er · satz
(of a product) made or used as a substitute, typically an inferior one, for something else.
Next time you’re in a gas station or liquor store, take a look at the beef jerky section.
Take a deeper look beyond the shiny packaging, sexy product claims, and marketing collateral. When you really dig into it, you will see a whole lot of the same thing: imitations of imitations.
For better or worse, the corporate commercialization of food has become today’s reality. Mass-produced products have become the benchmark for flavor and taste, while the originals have faded into obscurity. These copycats represent a fleeting memory of something more wholesome and original; they remind us of something that we can barely remember. Beef jerky is the perfect example.
At some point in recent history, in the interest of uniformity, consistency, or profitable margins, products have been disconnected from their makers. Instead of focusing on the maker and his or her product, the emphasis switched to engineering products with marketable claims: fast, cheap, and good. These products are sold to consumers on a bed of artificial promises, the chief premise being reliable uniformity.
For the beef jerky industry, this trend resulted in the proliferation of the "gas station stereotype." Leathery, dry, artificial, unhealthy, bland, old, and the cacophony of other negative descriptions about beef jerky have become commonplace, pushing small-batch beef jerky into obscurity. Consumers forgot how real beef jerky looked, smelled, and tasted – believing that the only option available was that which was produced by major corporations.
The popularity and prevalence of these manufactured products have set the standard for consumer demand. The beef jerky products that line store aisles all lack a single quality that can be best described as soul. The idea that a consumer-packaged good contains a soul can come across as a bit out there, but bear with us. Artisans of various crafts often describe their work as having a soul, whether it’s a woodworker, a painter, or a musician. So why shouldn’t a food product that is made for the most intimate form of consumption, putting into your body, not be considered in the same light?
One of the key elements of artisan made goods is the singularity and uniqueness of every crafted product. This is not to say, however, that a lack of consistency is the same as a lack of quality. Variance offers the opportunity to find beauty in imperfection. Imperfection viewed not in terms of fault or defect but in distinctiveness and inimitability. What do we search for in life but those unique experiences that no one else can share or own?
True artisan products, crafted in a way that celebrates the process and ingredients, can be enjoyed on a level beyond mere consumerism. One could make the argument that they approach the level of connoisseurship. A connoisseur can appreciate the barely determinable difference between real and fake. Artisan quality products, however, are not as immediately approachable as their step-cousins because they demand a level of engagement from consumers. One has to be active in the process of consumption. One has to think and engage with the flavors and textures that create the sensory experiences. This level of experience, however, can yield real benefits both nutritionally and philosophically.
Our goal at People’s Choice Beef Jerky is not to preach or proselytize, demean or judge, but more simply, to offer an alternative perspective. We want people to understand, first, that an alternative does exist. Secondly, that this alternative celebrates difference, imperfection, and lack of uniformity in a way that can enhance consumer experience and interaction with the greater world.
These musings may seem artificially intense (and they probably are) for something as simple as beef jerky but it represents the seriousness we take our craft and many others like us. We have been handcrafting beef jerky for over 85 years. Our tradition spans four generations. It has been our life and livelihood. While there exists a demand for commercial products and price will always play a role in any brand-consumer relationship, we stand to suggest that there are benefits to alternatives. All we ask is your consideration.
Give it a try. You just might like it.
Brian Bianchetti is a fourth generation jerky maker at People's Choice Beef Jerky. He followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather, grandfather, and father to carry on the family tradition of handcrafting premium meat snacks. When he's not at the Downtown LA jerky factory, you can find him out and about around the East Side - exploring new restaurants, hanging at the local brewery, or on the soccer field.
- March 01, 2018