Monday, April 13, 2015
Rant: Why Do So Few Americans Eat Lamb?
Yesterday, I was one of the judges at the Boston Lamb Jam, a celebration of the unique taste of lamb and put on by the American Lamb Board, I got to sample a diverse selection of lamb dishes from twenty different New England chefs. The public also got to attend this event, to taste the collection of lamb dishes and celebrate its deliciousness. This event is always an excellent opportunity to experience the versatility of lamb.
The holidays of Easter and Passover recently passed, and a number of Americans ate lamb for their meals. For some people, that might be the only time during the year that they consume lamb. Still others won't eat lamb even on these holidays. Lamb consumption in the U.S. has seen a drastic decline over the years and that needs to change. More people need to eat lamb and there are multiple reasons why they should do so. Lamb is nutritious, delicious, versatile, and uses less resources than some other meats, such as beef.
Back in the early 1940s, there were about 56 million sheep and lambs in the U.S. but that number has dropped to just over 5 million, less than 10% of its previous count. In comparison, there are over 90 million cattle in the U.S. Beef is far more popular than lamb and that is plaint to see. Half of the lamb that is now consumed in the U.S. is imported, primarily from Australia and New Zealand. Interestingly, if the U.S. supply of sheep and lamb only doubled, we might not need to import any lamb.
As for lamb consumption, the average American, during the early 1960s, ate annually about 4.5 pounds of lamb. By 1990, this amount had declined to 1.6 pounds and by 2012, the amount had dropped even more, down to 0.88 pounds. Less than one pound! If we examine who is eating lamb, we also realize that certain ethnic groups, such as Greek, Middle Eastern, Hispanic, and Native Americans, consume far more lamb than others Lamb consumption also occurs far more often on both the East and West coasts. In the middle of the country, there are plenty of people who never eat lmab. We can also see that lamb consumption, for many, is confined to certain holidays.
Lamb often seems to be a polarizing meat, one you either love or hate. The most common complaint I have heard about lamb is that it possesses a strong, gamey taste which many find off putting. Although some lamb does have a gamey flavor, much of it doesn't possess that nature or only to a very mild degree. It seems to me that much of the opposition to lamb is actually psychologically based, due to misconceptions about its actual nature. Maybe in the past, some lamb had a stronger, gamier taste, but that is largely changed. In addition, much depends on how the lamb is prepared.
There are also sometimes claims that lamb is too expensive and too difficult to cook. First, there are less expensive cuts and preparation of lamb, such as ground lamb. Second, you don't need to eat a large portion of lamb, just as you don't really need to eat a large steak. Smaller cuts of meat are less expensive. As for cooking, it is a versatile meat, which can easily be prepared in a wide manner of dishes. It is not a difficult meat to cook. That is a misconception which needs to be over thrown.
Consumers need to get over their fears of lamb and simply taste more lamb dishes. I'm sure, if they give it a chance, they will find they actually enjoy the taste of lamb. Besides its great taste, it is also a healthy meat. I've spoken often about the health benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids, and lamb possesses five times as many Omega-3s as does beef. It is also a very good source of Protein, Vitamin B12, Niacin, Zinc and Selenium.
Break out of your prejudices against lamb. Embrace it, buy it, cook it, order it at restaurants, explore its versatility, and put it on your plate. It's a healthy and delicious choice. What are you waiting for?