Is Whole Foods Beef Grass Fed?
Look for the Grass Fed Label
Whole Foods carefully cultivates an impression that it is a responsible company, with an interest in the environment, treating its employees well, and providing healthy food. It would make sense to assume that the beef it sells is grass fed. But the truth is not so simple.
While Whole Foods does usually offer some cuts of grass fed beef and occasionally grass fed lamb as well, it overwhelmingly sells conventional grain fed beef. Unless the beef has a label that specifically says grass fed, you can assume it is not.
When Whole Foods Beef is Better and When It’s Not
When it comes to conventional beef - again, most of what Whole Foods sells - I am very skeptical that there is anything special about it, because Whole Foods is opaque about what companies it sources beef from. Until they disclose the specific vendors they work with and provide traceability there is no reason to think the beef they sell is substantially different from what you can find in any other supermarket, despite being more expensive.
The grass fed beef Whole Foods sells can’t be so easily summed up, because it is sourced from a variety of farms, usually named on the label. This is better than the generic grass fed products found in other supermarkets or sold by companies like Butcherbox, which are generally low quality imports. If you do find grass fed labelled beef at Whole Foods, at least take a minute to look up the farm it comes from.
Update 09/21/22: Since writing this I have had a couple opportunities to check out the Whole Foods Meat case. It now appears that the grass fed meat is entirely from Australia - literally on the other side of the world - rather than from domestic farms. I recommend looking elsewhere if at all possible, perhaps starting with the directory of local crass fed beef farms linked in the next paragraph.
Taking the Next Step
There’s nothing wrong with buying grass fed beef from Whole Foods, assuming it comes from a good farm. But despite its marketing, Whole Foods is not really much of a friend to small farms. Though they work to make it seem special, most of their beef comes from conventional cows that have gone through feedlots and been slaughtered at large plants.
I do worry that the general aura of wholesomeness tricks people who are looking to support local agriculture into thinking buying from Whole Foods is the same as buying from a real farm. At the end of the day, the best way to get high quality, responsibly raised grass fed beef is to buy directly from a farm you can visit. If you’re wondering how to find a nearby farm and what questions to ask the farmer, check out this guide to finding local grass fed beef.