BEEF IN AMERICA: IN, OUT AND BACK AGAIN
Meat has always had a big reputation. Our goal with this post is to take you through these transformations. Like the best tour guides, we’ll pick out the juicy highlights, provide enlightening commentary, then take you right back home.
BC-1492 – We eat what we can find and forage. Meat provides the energy-dense nutrition needed to grow bigger brains (supplemented by nuts and plants when hunters come home empty-handed.) Civilizations grow and…
1493 – Columbus brings Spanish cattle to the New World. These breeds evolve to be hardier than their European cousins, due to an ever-changing food supply. But we catch on to farming pretty quickly, so…
1920 – By the early twentieth century, food scarcity is no longer an issue. The standard diet: meat and potatoes.
Avg. annual meat consumption in the nineteenth century: 150 – 200lbs per person
Avg. annual meat consumption today: Less than 100lbs per person
Source: The Atlantic
But when the Great Depression hits, beef consumption plummets – a decision that is out of our control.
1929-1939 – The stock market crashes and over 750,000 farms are lost through bankruptcy. Dust storms and drought make things even worse. No longer a practical dietary option, beef becomes a luxury available only to a select few.
When a New Deal is offered, we take it and survive. So when D-Day comes…
1940-1945 – Meat wins the war. Or at least that’s what advertisements and posters cry as rationing, which begins in 1940, turns sacrifice into a symbol of patriotism.
Vintage Ad Swift & Company, 1943 Source: EnvisioningtheAmericanDream.com
1950’s & 1960’s – A car in every garage and a steak on every plate is the image of a prosperous, peacetime America. As the HuffPost reports,
“Red meat, preferably beef, was highly valued as a prime source of energy, especially for the working man, and its presence on a plate helped to define the food as a proper meal.”
Industry reaction: "Let's get that meat to market faster!"
1957– The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the first synthetic growth hormone for cattle – DES.
The Western Producer, May 1956. Source: DesDaughter.com
DES is taken off the market in 1972 when studies link it to Adenocarcinoma, but it spurs the development of a number of growth hormones still in use today. So meat reigns supreme until...
1976 – Beef consumption reaches its peak in America.
So what happened? Anti-establishment rebellion? Growing environmental and cultural awareness? Vegetarians? According to the former owner of a health food store who lived through these changing times, it was all of these things.
“The Hippies in the 60's questioned everything: food, clothes, hair. For the first time since the war, young people looked at themselves and their surroundings and decided that grown-ups didn't know everything. It took tons of corn and grain to feed cows so why not just eat the corn and grain and not the cows. By the 70's vegetarianism was in full swing.”
- Carol Gray, 82, Virginia
Meanwhile, there are health concerns rising to the surface that drive the anti-meat message home.
1984 – Studies suggest that red meat consumption is directly related to an augmented risk of cardiovascular diseases.
1996 – The New York Times reports that eating red meat and animal fat increases the risk of colon cancer, additional reports link red meat to a higher risk of pancreas, breast, prostate, and kidney cancers.
The verdict is in – “You’re eating too much red meat!.... We think."
(It turns out the studies use beef given growth hormones and synthetic chemicals, then group fresh beef with highly-processed meats like hot dogs and bologna. Other studies don’t take Western lifestyle factors – smoking, sedentary jobs, obesity – into account. Still, the damage is done.)
So what are we eating? Chicken. And increasingly, plant-based meat.
2000’s - Today – From the lowly veggie burger of the late 90's to the “realistic” faux meat of today, meat alternatives are increasing in number and availability – and sales aren’t far behind. In the words of the Beyond Meat brand, “Why do you need an animal to make meat?”
But there’s another movement today, one that takes beef out of the lab and brings it back to the pasture…
2013 – Pre Brands begins with the desire to offer the best-tasting beef that’s the best for you – and that you can feel pretty great about eating. (Sustainable, low environmental impact, high standards of animal welfare.) It does this not by reinventing beef, but by taking it back to the beginning.
PS. That health food store owner eats beef again. Why?
“I love a steak I can sink my teeth into. It’s fulfilling. I love the bean stuff but there’s nothing like a pink, juicy, piece of grilled meat sizzling on my plate.”
- Carol Gray