Medium Rare

by wjw on December 21, 2014

usaWe are now in Amarillo, Tx.  After two days of crossing the Great Plains, I’m beginning to grow a bit nostalgic for those Pennsylvania mountains.  Variety has its virtues.

But tomorrow we’ll be in New Mexico, where there are plenty of mountains.  Though alas, the entire drive there will be boring.

The Joadmobile continues to serve brilliantly.  It’s even getting close to 30 mpg, which is pretty good for an overloaded vehicle traveling at freeway speeds.

I have only one real beef, which is with beef.  Traveling across the nation, we’ve been eating out more or less by necessity.  Since the Flyover States are where they grow beef cattle, most towns have a McDonald’s, a Wendy’s, a Subway, and a steak house named after Big Slim, or Cowboy Matt, or some other local character.  So that’s where we eat.

I’ve had the same steak in four or five states now.  It’s quite beautiful, very tender, and perfectly cooked.  And it doesn’t taste like much of anything at all.

I remember when beef, y’know, tasted like beef.

When I was in the hospital back in 2005, my sense of taste was the last thing to recover.  For a while, the only thing I could actually taste was red chile sauce.  (I ate a lot of huevos rancheros.)  And for months, I couldn’t seem to taste beef worth a damn.  I finally concluded that the anesthetic, or the painkillers, or something had just wiped out my beef-tasting taste buds.  Occasionally I would have a really lovely slice of beef, and it would taste like . . . nothing.

But then I was surprised by a wonderful, flavorful steak.  And I thought my sense of taste had finally recovered, until I had another steak that was tasteless.

And now it’s no longer a surprise.  Somewhere around 2005 something happened to America’s steaks, and for the most part they’re bland and taste only like a shadow of their former selves.  Is it chemicals?  Feed lots?  What?  And every so often I luck onto a good one, and I remember what all steaks used to taste like.

So here I am in Beefland, and everything I eat is bland and tasteless.  And the sad thing is, so many people think this is what the steak is supposed to taste like.

Rose Prescott December 21, 2014 at 6:46 am

It’s the feed and the fat. Most feedlots use a mostly soy mix these days. Used to be they fattened up the cattle with a corn/molasses mix. The soy is cheaper as the corn makes the famer more money if sold for biofuel. And the beef actually had some fat on it. The leaner the beef, the blander the taste. America has been on the low to no fat craze since the 80s. And the flavor has suffered greatly. Now that they have discovered that it is sugar that is what is really bad for you not the fat. Maybe we can enjoy meat that has flavor again. And don’t get me started on how bland pork tastes these days. lol

Shash December 21, 2014 at 4:16 pm

I totally agree with your complaint. I very rarely order steak in a restaurant because of that lack of flavor. For a good taste of beef, find beef that was raised and “finished” on pasture, not corn and soy. It will be a bit tougher, but it will actually taste like the beef you remember. Delicious.

Bruce December 21, 2014 at 4:58 pm

they don’t eat grass anymore there. Blech.

TRX December 21, 2014 at 6:29 pm

Some of the license plates in that montage are *really* old. I’m pretty sure at least one of them was replaced by a new version in the 1970s…

Steak: I thought it was just me. Though since I view steak as a spongy substance good for soaking up Worcestershire sauce, it took me a while to realize it…

mastadge December 21, 2014 at 10:21 pm

Between the 70s and the early oughts, corn production drove the majority of cattle feed sites from the midwest to the southern Great Plains. Meanwhile, demand for beef dropped and then surged, beef branding became a thing — brand beef (Angus, etc) could be sold at a premium while the demand for cheep beef allowed cuts that hadn’t traditionally been used to be marketed and sold both to lower-end restaurants and to pre-packaged meal producers.
Probably the change in flavor has to do with the change in feed, the change in environment, the changes in cattle handling and line practices, the changes in the parts of the cow the restaurants get — and the general consumer preference for homogeneity in food. It used to be that beef fed over here would have a different flavor profile than beef fed over there. Now the beef flavor profile is predictable because they’re all fed mainly the same stuff, which is terrible for the epicure (and, let’s face it, for the cow), but great for the people who sell the stuff and can promise the same product wherever you’re eating the beef. Or something like that.

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