Why Ted Turner is big on bison

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 11/18/2013, 12:04 p.m.
He's been called "Captain Outrageous," "The Mouth of the South," and this month, Ted Turner turns 75. Learn more about ...
Piers Morgan interviews Ted Turner in New York, New York on May 8, 2012.

By Eatocracy Editors


File photo of Ted Turner.

File photo of Ted Turner.

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

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.