When it comes to American exceptionalism, we Americans have long had an exceptionally voracious appetite for red meat, making us the proud leader of the free, meat-eatin’ world.
In this land of democracy, meat has reigned as king.
But recently after much maligning in the media, red meat is being dethroned as a nutritional superfood. Is this meats denouement?
Long before it was vilified, the conventional wisdom of my childhood assured us that “ meat was what made America great” and mid-century Americans were on a cholesterol high.
What’s So Great About America? Meat!
Meat, ads proudly proclaimed, was the American way. It serves everybody!
Nothing was more American than a back yard barbecue when slapping a hunk of meat on a Weber grill proclaimed to the world “I’m proud to be an American.” In the suburban summers of my childhood, the sizzling smell of prime democracy perpetually hung in the air
“No other nation in the world,” my barbecue bound-father often boasted, while carving a first off-the- grill sirloin into juicy slices (another ready to go, is ‘waitin behind the first) “is blessed with the amount of good, rich, nourishing meat!”
In this land of plenty one thing we had plenty of was rich, red meat.
With WWII meat shortages and rationing still a fresh memory, mid-century Americans were more than ready to play catch up.
The pulse-quickening excitement of a sizzling steak brought out the patriot in a man.
Way before the current war on meat, meat itself had gone to war.
“Meat helped win the war by keeping us healthy and vigorous. American meat,” my Army veteran Dad would say nearly choked up, “had done its job!”
Meat was our secret weapon – our arsenal of democracy.
Meat Will Win the War
Food we were told during WWII, will win the war and no food was more vital to victory than meat, which became a materiel of war as soon as the hostilities began. Morale boosting meat was needed most to fight on and to win on.
War made a staggering demand on American livestock and meat industry.
In a never-ending barrage of ads and articles the American meat industry reminded us, “that supplying plenty of meat for the fighting men and gallant allies was their first and foremost job.”
Uncle Sam went on a shopping spree, buying up all the top quality meat supplies for our 10 million hungry boys overseas so that meant for those on the home front there would be fewer of the familiar choicest cuts.
Along with sugar, and coffee, gone were the all American Sunday roasts deliciously browned and larded with fat.
When Meat Doesn’t Make the Meal
For Americans who abided by the notion that “meat makes the meal” thriftiness and ingenuity had to be learned when it came to mealtime.
“Waste not the meat” stated one headline. “Lest not forget the ounce of meat we save is an ounce of insurance that meat is being used more effectively as a weapon of war.”
Where’s the Beef?
Making a little look like a lot particularly when it came to meat was the homemakers rallying cry as they were encouraged to make the most of meat.
Home front housewives like my grandmother, were bombarded with information on how to keep precious meat from spoiling, learning to rely on meat extenders and tips on cooking meat in ways that reduced shrinkage.
The American Meat Institute tried to convince housewives that less expensive cuts that were available had the same fine nutrition as that Sunday roast, providing the same energy, stamina and vitality.
As much as her mother tried to dress them up, my teen age mother Betty wasn’t too thrilled trying the less familiar, often tougher, thriftier cuts of beef.
Though today you pay a premium price for it, free range, grass-fed beef was called utility beef in the 1940’s because it was cheap, plentiful, point free, and oh yes, tough.
Articles coaxed us to try utility beef, untried by most housewives, but long used in economical households. Utility or grade C beef, it seems, was cut from cadaverous-looking cattle that have forlornly roamed the range, feeding only on grass, the poor chemically deprived souls.
Choice beef comes from contented cattle that spend 2-7 months in a spa like feeder lots where they dine extravagantly on corn or silage.
Grass feeding produces lean, less choice meat. Corn feeding produces fat, well-marbled cattle – and fat, well marbled people.
Blue Print For a Post War Product
As the war began winding down, The American Meat Industry whetted our appetites waxing poetically about meat painting a rosy post war vision of juicy steaks and standing rib roasts.
“Here,” they teased a carnivorous craving public “is a wartime arsenal with a peace time future.”
“In the not too distant future, the kind of living that has made our country famous all over the world will return to our land.”
With high cholesterol levels and heart attacks far from our minds, they promised…“Final victory will hasten the day when there will be plenty of meat for everybody.”
Post War Promises
For four long years, Americans had rolled up their sleeves and had wholeheartedly cooperated.
They had done with less. They conserved and extended their share of meat in every possible way so that our fighting boys and fighting allies could be assured supplies.
But with victory achieved, it was payback time and Americans were ready to cash in on those post war promises of picture-perfect prime rib.
Meat All American Hero
When red meat returned to the home front it was lionized as a hero – it had done its part for victory. Along with other war heroes, it took its rightful place marching in the victory parade, ribbons and medals festooned on its rump roast.
“Meat is life,” proclaimed one advertisement reverentially. “When the war is over is it any wonder that as meat moves back to the home plate we look on meat with new regard not just for its enjoyment, but as a nutritional cornerstone of life.”
Meats esteemed place in the red white and blue American diet was assured.
Leaders of the Free Meat Eating World
When the boys came marching home from the war, it wasn’t for some sissy cheesy carrot ring casserole, but for a he-man steak. Our new post war wealth allowed us to buy large chunks of steaks and chops. And binge buying we did, filling up our new deep freezers with all manner of meat.
The rest of the world still reeling from the horrors of war, its industrial base shattered, its farmlands untended or blown to bits, could only sit back in amazement and watch.
While the allies were busy carving up the post war world, Americans were living high on the hog, carving up their fat larded roasts.
And what well marbled, tender meat it was.
DES – It’s No Wonder
When hormones were introduced into livestock production after the war, the meat industry was fairly salivating .
The manufacturers of diethylstilbestrol, known as DES, hailed the event as the most important moment in the history of food production, right up there with frozen food.
And my father couldn’t agree more.
His cousin a Junior executive with Eli Lilly, knew the benefits and importance of this breakthrough and explained it to my mother:
“Because it produced more fat and more weight on the animals,” Cousin Albert marveled,”and thus more profits for the meat industry, DES, rightfully so, was being used on more than 90 % of American cattle. It was short of a miracle.”
This new wonder drug he promised, “would give meat juicy tenderness that cannot fail-the best eatingest…melt in your mouth goodness cut with a fork tenderness ever served!”
Are You Sure You’re Right in Liking Meat?
Baby boomers born into this golden age of meat consumption would grow up consuming this sizzling DES deliciousness folks don’t forget.
Decades later those unfortunate people who would develop cancer wouldn’t forget either.
Although the carcinogenicity of the synthetic DES in test animals was known by 1938 it was approved in 1947 by the USDA. With profits sky-high , it’s no wonder.
By the time I was born, meats place in Americas life was as firmly attached to their dinner plates as the plaque lining their arteries would become.
Next: When baby Sally says mmm she means meat. It’s never too early to start ’em on a life time of eating.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.