In the late 1800’s Iowa farmer Jesse Hiatt discovered a mutant apple tree on his farm that produced a delicious and appealing bright red apple. Growers soon discovered that the shiny new fruit was especially coveted by consumers. Over the years, apples were bred to be brighter and brighter. You see, growers not only enjoyed the beauty for it’s attractiveness to the buyer, but also noticed it’s ability to be picked before it was ripe and it’s durability in transit. By the 1990’s, growers had the red delicious apple glowing so brightly on store shelves that it almost looked fake. The industry had reached it’s goal, after all, “This is what shoppers want.” The problem was that breeders and growers were so sure they knew what was best for the consumer that they forgot one very important aspect of food production; taste. Millions of trees were producing beautiful apples that tasted like, well, cork. Between 1997 and 2000, US apple producers had to throw away over 800 million dollars worth of red “delicious” apples.
What do apples have to do with waning beef demand? I’m afraid the American beef producer has gone down the same road as the apple grower.
Sometimes I do my greatest thinking when I wake up in the middle of the night. Last night I woke up at 3am with an epiphany. Instead of producing beef that consumers want, we have been listening to so called “experts” tell us that beef needs to be cheap and lean. In pursuing our goal, we have flooded our own market with cheap imported beef that tastes no better than yard bird and chews like leather. We have worked our way into producing an inferior product that consumers don’t want in our efforts to grow what we hear is appealing.
Now wait, before you get your feathers all ruffled, let me explain how I arrived at this conclusion. It all started with a podcast I listened to last week. The show was a production by a farmer who was interviewing a guy who a lot of you would call a citiot. (your first mistake in producing for the consumer) These guys go by the Twitter handles of @sf28430 aka Skarkfarmer and @snarkosaurous. Fictional names but very real people whom I have virtually gotten to know on the “tweeter”. Snark is a Chicago commodity trader who cares about the inner workings of ag. He has even fed a few cattle and apparently received a good education (or as I call it a schooling) in the beef business. During the interview, Snarko said something I’d never thought about. “People in the city don’t care how much their groceries cost.” What??? I grew up in a relatively poor household in which cost was a consideration in every purchase. Even after I was grown and married, when I went to the store with my wife, I calculated everything out by cost per ounce and bought the best value…except when it came to beef. We had eaten home raised corn fed beef even when I was a kid. If we didn’t raise it ourselves, we made a trade with a neighbor who did. Early in my married life, even when I was supplementing our protein cache with my daily hunting limit of pheasant, we still had good beef.
Another enlightening thing that Snarko brought up was the fact that some of his friends actually preferred chicken over beef. I have to wonder if they are getting the best available bovine in their grocer’s meatcase. When my daughter went to college, she had a roommate who said she didn’t like beef. My daughter was perplexed by this until she bought meat at the grocery store and realized that what is in the grocery refrigerator was not the same as what was in mom and dad’s icebox. Perhaps some folks have only tasted good beef at a restaurant, where it’s $30 a pound.
Beef imported from other parts of the world just ain’t the same animal as we can raise here in North America. I’ve heard the argument that we don’t produce enough cheap low quality cuts, therefore need to import that deficit. To that I say HOGWASH! Those low quality cuts are to blame for waning beef demand. They cause people to think they prefer chicken or pork to beef. It sure bothers me that the same beef board that takes U.S. producer money to promote our beef is one of the biggest promoters of trade agreements that not only flood our markets with foreign beef, but flood it with an inferior product.
Lastly, I’d like to address the issue of lean. Even ads for beef run by the checkoff tout lean beef. As a self proclaimed aficionado, I can assure you, lean beef doesn’t taste as good as marbled beef. Why do you think wagyu sells for $100 per pound? People who idolize lean don’t even eat beef! Misguided doctors may be promoting the lean thing, but it’s not what people want. Open your eyes and look around, does it look to you like Americans are fixated on low fat?
Thanks for reading,
I don’t really know why I felt compelled to write this. I’m probably just going to make folks angry. If you think I may have something here, maybe you can nominate me for the Nobel beef prize. If you think I’m an idiot, please say it kindly and quietly.
Sharkfarmer’s podcast can be found at sharkfarmer.libsyn.com