THE beef checkoff program funded the "Beef: It's What's for Dinner" ads starring actor Robert Mitchum that first aired on May 18, 1992. That was more than 20 years ago, and much water has flowed under the bridge since then, with some undesirable (to me, at least) repercussions.
That initial ad ran for more than a year at a cost of $42 million. Different versions have aired since then, but probably none with the same effect the first one had on promoting beef for our dinner plates.
Now, I think the time is approaching when we need to reinvent the ads for Wendy's starring 81-year-old Clara Peller that began running in 1984. The crotchety, retired manicurist was seen in several versions yelling "Where's the beef?" at Home of the Big Bun and Golden Arches executives and many others.
Of course, her "beef" was that a burger purchased in many fast-food establishments was hard to find inside a much larger bun.
Today, her question would more likely be, "Where's the beef for dinner?"
Many factors have converged to make the price of beef rise rather dramatically, making it less of an economical option on the family's dinner menu.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, there are far too many who smile at that reality and say, "That is a good thing."
I may have the chronology slightly off, but it seems like the anti-beef movement began when meat was singled out as THE cause of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and obesity.
As a longtime practicing physician (admittedly in the ranch country of Nebraska), I saw more cases of high cholesterol as a result of genetics than diet, more high blood pressure as a result of lifestyle issues such as cigarette smoking and alcohol consumption than diet and more obesity from overeating snack foods and not exercising than from too much beef consumption.
My rancher patients, who probably ate beef every day, were not overweight. They were lean, mean, hard-working machines.
Americans began to eat less beef and substituted more poultry and fish as a result of this anti-beef campaign, looking for a quick fix to their health problems brought on by their own genetics and lifestyle choices.
Next up in recent memory are the record droughts in Texas and other major beef-producing states that caused farmers and ranchers to sell off portions of their herds so they would have enough hay and grain to feed what cattle remained, not to mention water them.
I am told that the nation's beef herd numbers are the lowest they have been in decades. Supply and demand issues are causing prices to rise.
I will still pay the going price to grill a steak, but many people will have to forego that pleasurable experience.
Let me stop right here and say I have nothing against a great fillet of fish or a nicely grilled chicken breast. I eat those also, but I do so because I choose to, not because I have to in order to balance my budget.
Besides all that, two straws came along that broke the steer's back, so to speak:
1. "Pink slime." Beef Products Inc. was basically put out of business, and many pounds per head of its lean, finely textured beef were diverted to other uses besides human consumption. The product had been an important component of keeping the ground beef supply lean, healthy, safe and affordable. Now, we have to import more trim to produce a 93%-lean ground beef product, and the price has risen accordingly.
2. Zilpaterol. Cattle finished with zilpaterol could easily add as much as 25 lb. to their finished weight. Because of concerns about animal well-being, Merck Animal Health suspended sales of its product last summer until further studies and testing can be done. Lower-weight cattle going to slaughter equals higher prices per pound.
I am not even going to talk about the move to never/ever, all grass-fed, no antibiotics used, no hormones added, organic and natural labels, all of which increase production costs and prices for consumers, regardless of whether we buy beef in a restaurant or at the local grocery store.
Social engineering and misinformation about safety-added values are driving some consumers to demand production methods that maybe they can afford but others for sure cannot.
When I was growing up in Loup City, Neb., my Dad would go to the sale barn every year and buy a 4-H calf. It was good advertising for him, good eating for us and very affordable.
When I was practicing family medicine in rural Nebraska, I would buy part of a steer and part of a hog from local guys I knew when they called to say they were heading to the local butcher. It was good community relations for me, good eating for my family and very affordable.
My kids and I grew up with beef for dinner. I hope my grandkids and their kids can too.
*Dr. Richard Raymond is a former U.S. Department of Agriculture undersecretary for food safety.