I still like to write people letters occasionally. And generally, if you receive a letter from me, it will include a clipping from a magazine or the weekly grocery store circular. When I lived in Germany, my favorite clippings were in the weekly Angebote at Rewe or Edeka. Most of the stuff was standard and of little interest, but the pictures of meat were exactly that: meat in the raw.
Big slabs of Kalbsbraten bleeding Schweinenackenbraten, pasty Hähnchenbrustfilets, or flaccid Puteschnitzel. They had it all – and all was presented rather matter of fact. Sure, there’d be the occasional decoration propped nearby, like the slices of pepper next to that floppy chicken breast below, but most of it was blissfully unadorned.
It always struck me as somewhat strange.
Just a hunk of muscle torn from an animal and flopped in front of the camera. No big whoop, have some meat! So it goes without saying that many a friend found their note or birthday card accompanied by mounds of Hackfleisch or a sweet shot of Einbeinsülze.
But it got interesting when my family and I moved back to the USA and the flyers started coming in the mail. I usually just pop them direct in the recycling, but one day I noticed a different approach to meat promotion.
Whereas most stores in Germany are content to leave prep to the imagination; nearly every meat ad in the US (except in Latino market circulars) is a prepared cut, often including side dishes and complete with painted on grill stripes. Hamburgers are gussied up with onions and a kaiser roll. The ribs are basted and dripping. I even checked out the US Aldi ads below (since it’s originally a German company) to control for variation among different stores.
And of course seeing that got me wondering.
What’s the psychology here? Are German consumers more free-wheeling and inventive when it comes to meat prep? No paint by number meat shots required, just a clump of muscle fiber and you’re good to go. Or do Americans want to hide the rawness of real meat? Maybe we want to keep the killing floor as far away as possible and pretend meat just shows up with those stripes.
Or is it that the innovative, creative American spirit has been sapped by the deluge of over-processed food and when confronted with a pasty slab of chicken, we opt instead for a readymade meal?
I’m reading Michael Pollan’s book ‘Cooked‘ right now, which is what made me think of this whole meat presentation pickle. According to Pollan, ‘The amount of time spent preparing meals in American households has fallen by half since the mid-60s to a scant 27 minutes a day.’ We spend less time cooking than people in any other nation.
So I assume that maybe somehow this has something to do with it.
Maybe if you plopped a cut down in front of the majority of folks in the US, they wouldn’t know what to do with it. To be honest, I was a lackluster maker of meats before I moved to Germany. I would see the different cuts in the coolers, but would more often than not opt for the hamburger. Pork loin was weird. I could hardly bother with a chicken. I was what I called a lazy vegetarian avoiding meat mostly because it was always more work to clean up after. But also out of ignorance.
Regardless, there’s just not that much left to the imagination in meat ads in the US. So the moral of the story is if you get a letter from me in the near future, the likelihood of meat clippings has diminished greatly.