Thursday, March 29, 2007

If Ketchup is Ketchup, is Beef Beef?

There is a disturbingly hilarious Daily Show skit on Comedy Central on the subject of cloned meat. Beware, the subject matter may offend some viewers.

The author of “When Is Prime Not Prime?” (see Daily Business Life) took a more serious crack at the subject and has an interesting take. He argues that if cloning is used to produce a demonstrably superior beef cattle -- say, one that always grades USDA Prime – then eventually all beef producers will begin producing the same (cloned) beef, rendering the once demonstrably superior beef a commodity. Number 2 Corn, redux?

Seems that to be true, there would have to be such a thing as a singularly demonstrably superior beef cattle. There may be from the retail or production point of view -- uniformity could increase throughput and yield and thus improve marginal profitability. Consumers could foreseeably benefit, too, from a more consistent beef eating experience.

But is there really a single “flavor” of beef that is preferred by all people?

Malcolm Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”) wrote a fascinating article in The New Yorker titled “The Ketchup Conundrum.” Basically, he argues that there is no such thing as the perfect spaghetti sauce or the perfect mustard because different people prefer different tastes and textures. And that this rule appears to be true for every food category but one: ketchup. Somehow, Heinz ketchup offers a perfect blend of the 5 “primal” tastes in the human palate: salty, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. The article concludes with a taste expert shrugging “I guess ketchup is ketchup.”

Could it be true that beef is beef? Is there a perfect blend out there that appeals to virtually every individual in America?

My experience suggests an emphatic “no!” And I for one think this is something to celebrate.

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