January 20, 2004

Your Guide to an Empty Stomach

Lately I’ve been thinking about this Mad Cow business. It’s amazing to think that meat could ever be bad for you!

Is the Mad Cow threat being overblown? It’s easy to think so, considering all the fear that’s been pumped into us like heroin over the past couple of years. And I surely do not follow the Official List of Scary Stuff put out hourly by the government. On the other hand, we’re talking about food here. Beef is a lot more common in our daily lives than terrorism.

Mad Cow disease originates from cows being fed the yummy entrails of their diseased siblings. This cannibalism has long been illegal in Europe and has been banned in the United States since 1997. In keeping with our country’s proud tradition of having things permanently going away once they’re made illegal, the practice is still done by some U.S. farmers to this day. Because of this bovine buffet, Mad Cow disease has invaded U.S. soil for the first time. For eight states in the Pacific Northwest, the ad with the cow holding the “eat mor chikin” sign has never held more emotional resonance.

Mad Cow disease works through microbes called “prions.” Prions eat holes in your brain and can survive temperatures of 600 degrees Fahrenheit. Early symptoms of the disease include insomnia, amnesia, depression, anxiety, isolation and paranoia. Just like studying!

MCD goes by all sorts of different names: bovine spongiform encephalopathy, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, etc. Snore. If health officials really wanted to effectively warn people, they’d refer to it by one of its other names: scrapie! The term Mad Cow is unintentionally amusing; that brings to mind a picture of Elsie on crack. But who wouldn’t be afraid of something called scrapie in their body? Just a thought.

It strikes me as strange how so few people seem uptight about the domestic Mad Cow outbreak. The same people who burned their mail during the anthrax scare and who taped plastic sheeting all over their homes think that the idea of bugs in beef is sheer paranoia. But it’s no surprise that people do not want to give up their beef. Meat is one of the eight major legal American addictions, along with caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, Ritalin, money, guns and gasoline.

I have to admit that I enjoy a good slice of beef myself. I am not vegetarian, though I go on that kick from time to time. And I usually eat chicken anyway, so I only have to worry about steroids in my meat. For us omnivores, the USDA and food providers have a plan to make the tasty flesh safer. Or so they say.

The beef and cattle industry is currently reassuring consumers that, for the most part, their beef is safe to eat—which is like saying, “This beef won’t kill you, unless it does.” The USDA is getting slammed from all sides for its outdated testing methods and is struggling to cover its own rump. This whole episode is a perfect example of just how far the conservative mentality has taken over. Even in the face of this horror, some are still against strengthening the meat inspection process; after all, that might mean beef will cost three cents more per pound! Will big government ever be stopped?

This is the mentality that has resulted in the United States losing 90 percent of its international beef clientele overnight. Even worse, it may have irreversibly damaged the reputation of one of the most nutrient-enriched (if fatty) foods in existence. Hopefully, this scare is merely another instance of American jitters. Anybody hungry?

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