You’d be hard-pressed to find a more successful animal cruelty boycott campaign in the U.S. than that of veal 30 years ago. As late as the 1960s, Americans were
eating about four pounds of veal each year on average—in such luxurious
forms as blanquette de veau, breaded cutlets and calf’s liver with
bacon. Then, as imagery started circulating in the ’80s of
calves tethered in cramped crates and subsisting on
artificial formulas, sales took a nosedive, and
they’ve never fully recovered.
The industry hopes that recent efforts to
pull itself out of its ethical quagmire will
spark a turnaround on dinner plates.
Some chefs have embraced veal’s
more sustainable—and flavorful—
new direction, though others
doubt broader consumer buy-in.
Last year Americans ate
just one-fifth of a pound
of veal on average, down
slightly from a third of a
pound in 2014, according to
the American Veal Association
(AVA), Gladstone, Missouri.
We can’t seem to get enough
beef, however—averaging around
55 pounds each year since 2015, per
the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Beef production was up 8% from 2014-
2017. Veal production shrunk 21% over the
same period, even as veal calves’ quality of life
has surpassed that of most beef cattle.
Veal calves are raised on small, family-owned
farms, the majority of which have fewer than 200 animals,
according to the AVA. They’re not castrated, their tails are
not docked, nor are their horns removed. Use of growth hormones
on calves is illegal, and antibiotics are used only if an animal gets sick.
And as of 2017, they’re no longer tethered or raised in confinement. All 700-odd
AVA member farmers transitioned to group housing, a process that took 10 years and a
collective investment of more than $150 million to build new facilities or renovate existing ones.
“The goal we’re meeting for these animals and for customers is the expression of natural behavior in
calves—the ability to sit, stand, stretch, lie down and socialize,” says AVA president Dale Bakke. “I think we’re really changing
perceptions and giving people permission to eat it again.”
Better life, deeper flavor
Raised on a mix of milk formula and grain, veal calves are about 6 months old and 500 pounds when they go to market—five
times older and twice the market weight of calves 30 years ago. Beyond the obvious animal welfare benefits, the nutritional changes
and increased movement are impacting the flavor of a meat historically known for being little else besides exceptionally tender.
n above aNd oppoSi Te: veal osso buco.