WHAT IT MEANS TO BE AMERICAN
Americans have always been distinguished by their love of meat. Where does that love come from?
One short answer: our ethnic heritage. Among whites, the English and Germans were two of the greatest meat-eating cultures in Europe.
But that answer is about as satisfying as an overcooked steak. So there is a longer and tastier explanation: Americans’ relationship to meat production and consumption is long-standing, and built on core beliefs that meat is not only tasty but essential to good health and an indicator of economic well-being. Indeed, Americans and much of the rest of the world by the mid-20th century believed meat eating was a defining characteristic of civilization. Meat, and lots of it, has stayed a constant throughout our history—though our preferences for particular kinds of meat have changed as the country, people, technologies, and health concerns have shifted.
Today, the United States’ identity is tied up with beef. But the country started out devoted to pork and remained that way for more than half of its history. This originally made sense—pork was the most popular meat among Germans, ...