On Cows

Continued–a bit–from: Dr. Death

A couple years and a few killed animals later, I ended up as the managing editor of the newspaper in Boerne, Texas, a little town founded in the late 1800s by German immigrants, but well on its way to being just another San Antonio suburb. Like many of my other rural-oriented newspaper positions, I spent much of my time cruising through the countryside on narrow roads blaring music and every now and again, catching the eyes of cattle…meaning that I saw a lot of cattle, of course, but occasionally my gaze would meet theirs. Ojo a ojo. Now I don’t know if you’ve ever really looked into the eyes of a cow, and probably not a bull, but they have that look like they think you’re going kill them at any moment. I know they’ve long been a prey species, but why do they look that way? After all, we feed them. Some of us even pull their slimy hooves out of their mom’s catooga to bring them into this world. We brand them, castrate them, inject them with semen. But again, we feed them. So why the eye?

Not sure, because I really know nothing about cattle, and knew much less then. Which is what led me to thinking that not only did I know nothing about these beasts, but I certainly didn’t know squat about how they got from chewing cud in the field to ending up pooling blood on a rounded rectangle of Styrofoam at the grocery store. I began poking more at the cellophane on each meet pack at the local H-E-B, fingering the smooth plastic to get an antiseptic feeling of the cold flesh beneath. But I didn’t know any more. I suppose I could have crawled in bed with a T-bone….ugh, no they have those prickly bones…maybe a flank steak and rolled around with it, tonguing the rim of fat, gripping the fibers of flesh until they left little chunks of meat under my fingernails, then soothing my aching testicles by wrapping them in the deep red center of the cut.

Or I could just interview a farmer.

But I didn’t bother with either. I just let my ignorance roll off in computer keystrokes and on to the pages of the Boerne Star Newspaper (somewhere around 1996)…

I might spend six months straight eating beef. Big hunks of beef, six months straight. Just a thought, since I figured out that if you only spend 10 minutes a day eating beef (a rather conservative figure) you’d spend six months of your life in that pursuit, if you lived to 72, which you might not if you eat a lot of beef.

The beef thoughts appeared not out of the blue but from a happenstance barrage of beef related information that came my way within a short span of time to me.

Within the week, I:

  • * Saw a dead cow on the side of the road being picked apart by buzzards.
  • * Came across a Newsweek at the library with a cover story on the problem of illegal aliens working in dangerous Iowa meat packing plants.
  • * Received the latest press release from the Texas Beef Council highlighting everything beef.
  • * Read a letter to the editor from a vegetarian about the excessive waste produced by cattle.
  • * Heard a NPR report on Britain’s efforts to control mad cow disease.
  • * Heard another radio report from Texas cattle growers criticizing Britain for its refusal to accept hormone-induced beef.

Having been assailed with beef topics, I realized that I don’t know much about them, the meat things. The only thing I really know about cattle is that they are tagged in the ears, they are intelligent enough to respond to feed calls, they can’t seem to survive on grass alone, and that the calves respond to my “moos.” Otherwise I don’t know anything about cows (or bulls), chickens, pigs, lambs, or anything else I eat.

It’s despicable. Recently in the market, I looked down at a steak and realized that the weekly ritual of buying meat had made me disassociate it from anything near its source. The actual flesh became a textured substance that conjured up cooking methods, and recipes and how they would affect the texture rather than a remembrance of living tissue. The blood was something merely to drain out over the sink rather than a realization of a former animal’s “life blood,” its vital fluid to carry nutrients and air to the tissue. It was just packaged…stuff. To cook. Cut. Chew. Resting on a bed of Styrofoam.

My decisions on whether to buy the meat aren’t based on any knowledge of where it came from, what it was fed or its name. Rather, they are based things like “Do I need .86 of a pound or .72? Should I go for the $2.89 or the $.3.02?”

Likewise, where McDonalds or Wendy’s get their hamburger doesn’t matter. It’s the bun they use to sandwich it and the time it takes to go through the drive through that affects the decision.

My agricultural ignorance came to its apex of awareness while driving along a roadway hemmed in on both sides with pasture. Rebecca, my fiancée’ asked a pertinent question. “How do they kill cows?”

“Beats me.” Knowing that I always have an answer, she didn’t except that one. “Well,” I said. They herd them into these stalls and send them single file into this pen where they knock them over the head with a big jack hammer.”

She couldn’t accept this answer either, deeming it absurd. “Seriously,” I said searching the crannies of memory patches. “It’s like this big hammer device and it comes down and crocks them right over the head. They’re out like a light.”

“Are they dead?”
“I don’t know. But they’re out like a light.”

This was before the Newsweek article that enlightened me to the fact that hogs are blitzed in the brain with a high-voltage prod, rendering them senseless. Dead? Who knows? But definitely senseless. Then they haul them up in the air, slit their throats and let ‘em bleed all over the place before hosing all over the place.

Must be the same way with cows, I thought, just more voltage.

The idea that I was so far removed from what sustained me, scared me. I decided to learn everything I could about my food, and in particular the living foods. I recalled that I hadn’t really spent any time with a cow, or a bull, or a calf. Real quality time, that is.

I noted that I’d never taken a tour of a slaughterhouse. Why not? As Cub Scouts in Dallas we used to take the Mrs. Baird’s Bakery tour and get a big Texas-toast size, hot slice of bread with a glob of butter. Couldn’t we have toured a meat plant, sampled a freshly slaughtered slab of flesh. Perhaps 4-H kids here do that.

I wished that I were a Kendall County Rancher with a bunch of ranch. Oh to be living more off the land. I’d have a small herd of cattle, a couple of other edible animals. I’d eat mainly the vegetables and fruit I grew, buy loaves of bread at the bakery. Then when the mood hit me, I’d walk outside with my .45 caliber pistol, look the critter or beast in the eye hombre a hombre and BANG, pop ‘em right in the skull. Dinner. That’s the real way to kill, in person, since that’s how you’ll be eating it.

Then I thought the only thing worse than knowing nothing about what you eat has to be knowing everything about what you eat. Whether you’re an agricultural expert (farmer) or an animal rights activist, it has to be drag having the lowdown on the life cycle—from it’s cute beginnings, to gory demise—of a mass produced being designed for human consumption.

And I figure that it’s probably pretty useless to know all about meat anyway, since the meat we eat probably won’t have much meat in it pretty soon. The trend in this area probably started in the crab department. Imitation crab—a conglomerate of cheap ocean fish ground into mash, remolded and painted with real crab-like markings—is a hit. Likewise the fat free movement will further accelerate this movement. Just think about it. We’ve actually gone so far as to try and simulate the hot dog, as if this mish-mash of by-product (just what is a by-product?) needs an imitation of its own. I picked up some fat-free (turkey) sausage the other day and read that it was mainly made of gelatin, probably with artificial turkey flavoring.

Before you know it, you’ll be seeing gelatin mold rib-eyes, and simulated bone to accompany the T-bones. And as you sit and stare at the $4.56 versus the $4.73 in the artificial beef section of the supermarket, you’ll suddenly wonder, “What are cows for, anyway?”



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