Two Beef Articles for You to Chew Over

The first is a well-reasoned piece on the decision by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association to suspend discussions on its proposed governance restructuring. As I’ve said in the past, critics of this proposal are missing the big picture, and as Beef magazine writer Troy Marshall puts it, “It’s way past time that we demand more and let it be known that this type of nonsense is beyond counterproductive; it’s harmful to our very survival.”

Marshall’s comments stem from what he calls a “meaningless” decision by the Executive Committee of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board to call for a complete separation between NCBA and the Federation of State Beef Councils. “This is the kind of nonsense the industry can no longer afford. The decision was meaningless in that this was in response to NCBA’s governance and structural rule changes that would have allowed federation members to vote on certain policy issues,” Marshall writes. “Never once had it been proposed that checkoff dollars would be used on policy issues.”

The second item for your consideration is an article from the Atlantic suggesting that our conventional wisdom that “fat equals flavor” in beef is erroneous. Making some sound scientific observations regarding the role of phospholipids in beef flavor, freelancer Mark Schatzker nonetheless goes off the deep end in his criticism of traditional grain-fed beef: “Now we fatten cattle in feedlots on steamed, flaked corn and bulk them up with hormones, antibiotics, and drugs. The USDA asked for fat, and the industry has become exceedingly good at giving it to them. Beef today looks good, but it doesn’t have much flavor.”

Blaming the USDA grading system for our perspective on the role of intramuscular fat in making our steaks juicy, tender, and flavorful, the writer spends the better part of the article dissecting thirty-year old research conducted in England on the role of trim and marbling on flavor, versus “invisible fats” known as phospholipids. Based on that single study, the author concludes that we’re all wrong about where flavor comes from, and if we’d just consume locally raised grass-fed beef, we’d be enjoying the most wonderful steaks ever!

The author, however, takes exactly three lines to obfuscate the entire point of his article: “Before anyone runs out and declare war on marbling, however, keep in mind that fat isn’t the enemy of a good steak, either. It may not add much in the way of beefy flavor, but it does make a steak richer, smoother, and juicier. So as far as that lean piece of venison goes, I suggest frying it in butter.” In other words, phospholipids are critical to flavor, but without the marbling he criticized throughout the piece, we’d be eating really flavorful shoe leather.