sustainability” in its dietary report that could govern food and nutrition programs – including school lunches – for the next five years.


First things first: The Big Fat Surprise author Nina Teicholz, an investigative food reporter, compiled nine years of research covering thousands of studies and many interviews with nutrition scientists to discover the unintended consequences of 40 years of the heart-healthy diet.

After reading the book and corresponding with Teicholz, Burkholder blogged, “The diet-heart hypothesis (coined by a biologist, Ancel Keys, in the early 1960s) proclaimed that a low-fat and high-carbohydrate diet provided the basis for good health. Although not proved through clinical trials, the hypothesis gained support from the federal government and provided the basis for mainstream dietary advice during the ensuing decades.”

Burkholder detailed the facts in a recent blog entry entitled “Perhaps it’s time to stop apologizing for fat.”

“The culture of the American diet has shifted dramatically,” she wrote. “According to USDA, the consumption of grains (41 percent), vegetables (23 percent) and fruits (13 percent) rose significantly from 1970-2005, while red meat (-22 percent), milk (-33 percent) and eggs (-17 percent) fell dramatically. Overall carbohydrate intake for Americans rose with low-fat starches, and vegetable oil took the place of animal protein and fat in the diet. Animal protein lovers shifted from beef to chicken, and many traded whole-fat dairy for skim milk and margarine, thereby forsaking nutrition density for lower saturated fat options.

“All of this occurred during a time in the United States when obesity rates more than doubled (15-32 percent), the prevalence of heart failure, cancer and stroke all increased, and the rate of diabetes increased from less than 1 percent to 11 percent.”

beef cow

These are heavy-duty facts, and if we look back on how the DGAC has altered the dietary culture in the past, its current recommendations regarding beef bring even more trepidation.

As a mom of three teenagers, Burkholder has empathy for questioning parents.

“I talk about how I struggle as a parent of teenagers,” she says. “They have so much pressure. They worry what they look like and how thin they are. They are questioning and frustrated also. Health teachers ask them who drinks whole milk. At home we drink whole milk. At school they are told it’s not healthy.”

The struggle for good nutrition is tough enough without government guidelines adding to the confusion. Burkholder notes the importance of healthy fat in the diets of growing children and the importance of iron in the diets of young women.

“It is frustrating as a parent, struggling, questioning,” she relates. “Reading Teicholz’ book, and about the politics of nutrition, I started getting fired up on this deal.”

Here are just some of the conclusions Teicholz highlights in The Big Fat Surprise after nearly a decade of research:

  1. Causal associations between red meat consumption and heart disease are minimal.
  2. The HDL (good cholesterol) is increased by the saturated fat found in animal protein.
  3. Animal fat is nutrient dense, packed with protein, energy and essential vitamins and minerals. Plus, it helps the vitamins and minerals of other foods eaten together to be better absorbed by the human body.
  4. There are no health studies to learn the effect of liquid vegetable oils on health. We do know that the process of solidifying vegetable oils creates very unhealthy trans fats. Butter and red meat do not contain these trans fats.
  5. Insulin levels are elevated by constant carb consumption – not by animal fat and protein. Furthermore, as insulin levels are raised, the body is less able to digest its own stored fat created by – you guessed it – carbs!  end mark

Visit health.gov to comment on the proposed Dietary Guidelines by May 8. It is easy to do electronically.

Read Anne Burkholder’s blog, Feedyard Foodie.

Read more about the The Big Fat Surprise and its author on our sister site, Progressive Dairyman.

PHOTO 1: Anne Burkholder did not always run a feedyard. The urban Floridian married a farmer and moved to central Nebraska. A mother of three sports-minded teenage daughters, she writes a blog called Feedyard Foodie. Photos by Sherry Bunting.