The Rebranding Of Meat

While I am not a religious man, I do have a few central core beliefs I live by. Shorts are to be worn only for sports and slumber. Voting is to be done quietly yet consistently. And most importantly, no matter what, never purchase something that has the phrase "lunch meat" written on the packaging.

This last one isn't because I don't enjoy the occasional bologna and cheese sandwich -- I survived through most of college on those alone -- or because the verbiage is indicative of factory farming. It's simply because, being a writer and all, I have extreme views about how words should be used. And frankly put, "lunch meat" is the most disgusting phrase in the English language. I'm not going to give money to a company that hasn't spent their own money hiring intelligent copywriters to remove this gross nonsense by now.

The point is, words are powerful. They can start revolutions and end wars. While actions may be nuclear bombs in the spectrum of potency, words are a squadron of B-52 bombers with specific coordinates on where to strike. So any conversation having to do with how food is marketed is really a discussion about how language is used.

Take Taco Bell's new approach, for instance. Walk into a store later this month -- or, more accurately, drive through one at about 2 a.m. for the "fourth meal" you'll be regretting come sunrise -- and you may notice a subtle change they've made to the menu: Gone are any mentions of "meat" in their various tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and whatever-creations-their-lab-chefs-have-manufactured. In their place, will be a whole bunch of mentions about "protein."

This is only the latest rebranding of meat in recent memory. Pork butt is no longer called that, it's now "Boston roast." And walk into the meat section of a grocery store looking for beef-under-the-blade-boneless, and you'll be directed towards "Denver steaks." And as the previously linked article points out:

[T]hree kinds of pork chops now seem to be named after beef: "porterhouse chops," "ribeye chops," and "New York chops." Meat is having an identity crisis.

After looking at the following data, it's easy to understand why:

Data from Infegy--a company that analyzes user-generated content on blogs, social-media accounts, and other online sources--shows that 43 percent of conversations about "meat" over the last six months were negative and often included such words as "bad," "concerns," and "problem." On the other hand, only 6 percent of conversations about "protein" were negative. Most people associated it with words like "good", "healthy," and "delicious."

The negative connotations, for the most part, are due to the fact that whenever "meat" is mentioned in the news, it comes with a negative connotation. "Meat" is an indication that the story will be about an outbreak, or evidence of chemicals in the food supply, or undercover investigations into factory farming, or images of that sick "pink slime" that was making its way around the social mediasphere last year. There's virtually no chance that the report is going to be positive.

While the benefits of rebranding are easy to understand from the industry's point of view, the addition of more euphemistic language is troubling. By continually trying to separate the cows we see on the side of the road, or the pigs in the farmer's pen, or the chickens in the coop, from what's ending up on our plate, we're getting further and further removed from our meals. The price of eating meat, after all, should be the knowledge that you're eating something that was once alive.

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About the Author

Rick Paulas has written plenty of things, some of them serious, many of them not, scattered over the vast expanses of the Internet. He lives in Los Angeles and is a White Sox fan.
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You lost me at "Shorts are to be worn only for sports and slumber."