To Gnaw Meat Is To Love Meat
What is the secret boys learn from their scoutmasters right around puberty?
Don't think too hard, please. It's beef jerky.
"Most people are introduced to the snack by the time they're 11 or 12," said Jeff LeFever, director of marketing for Jack Link's dried meat snacks. "And if you haven't been introduced to it by that age, you won't be."
Most girls — including me — weren't. But somehow, my son — age 12 and, indeed, a Boy Scout — is totally familiar with the stuff. "It's awesome!" he said — about a product that never (as far as I knew) had crossed our threshold.
"Stereotypically, people think it's a guy's snack," admitted LeFever — an understatement on par with, "Stereotypically, people think of childbirth as more of a girl thing."
Guy snack? Guy icon! Beef jerky defines the American male. It's cowboys and Indians food: rough, rugged, stinky, proud — the kind of thing guys share with their dogs (or possibly vice versa). It's sold in totally male emporiums, too: convenience stores, The Home Depot. Now that I've become aware of the whole salted-meat-snacks category, I looked for some at a suburban supermarket last week and found just one sorry spine of it near the nuts.
Then I stopped at a Shell station, and — whoa! It was like a beef jerky convention in there! Pork and chicken and beef in slabs and sticks and whips. Clearly, guys know where to find jerky, and jerky knows where to find guys.
But is this sex bias, historic though it may be, fair? After all, metrosexuals are indulging in spas. Burly men are cooking and getting in touch with their feelings. Somewhere out West, a bearded guy is giving birth.
Over at Jack Link's, the brass agrees. As the Virginia Slims brand is to female smokers, so Jack Link's wants to be to female snackers — the product that makes salty meat slabs seem as ladylike as a lunch of low-fat cottage cheese and Triscuits.
To this end, they've started concocting jerky offerings that are softer, sweeter and hipper — beginner's jerky, in a way. Or maybe you could call it gateway jerky. The company brought a whole lot of it to a fancy luncheon in New York the other day to introduce my gender to the wonders of dried meat.
Surrounding us were bowls of french-fry-sized beef "tenders," as easy to chew as a wad of Bazooka. There were soft morsels of sesame chicken "nuggets" that tasted less like the American frontier and more like last night's Chinese takeout. Then there were the trendy flavors: sweet and spicy Thai jerky and Buffalo chicken-flavored nuggets and teriyaki turkey jerky and — WHERE HAD THIS STUFF BEEN ALL MY LIFE?
I left the luncheon a changed — and pungent — woman.
Ironically enough, beef jerky turns out to be an almost freakishly female food: low-fat, high-protein, more filling than chips. Call it "PMS chews" and we ladies will be chewing till the cows come home. Or maybe we'll just chew the cows. I am woman; hear me gnaw!
Of course, the stuff still looks like dog food and smells like smoked socks. Open a bag and — whew. But we've gotten used to men. We'll get used to jerky, too.
And then we'll fight 'em for that last Slim Jim at the spa.
Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Sun and Advertising Age. To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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