Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Slicing Meat So You Pay More

Cutting, slicing and slashing are words commonly used to describe decreasing the price of a product. But the beef industry of late has been intent on cutting and slicing to increase the prices you pay at the meat counter.

As reported in the New York Times article "Same Cow, No Matter How You Slice It," writer Kim Severson describes a recent effort on the part of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association to "dig around in the carcass and find muscles that, when separated and sliced in a certain way, were tender and tasty enough to be sold as a steak or a roast."

The study, costing $1.5 million and taking five years to complete, basically took traditionally cheap cuts of meat and, by cutting them differently and renaming them, justified an increase in their price. Tom Mylan, a Brooklyn butcher, said, "The difference in a good name is worth $3 or $4 a pound."

One example is the newly named "Denver steak" that, instead of being ground into hamburger and sold for $2.99 a pound, can be cooked like a steak and sold for $5.99 a pound. Traditional butchers are pooh-poohing this marketing ploy, saying European and American butchers have known about these cuts forever. One butcher said, "This is just a glorified chuck steak that they cleaned the junk off of."

A "meat scientist" in Nebraska ("Hi Mom! Hi Dad! Guess what I've decided to be? A meat scientist!"), one Chris Calkins, is quoted as saying, no doubt in his most chipper voice, "If we can dig out a muscle and use it in a new way that hasn't been done before, it seems to me we are obligated to give that muscle an identity so someone can understand what it is."

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