Weatherford Democrat

February 24, 2013

NOW HEAR THIS / As the saying goes: Where’s the beef?


Weatherford Democrat

— By LARRY M. JONES

Back in 1984, the Wendy’s hamburger chain launched a television advertisement where a “little old lady,” after inspecting her burger, angrily demanded to know, “Where’s the beef?”

In modern terms, the ad went viral, and actress Clara Peller gained instant celebrity. Since then, the term has become an accepted part of the American language, a phrase which questions the purpose, value or substance of something.

Recently I was reminded of this catchy little saying as I read an article about use of a cattle growth hormone that’s supposedly making beef taste more like chicken. Over the years, I’ve heard many things touted as “tasting just like chicken,” most notably, rattlesnake meat. I enjoy chicken prepared in a variety of ways, but when I have a steak, by golly I want it to taste like beef!

Use of growth hormones by cattle producers and feedlot operators is nothing new. One of the earliest I recall was a synthetic estrogen called stilbestrol which was given to feedlot cattle to promote more rapid growth. I read that it has since been discontinued because of suspected carcinogenic properties. Many others have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are regularly used on feeder cattle.

One of the latest such hormones is called Zilmax. It was approved by the FDA in 2006 and has been in widespread use throughout the country. In the original application for approval by the FDA, the manufacturer stated that the drug impacts “overall tenderness, juiciness, flavor intensity and beef flavor.”  The drug causes the treated animal to produce more muscle and less fat. In doing so it removes a prime characteristic of beef that gives it the flavor and tenderness we seek – the fatty marbling that adds the flavor.

Just a couple of weeks ago, Fort Worth concluded its 118th annual Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.  For decades it was called the “Fat Stock Show.” However, the PC police intervened and removed the offensive and politically incorrect term “fat” from the title. Back in the old days, folks understood and appreciated the tenderness, flavor and texture of a nicely marbled steak obtained from a fat steer.  

Many of the feedlot operators resisted using Zilmax for some time, but almost all have had to get onboard with the change because of market pressures. The beef industry over the past few decades has had great competition from poultry and pork. As a result of this competition and the changing preferences of customers, the beef industry has adopted many practices to produce a leaner more healthful product and promote greater weight gain in less time. 

While operating practices of the beef industry have and will continue to diminish the quality of much of the beef we consume, there are alternatives. One major critic of growth promoters such as Zilmax is Certified Angus Beef, a program that emphasizes quality over price. Angus and other European breeds that are corn fed and free of growth stimulants deliver tasty, tender and juicy steaks.

Several years ago, Wayne Cardwell, a neighbor of mine, and I were visiting across the fence. He told me he had a steer in the lot feeding it grain for a few weeks before butchering it. He added, “I may not be a rich man, but I can eat like one.” Now there’s the beef!

Larry M. Jones is a retired Navy commander and aviator who raises cattle and hay in the Brock/Lazy Bend part of Parker County. Comments may be directed to nowhearthis@pwhome.com.