November 17th, 2013
04:00 PM ET
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He's been called "Captain Outrageous," "The Mouth of the South," and this month, Ted Turner turns 75. Learn more about the founder of 24-hour news: Watch "Ted Turner: The Maverick Man" on CNN Sunday 7 p.m. ET.

"Eat it to save it" may seem like a counterintuitive strategy for preserving an uncommon species, but it may be key to their survival. It's a rallying cry for advocacy groups like Slow Food, activists and chefs who believe that the loss of biodiversity in our diets is a recipe for disaster. CNN founder Ted Turner is at the forefront of the movement, with his campaign to acclimate American palates to bison meat.

As chef Jay Pierce wrote in an Eatocracy op-ed, "If you want to preserve the taste of heirloom produce varieties, such as Arkansas Black, Newtown Pippin, and Ginger Gold apples, for future generations, you must buy them and eat them or the mechanics of capitalism will instruct farmers that there is no room in the marketplace for their product, and they will move on to something else, like Granny Smith or Red Delicious Apples or sub-divided exurban residential plots.

He continued, "The same principle applies to Purple Cherokee tomatoes, Lady Cream peas, Cushaw squash, sorghum, and more. The tastes will be lost, the flavors hybridized out of existence in an effort to prolong shelf-life and increase shippability from distant corners of the globe. Our tastes will be homogenized and, I think, our lives less full and rich."

Farmer Joe Henderson takes that tactic with Randall Lineback cows, a heritage breed with an ancestry dating back almost 400 years to colonial America. He told CNN, "Every endangered species must have a purpose to survive, and this animal’s job is [being] 520 lbs of meat to some of the greatest chefs in the world and ending up on your plate."

While bison is no longer in danger of extinction, as it had been well into the 20th century, it's still not exactly a standard item on most people's shopping list or popping up on fast food and corner burger joints' menus. Ted Turner would like to change that.

The 75-year-old CNN founder has the world's biggest bison herd, with 55,000 head living on his 2 million acres spread over 28 properties, including 17 ranches in Nebraska, Kansas, Montana, New Mexico and South Dakota, as well as in Argentina, making him the second second biggest landowner in North America. Since 2002, he has opened 44 Ted's Montana Grill restaurants in 16 states, with a menu featuring bison nachos, bison chili, bison pot roast, bison short ribs, bison meatloaf, bison steaks and signature burgers - available with either beef or, you guessed it, bison meat.

To Turner, this is more than a culinary choice - it's a calling. Bison are the largest land mammal in North America, with bulls weighing up to 2,000 pounds and cows up to 1,000 pounds. And their grazing is said to be beneficial to the environment, both with the aerating and re-seeding action of their hooves, and the copious amounts of waste material (a.k.a. "fertilizer) they leave behind. Advocates also tout the health benefits of bison meat: it's grass fed, leaner than beef, raised without hormones and treated with limited antibiotics.

Turner's efforts to attune the American palate to the pleasures of bison meat have met with success, helping to pull the breed back from the brink of extinction, but there's still a good deal of work to do. In the wake of the recent early blizzards that felled cattle 70,000 head of cattle in the Western states, heavily-furred and adaptable bison fared just fine in the cold weather. As a recent CNN article notes, "Turner suggested sending a few bison calves out to the cattle ranchers who were hit hardest by the storm. He didn't see it as charity. He viewed it as a smart business move."

But not everyone is aboard the bison train. Montana senators introduced multiple anti-bison bills to the state Senate, allowing among other things, livestock officials to exterminate all wild bison and landowners to kill any bison that sets foot on private property, largely citing concerns from farmers who found their land threatened. (Turner's bison are ranch raised.)

“Why do you want to spread this creeping cancer, these woolly tanks, around the state of Montana? We’ve got zero tolerance left in our bones,” said state senator John Brenden.

All 14 bills were defeated.

Turner still has another battle to face in getting the American public to forego their familiar beef in favor of this big, fuzzy beast. Learn more about Turner's philosophy - and cooking techniques - in the video above, and let us know where you stand on bison.

Previously:
To save this endangered breed, eat it
Ted Turner wants to go to heaven
Chefs with Issues: Buying food is a political act

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Filed under: Business and Farming News • Farms • Heirloom • Sustainability


soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. Mick Robinson

    I have had the privilege of eating bison meat on occasion. It is very good and comparable to beef. I doubt if most people could tell the difference if not told about it first.

    June 5, 2014 at 5:06 pm |
  2. AleeD®

    Eaten it rare and can't tell a difference between it and beef. Good sheet mon.

    November 21, 2013 at 6:52 am |
  3. Jdizzle McCrappedMyPants ♫♫

    Beef and Bison are BOTH tasty

    November 20, 2013 at 10:02 am |
  4. Mark L

    Bison burgers are good! Less fat than beef and much better tasting than turkey burgers

    November 19, 2013 at 3:34 pm |
  5. Linda

    Bison filets are the best meat I ever had. They are lean and delicous with minimal seasoning (only needs salt and pepper-nothing else!) My first try was at one of Ted's restaurants (Ted please bring more locations to Ohio!) and I was hooked. I have found a local buffalo farm to buy steaks, burgers and roasts. it's leaner than chicken and doesn't have all the disease and hormones that commercial chickens do. I HIGHLY recommend that everyone give it a try. YUM!!!!!!!

    November 18, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • Moe Wright

      There is a lot more to this. I expect zero clicks, but this is the truth about bison: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/

      November 18, 2013 at 8:41 pm |
  6. RC

    Hell yes I'd eat it. I've had Bison burgers before-yummy!

    November 18, 2013 at 11:04 am |
    • Moe Wright

      There is a lot more to this. I expect zero clicks, but this is the truth about bison: http://www.buffalofieldcampaign.org/

      November 18, 2013 at 8:44 pm |
  7. ryry

    whelp, id eat that sh!t and would like to thank ted turner for showing me that such hairy beasts can be so tasty.

    November 18, 2013 at 9:00 am |

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