American Prairie Bison

Bad to the Bone

By Tracy Turi


“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover that you cannot eat money.”  Attributed to Native American, Alanis Obomsawin


Bad to the Bone!

Dan O’Brien of Wild Idea Buffalo Company in South Dakota believes that the time is right for Americans to eat more bison, particularly wild bison. They’re beginning to ask where their food comes from and how it is produced. They’re questioning how we treat the planet and what that means for future generations. He’s convinced that bison are a better choice than cattle because the bison is an herbivore, a selective grazer and a forager whose grazing habits are sustainable and regenerative and promote ecological balance on the Plains.

In 1806, Lewis and Clark noted that the bison were so plentiful along the North American continent that “The moving multitude ….Darkened the whole plains.” For thousands of years, millions of these majestic animals roamed the continent, coexisting with the Plains and Ute Indians, but by the end of the 19th century they were nearly extinct.


Sacred Coexistence

To the outsider the Plains might look like a monotonous landscape. Mark Twain saw it as a place of both loneliness and peace. Early frontiersmen compared its vastness to the ocean and saw it as a place where both beasts and savages needed conquering. But to the Indians this land was bountiful and its bison a sacred symbol of strength, generosity and protection. They believed the bison willingly gave their lives, so the tribes could prosper. In exchange, the Indians helped sustain the bison by strategically preparing the soil for them, selectively setting fires along the prairie to promote new growth. Their coexistence was spiritual.

The Plains and Ute Indians hunted bison for its meat as well as its hides, hair, bones, fat, and hooves, but they only killed what they needed for survival. In contrast, the frontiersman, and folk heroes like Buffalo Bill Cody, viewed the hunt as both a sport and a business for profit, often skinning animals for their hides and leaving the carcasses behind to rot, or firing on them for fun from trains as they crossed the prairie. Exterminating the bison even became part of a strategic plan to eliminate the Indians. General Sherman once said the best hope for quieting the Indian was the destruction of every bison (which he incorrectly referred to as buffalo).

My own family’s stories about growing up in Oklahoma Territory, confronting the Indians and the outlaws, conjured up exhilarating images of brave settlers and their blessed destiny. Particularly because their stories were punctuated with daily episodes of Bonanza, High Chaparral and Big Valley…. After all, who wouldn’t want to live on the Ponderosa with the Cartwrights (and Hop Sing!) or run the Barkley ranch with Barbara Stanwyck and her three sons! It’s hard not to end up with a schizophrenic penchant for glorifying these mythical narratives on the one hand and becoming outraged by the actual facts of our westward expansion on the other.

Today many people feel they are living in frightening, maybe even apocalyptic, times, particularly regarding the environment. Alarmist climate theories are nothing new. Malthusian Theory, Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomband Guy McPherson’s theory of near-term extinction, among others, never panned out. Whatever the case, most people agree that we have tended to treat the earth and its resources as our very own, giant candy store, and that among the cacophony of doomsdayers, sooner or later someone is bound to have it right.

It has taken over a century for conservationists to bring the bison back from near extinction and return them to their natural habitat, with mixed results. Ranchers like Dan O’Brien are hoping we are gradually shifting away from a conquest mentality, of trying to bend nature (and everything else) to our own will, in favor of a restoration mentality; and adapting to what has been given to us so that man and nature can coexist in mutually beneficial and respectful ways.




Although today’s bison are often a cattle-breed variety that are farm-raised and grain-finished in feedlots, a growing number of ranchers like O’Brien raise American Prairie Bison that roam freely and are grass-fed and grass-finished on wild grasses until they are field-harvested. The meat is 100% free of antibiotics, hormones and pesticides.

Bison, particularly grass-fed and grass-finished bison, is a very clean tasting red meat without the same aftertaste as beef. It is a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids, is leaner, higher in protein, and lower in fat and cholesterol (even lower than chicken!).

A four-ounce serving of roast bison contains approximately 32 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat and 1 gram of saturated fat (5 percent the daily value of saturated fat given a 2,000-calorie diet).



Bison Ribeye



Tracy Turi, is a trained chef, recipe developer and culinary trend watcher. She has a Masters in Education and has taught nutrition and culinary skills to area children since the 1990s. She is also an avid home cook and a mother to four children. She lives in Monmouth County, NJ.