M&Ms and Nanograms and Beef

My Generation

Illinois cattle feeder uses M&Ms to help Chicago moms visualize hormone levels in steak, potatoes and birth control pills.

Published on: October 10, 2013

Two years ago, I watched Mike Martz explain marbling and steak selection to the first class of Illinois Farm Families Field Moms and for two years, I told anyone who would listen that it was one of the best demonstrations I'd ever seen.

Until this year.

Mike outdid himself. Last time around, he talked about hormones in steak and how a 3 oz. steak from a steer not treated with growth promotants (hormones) had 1.3 nanograms of estrogen in it; how a 3 oz. steak from a steer treated with hormones had 1.9 nanograms of estrogen in it. And then he pointed out that the baked potato sitting next to the steak contains 225 ng of estrogen. And a birth control pill? 29,400 nanograms of estrogen.

From left to right: M&Ms represent nanograms of estrogen in a single birth control pill, a baked potato, a steak from a steer treated with growth-promotants, a steak from an untreated steer.
From left to right: M&Ms represent nanograms of estrogen in a single birth control pill, a baked potato, a steak from a steer treated with growth-promotants, a steak from an untreated steer.

This year, he borrowed a page from Nebraska cattle feeder Joan Ruskamp, a Nebraska CommonGround volunteer. Mike took four jars, enlisting the help of his grandson, and filled each with an M&M to represent each nanogram in the following: a jar for a treated steer, an untreated steer, a baked potato and a birth control pill. And he noted the jar representing the birth control pill held 980 M&Ms…and it would take 30 jars to equal the amount of estrogen in a birth control pill.

It's a brilliant visual and it drives home the point: you simply can't eat enough steak to equal the amount of hormones many women take every single day in a birth control pill.

"To blame myself as a cattle producer for these two? That's way out of line," Mike said.

It resonated with the Chicago Field Moms, too. They've blogged here and here and here about it.

Check out the difference between those last two jars. And that's what we're making such a fuss about?