Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Bigger cattle are changing the way we eat beef

American cows have gotten bigger and bigger over the years, since cattle farmers say it's more efficient and cheaper. The average cow weighted about 1,000 pounds in the mid-1970s, but was 1,363 lbs. in 2016, an increase of about nine pounds a year. And that's changing the way your steaks look. "As U.S. beef cattle have ballooned in size, experts say, restaurants, grocery stores and meat processors have had to get creative in how they slice and dice them up. Increasingly, that means thinner steaks — as well as more scrap meat and 'alternative' cuts designed to make the most of a bigger animal," Caitlin Dewey reports for The Washington Post.

Chart from The Washington Post
But there's evidence that Americans don't like the changes to their steaks, which could hurt beef sales. Josh Maples, an agricultural economist at Mississippi State University, told Dewey, "If you buy a steak, you have a picture in your mind of what it should look like . . . If you make that thinner, or you cut it in half — for many people, that ruins the eating experience."

The problem lies in the increasing diameter of the cows' muscles. An upcoming study in Food Policy says they result in huge, expensive portions if they're cut to the traditional thickness, so the easiest solution for butchers, restaurants and grocery stores has been to cut the steaks thinner. Others, like popular steakhouse chain Texas Roadhouse, cut the steaks to the traditional thickness, but cut bits off the edges to put in kebab or chili dishes.

With cattle continuing to get larger, Texas A&M University animal sciences professor Davey Griffin says consumers will simply have to adjust, Dewey reports.

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