There's no substitute for real beef

Mychal Wilmes tried a plant-based hamburger out of curiosity, but he's not switching his allegiance from real meat. And certainly, test-tube meat has no place in his diet.

Steak is good anytime, Mychal Wilmes says. (Pixabay photo)

Curiosity was the reason why we ordered two plant-based hamburgers and fries from the fast-food restaurant’s drive-thru.

“It tastes just like a regular burger,’’ Kathy said.

Almost, I responded. Chances are the hamburger contained some mix of peas, lentils, soy products and wheat. To the extent that it does, demand for meatless burgers helps farmers.

That is not the case with meat created in a test tube. The process has gained a great deal of attention recently as more companies get involved. The technology to do so has existed since 2013, when with fanfare a company introduced a hamburger that was two years in development and cost $300,000 to create.

Production costs have declined since and investors are convinced test-tube meat has great potential to capture consumer demand. On-the-hoof livestock producers have responded to the situation.


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Iowa meat interests recently launched an advertising campaign that in essence says that if you want a hamburger make it a real one from livestock raised by Iowa farmers. The ad I have seen lists several alphabet-soup chemicals contained in the test-tube product and says it is important to support farmers.

Lab-grown meat is called many things but all of it is made by growing muscle cells in a nutrient-laden serum. Those who think the product is progress at its best believe it will benefit humankind by reducing the amount of grain grown to feed livestock and benefit the environment.

The issue is not on meat producers’ front burner. Cow-calf producers who recently lost thousands of newborn calves to the record-shattering snow and cold that swept across the south and part of the Great Plains have taken a financial hit. The media is making noise that because meat supplies will tighten in the future, prices are likely to increase and dampen demand.

The disaster is ruinous for some beef producers, but pales in comparison to what happened to the livestock industry during the second half of the 19 th century. Hundreds of thousands of cattle died from cold and starvation in the winter of 1886-87. Some historians claim that the disaster brought the cowboy era to an end. What is beyond dispute is the event had a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. The financial depression that followed lost fortunes on a scale not seen until the stock market crash of 1929.

Beef producers — through checkoff-funded promotion campaigns, new product research and the like — have worked hard for several decades to build demand. Many producers and consumers remember the advertising campaigns of the late 1980s and early '90s that featured Hollywood stars Robert Mitchum and James Garner.

The slogans “Real Food for Real People’’ and “Beef. It’s what’s for Dinner’’ successfully countered the anti-meat crowd who said eating red meat was a serious health risk.


Beef promotion hit a bump in the road when Garner suffered a heart attack, which detractors pointed to as proof that beef should not be part of a healthy diet. Garner helped defuse the situation by blaming chain cigarette smoking for his health crisis.

Perhaps the most effective promotion campaign came from private industry. Wendy’s food chain launched its “Where’s the Beef?’’ campaign in 1984 with grandmotherly actress Clara Peller, and saw its burger sales increase by more than 30 percent. Peller’s question became a catchphrase for years afterward in pop culture.

Writing this column prompted me to pull two T-bone steaks from the freezer. Kathy immediately put them back.

“We need to save them until we can put them on the grill,’’ she said.

Steak is good anytime.

I did not always think so. It was a long time ago when we ate steak so often that we grew tired of it. She broiled it until it was past well done and dry as sand. Mother was a great cook but was taught that all meat must be well done to prevent illness.

All meat — except what is created in test tubes — is Real Food for Real People.

Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.


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