Solon students participate in bioethical taste-test

Teacher Shawn Cornally talks to his Social Issues in Biology, or Bioethics, students about the differences between corn-
Teacher Shawn Cornally talks to his Social Issues in Biology, or Bioethics, students about the differences between corn-fed and grass-fed steaks during a cookout at Solon High School on Wednesday, March 2, 2011, in Solon. The students judged, in a taste test, which was better. Students also discussed the ethical and economic considerations for raising beef cattle on corn. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

The students had two hamburger sliders on their plate. Both came from animals who were the same age and weight.

However, one cow was cornfed, the other grass-fed.

“This is a taste-test,” Shawn Cornally said. “Which one tastes better?”

The experiment in Cornally’s Social Issues of Biology, or Bioethics, class at Solon High School is the latest in a series of lessons about the ethics in food production and consumption.

“I want my students to think more about what they eat,” said Cornally, who also is a personal chef. “Food is very important to me. There’s nothing more biology than what we’re made of.”

Wednesday’s cookout was prompted by the students after a viewing of “King Corn.” The 2007 documentary, filmed in Iowa, tells the story of two friends, one acre of corn and the subsidized crop that makes America a fast-food nation.

The movie stresses the health effects of a cornfed cow versus one who grazes on grass. The grass-fed cow lives a healthier life. Does that lifestyle effect taste, too?

“I think there’s a little difference,” said senior Zach Hughes, 18. “Cornfed burgers are what we’ve been eating for a long time, so we’re used to it, but the grass-fed tastes better. They kind of fall apart in your mouth.”

Claudia Schultz, 16, couldn’t taste the difference between the two burgers, but said their textures were different.

“I feel better eating the grass-fed burger,” Schultz, a sophomore, said. “I just feel organic is better for everyone — for people, the animals and the environment.”

But that comes with a price tag. A pound of hamburger from a cornfed cow costs $3.69 at Hy-Vee. A pound of organic hamburger from a grass-fed cow at New Pioneer Co-op costs $5.99.

Cornally also bought three rib-eye steaks for the class — the cornfed rib-eye was $7.99 a pound and the grass-fed rib-eye $16.99. He also purchased a hybrid rib-eye, meaning the cow was raised on grass then fed corn to fatten up before being butchered, for $13.99 a pound.

Students who ate the steak voted in favor of the hybrid and grass-fed rib-eyes over the cornfed. Grass-fed burgers also topped the cornfed burgers, although there wasn’t a strong voice for or against either burger.

“It’s hard to compare what we know to what we could have,” junior Garrett Borger, 17, said. “I think if we ate grass-fed burgers more, we’d like it more.”

“With the economy the way it is now, maybe it’s better to go with the ground beef that’s cheaper,” junior Michael Redlinger, 17, said.

Because Cornally’s class focuses on ethics, there were no right or wrong answers. In fact, class ended with more questions than answers. Some students said they didn’t know if they’d continue to eat meat from cornfed cows, Others admitted they’ll have fast food burgers tomorrow.“My goal is to educate,” Cornally said. “I want my students to know the facts. I don’t know if this will change the way they eat, but I hope it will help them be more aware of their food.”

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