Here in the United States, the hot new trend is meatless meat.
In the just the last week, the news was filled with stories about alternatives to beef pork and chicken, including these examples:
- A University of Minnesota research team has produced what is being called “kill-free meat” from harvested animal cells. Led by Uma Valeti, M.D., an Associate Professor in the School of Medicine, the team cultivated animal cells into an edible product in less than 21 days, according to a report in The Huffington Post. Valeti, who is also the CEO of San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, claimed that the “meat “created in the lab has less saturated fat and is free of bacterial contamination. He said his group hopes to introduce a line of kill-free beef, pork and chicken to restaurants in the next three years and roll it out commercially by 2021.
- A new report from the market research firm Mintel identified meat and dairy alternatives as one of the 12 key trends impacting global food and beverage sales in 2016, including escalating popularity of veggie burgers and non-dairy milks that are “foreshadowing a profoundly changed marketplace in which what was formerly an ‘alternative’ could take over the mainstream.”
- And from Scientific American comes a story about students in more than 300 school districts nationwide who are now eating “The Blend,” a meat-mushroom concoction developed by the Culinary Institute of America and the Mushroom Council as a replacement for common beef dishes.
Sloppy Joes? With mushrooms instead of beef? School lunches will never be the same.
The ‘unglamorous’ burger
But even as Americans are falling out of love with beef — allegedly — elsewhere in the world, the situation is much different.
As the Washington Post recently reported, consumers in France are “clamoring for an unglamorous American food,” known in French as le hamburger.
I could have translated that.
“In restaurants [bistros?] in a country otherwise known for much fancier food,” the Post reported, “hamburger is becoming one of the most popular dishes. The love is such that three-quarters of all food establishments now sell at least one hamburger, and 80% of those say it’s their best-selling item, according to a recent study.”
But France's fixation on the humble hamburger is hardly unique, and despite its newfound joie de hamburger, the country only ranks fourth in per capita consumption.
Who’s No. 1? Not us foam-fingered-wearing Americans. Not any more.
The title of world’s hungriest hamburger eaters goes to the blokes Down Under.
Yes, Australians consume, on average, 38 hamburgers per person per year, although as anyone who’s had the pleasure of visiting there, they tend to go in for some weird toppings (beets? Seriously?).
The Aussies thus are eating 25% more burgers than we do, since the average consumption in the USA is about 30 hamburgers a year.
Perhaps even more surprising, the country that ranks No. 3 — believe it or not — consumes about 23 hamburgers per person per year. Where’s all the beef being wolfed down, you ask? Of all places, in fish-and-chips-loving England.
France, by the way, is tied with Russia at about 14 hamburgers per person per year, according to data compiled by The NPD Group. They may love their burgers, but they’ve got a ways to go to catch up with the leaders.
The irony here is that while foreigners are eating more hamburgers than ever, per capita beef consumption has been on the decline in the United States for the last four decades. Since the peak year of 1976, when beef consumption averaged 94 pounds per person, per capita consumption has dropped to only about 54 pounds a year.
Yet hamburgers have bucked that trend.
“Today, we eat much less beef but many more hamburgers — about six extra burgers per person, or roughly 30% more than we did back [in 1976],” according to the Washington Post story.
Partly that’s due to the premium price point that whole-muscle beef now commands, but ground beef’s versatility also factors in that analysis. From tacos to meatloaf to casseroles, it works in numerous recipes and fits nicely with most cuisines.
And hamburgers have a culinary appeal that is unprecedented among meat products.
Just ask the French.
Dan Murphy is a food-industry journalist and commentator