Henceforth, the long misunderstood pork butt shall be known as “Boston roast,” or so the meat industry recently decreed. The USDA is allowing the pork and beef industries, which together have $40 billion in retail sales, to rename 350 cuts of meat. This should boost consumer appeal (i.e. sales) and, they claim, make it easier for people to know what they’re eating.
The power of names is not a particularly subtle thing, especially when the name in question contains the word “butt.” While it is in fact pork, pork butt is not from the curly tailed end; it’s a cut of meat from the shoulder. In some parts of the country, it’s actually called “pork shoulder.”
How pleasantly straightforward. How is “Boston roast” better? Will some agency certify that the hunk of meat in my grocery cart is, in fact, a “Boston” roast, or might it be “just outside of Boston” roast (ahem, everyone from Massachusetts)? And can we now, finally, call meat from a pig’s actual butt “pork butt”?
Don’t even get me started on the newly dubbed “Denver steak,” the cut of meat formerly known as beef-under-blade-boneless-steak. This is the kind of thing that can happen when you leave the naming of things to a group called the Beef Checkoff Program. Also, three 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.
Attempts have been made in the past to rebrand foods. After prune-loving grandpas gave the fruit a supremely uncool image, in 2000, the California Prune Board started a $10 million marketing campaign to call them “dried plums.” Did it work? California Dried Plum Board (pdf) reported that production was about 136,000 tons in 2011, down from 142,000 in 2001 (production during this period peaked at 187,737 tons in 2006). High fructose corn syrup tried to rename itself “corn sugar,” and the FDA decided last year that this was bogus. On the other hand, crappy meat became “the hot dog” long ago, and baseball games are better for it. A rose by any other name, right, meat lovers?
Sure, times change, and after a lot of head-scratching and Googling, people will get used to the new names. Even cookbooks will eventually catch up. Just don’t touch “bacon”—that seems to needs no rebranding at the moment.
Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.
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