After A Decade Of Decline, Beef Has Allure Again
Copyright 1994 The Detroit Free Press
Distributed by Knight-Ridder/Tribune Information Services
By Patty LaNoue Stearns
SOUTHFIELD, Mich.--"I'm sick of skinless, boneless chicken," declares Joyce Magill.
The Bloomfield Hills, Mich., resident doesn't eat much red meat at home, but when
she dines at the pricey Morton's of Chicago restaurant in the Detroit suburb of
Southfield, she orders a massive filet mignon.
She may hold the key to a trend that is sweeping the nation.
For years, beef has been the forbidden entree, the politically incorrect protein, the bad
boy of the dinner plate. In fact, if we believe its most vocal critics, beef ranks right up
there with smoking, drinking and unsafe sex as a social scourge of the '90s.
Beef consumption has dropped dramatically since the mid-'80s, when Americans ate
an average 74.6 pounds a year. By 1992, it was down to 62.8 pounds, according to the last
figure available from the United States Department of Agriculture. When people do
indulge, they usually select smaller portions and leaner cuts than they did before
cholesterol and saturated fat became health issues. They increasingly opt for chicken,
turkey, seafood, legumes and grains as their main sources of protein.
But in steak houses across the nation, a quiet red-meat rebellion is raging. While the
rest of the restaurant world is getting by on a flat one percent increase in sales in the past
year, the National Restaurant Association says upscale steak houses across the country
are basking in a 12 percent uptick. Men and women who wouldn't dream of buying
marbled porterhouses, filets and strip steaks in supermarkets are sneaking choice cuts in
steak houses, where like-minded souls can get a blast of beef without shame or fear of
being found out. After all, everybody else in the room is doing it, too.
So what's the deal? Pent-up demand? Maybe. A longing for the good old days, when
cholesterol was unheard of? Probably. Even non-steak house restaurants are feeling the
impact of the beef craze. Paula Reauso, general manager of West Provision Co. in
Detroit's Eastern Market, a supplier to country clubs and high-end restaurants in the
metro area, says her beef sales are up 60 percent over last year.
"But the big thing has been sirloin that's usually the favorite with men. Women
usually prefer a filet." The 12- and 10-ounce sirloins and 6- to 8-ounce filets are the most
popular sizes she supplies.
"When people eat out, steak is kind of a celebratory food," explains Jane Lindeman,
coordinator of food service programs for the Beef Industry Council in Chicago. She also
notes the amazing popularity of oversize burgers at McDonald's and other fast-food
"People are tired of real, real restricted diets. They want a little bit of flavor once in a
while. They want to feel like they've eaten a good steak, a burger."
But will this food flip-flop make people unhealthy in the long run?
"There's nothing wrong with a piece of beef," says Mary Smardzewski, coordinator of
clinical nutrition services for Detroit's Harper Hospital.
"Beef can be very, very lean. But that's in a moderate serving 3.5 ounces." A high-fat
diet, she notes, has been shown to contribute to heart disease and various forms of
cancer, including of the breast, colon and prostate.
Of course, many chicken and seafood dishes in restaurants aren't exactly low-fat,
either. Sauces and marinades add to their fat content, so beef isn't always the worst
"You really have to look at the total picture of what people are doing. When they go
out to those places that have the huge pieces of beef if they're doing it once in a great,
great while it probably won't do anything if they're really watching their diets in every
other respect," Smardzewski says.
"Most of us are like children. When somebody tells you not to do something, that's
exactly what you want to do." If a person eats healthy 90 percent of the time, she says,
then an occasional beef blitz is fine.
"I think people have just gone back to sensible eating," says West Provision's Reauso,
adding that people's fears about salmonella poisoning in poultry and reports of tainted
seafood are playing into their choices about beef.
"There's nothing wrong with meat; it's like anything else--in moderation." Besides,
"People are becoming more educated. You're seeing a real decline in sales of turkey
franks, turkey ham, because all of a sudden people found out that all they did was
change the name on the label. They didn't change the fat content, the sodium, the
nitrate. It just made people feel better. I think people are really getting into investigating
their own welfare."
Davis agrees, and like others interviewed for this story, he's tired of being told what
he can and cannot eat.
"There's a large number of extremely vocal people in the U.S. who are afraid of
everything. And they're prepared to enforce their will on the majority, no matter how
difficult it is, how much it takes or how much the majority resists. It's a terrible disease,
and I hope we get over it in my lifetime, because I don't think it's any good for the fiber
of the country."
So beef sneaks, hear this: It's safe to come out of the closet. Put on your bibs, get out
your monogrammed steak knives, and chow down--once in a while.