In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

Chefs and Foodies elevate lowly cuts like belly, tongue and oxtail to pricy new heights

Gentrification as I understand it means a bunch of people “discover” a declining neighborhood with great architecture.  Coffee shops and upscale cupcakeries are opened, arty folk start hanging out and buying up buildings, prices go up and before you know it, the people who’ve lived there forever are now the ones who don’t really belong.

How does gentrification apply to meat?  It used to be that wealthy people ate the expensive steaks and roasts and slaves, tenant farmers and poor folk made the most they could of what was left. Depending on how enthusiastic and creative your immigrant ancestors were in the kitchen, you either have fond memories of sublime stews and rich saucy dishes or scary ones of being forced to eat shoe leather and like it.

I could not be more thrilled about the newfound enthusiasm for well raised meats and charcuterie.  As a farmer, I am torn between relief that my meat will bring premium prices meaning I can pay my bills (I like paying my bills) and my higher mission that everyone can eat an adequate amount of highly nutritious humanely raised meat and dairy. Prices on cheap well raised cuts like tongue, oxtail and belly now rival those of more expensive cuts of industrial meat.

I have no highly formed theory on this topic; rather just some deeply worrisome gray questions. There will be more to come about this; I can feel it.

7 thoughts on “In which we ponder: how should we feel about the gentrification of meat?

  1. My first thought, upon reading this, was that meat has always been for the upper class. The truly poor can’t afford any meat at all, or almost none, no matter what the cut. But, you’re right. With factory farming and horrible inventions like the hot dog and spam, meat is a standard on many of even the poorest tables. Now, with the new (not really!) option of high-quality, drug-free, grass-fed meat, there’s yet another tier of quality for those who want the best of the best. Maybe not even for the reasons you and I wish they would want it.

    In the end, though, if demand for this kind of production increases, the land will benefit, our health will benefit and, maybe unfortunately for you, the price will come down.

    I hate the snobbery that comes with some aspects of this food movement. Everyone deserves healthy, good food. I’m thankful for all the farmers who are making good food more widely available these days!

    1. Thanks for your comment Eleanor – my concern is that the truly at risk communities aren’t interested in hearing about how they’d be better off with less, they want plates heaped full of meat and everything else we see advertised on TV. Anything other than that requires a cultural shift that I’m probably more interested in providing them than they are in wanting it for themselves.

      We have a local organic farmer who has carved an excellent niche for himself with grass fed Angus hot dogs – you won’t be buying them two for a dollar at the local convenience store. I confess the regular ones are a guilty pleasure in my family. One of my biggest reasons for learning more about charcuterie is so I can make my own hot dogs and bacon at home.

      I don’t want to throw away one scrap of my beef – that’s what drives the cost down (by increasing value) plus it means so much
      to me. I’ll never be casual about wasting meat again….

  2. Quite interesting how most of the things that seem to suddenly become ‘hip’ and ‘fashionable’ … like eating the right foods which were raised or grown the right way to help nourish the land as well as the folks who eat it … are really not such fancy new ideas at all. Sometimes ‘progress’ brings us full circle to how it was meant to be … if only we’d have left it alone in the first place!

    So many of the dishes that are considered gourmet meals in fancy restaurants today were considered peasant meals in the old country. I’m thinking the ‘peasants’ were the smartest group because they knew how to make a great meal out of what seemed to be not-so-great components, and hey … it’s still great! … so much so that the ‘cool’ folks travel to get their fill of it!

    Things that make ya go, “Hmm!”

    1. Amen to that sister :D

      Two things: first, I have a feeling the real peasants weren’t eating gnocci and beans & greens as we know it – it was really the middle class of the day that could afford to eat that way.
      Next, I’d like to think I march to my own drum, but I suspect that I’ve done plenty in the quest to be “hip” and “fashionable”, as have most folks I know.

      It is quite interesting… thanks so much for your comment… two generations from now, our grandchildren will be turning their noses up at all our ways too – I think that’s just the way it goes :D

  3. While I’ve never really thought of it in terms of meat gentrification, I think it’s a pretty spot on definition. I won’t lie that I balk a little bit when oxtails, skirt or cheek loses the value in value cut. I also won’t lie about being irritated from time to time that local/sustainable/organic have become cause du jour or menu buzzwords. All that said, if people are doing the right thing I can’t get too bent out of shape, whether it’s for the “right reasons” or not. Also, at the end of the day I don’t mind paying a little extra to support someone going the extra mile for their product and our environment. I do think that we’re on the cusp of people in our country starting to think differently about food for the better. If higher prices happen, maybe we’ll eat less meat or even learn to get more utility out of what we buy. If a few bandwagoners jump on or off, maybe a few local farmers will enjoy a some extra sales in the balance– which can’t be viewed as a bad thing. (Spoken like a true food snob/ elitist, I know)

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comment! I’m not at all saying we’re doing the wrong thing in pricing what the market will bear.
      I just would like to have some product that is more affordable so I can offer good meat to everyone and still pay my bills. What I’m
      seeing left is offal and such that most Americans aren’t ever going to be enthusiastic about.

      Commodity meat operates on such a paper thin margin I suspect rising grain and gas prices will cause some equalization
      to happen naturally. I still have increased prices of gasoline, but my pricing for grass fed beef ( as raised by smaller farmers) should remain
      somewhat stable, while processed foods may lose a bit of their advantage.

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