The Beef Epitaph

This is what it was: Sometime in the recent but until now unrecorded
past, it was decided by certain ingenious and commercially forward-looking
cattle-ranchers in a certain large, modern Western nation which prides itself
on being nutritionally forward-looking, that since people are increasingly
nutrition-conscious, and increasingly insistent that "you are what you
eat," all cattle on the way to market were to be marked with brief
descriptive tags noting the favorite food of each animal; and also stating
approximately how much each ate of it. This, it was felt, would both delight
the diner and comfort the nutrition-conscious consumer: people would be able to
tell exactly what kind of flavor and texture of beef they were purchasing
beforehand, and always be able to secure exactly the kind of product most
likely to delight their taste, since they would know a whole lot more than ever
before about the quality and kind of nourishment which the animal had received
(it was a little like our own, well-established, present-day modern American
system of catering to preferences for light and dark meat in chicken--by
supplying each part shrink-wrapped in a separate bag in the supermarkets). The
system set up by those ingenious and commercially forward-looking
cattle-ranchers was remarkably efficient; and seemed--at least at first--to be
destined for success. This is how it worked: First, on each animal's
last day on the ranch, they attached the main, or so-called "parent"
tag--made out according to information provided by each rancher, or their hired
hands, or even (in some cases) their immediate family--to each head of
livestock. The information contained on each tag would be of course be
definitive, since it was compiled just before the two or three days required
for shipment of the animal to the slaughterhouse--during which travel time, of
course, the animal customarily doesn't eat anything, anyway.... Once at the
slaughterhouse, they carefully removed the "parent tags"; and during
the slaughtering, mechanically duplicated them numerous times, preparing
perhaps hundreds of tiny labels for each animal. Immediately afterwards, at the
packing plant, these miniature, or "baby" tags were affixed,
respectively to the proper bodily parts--each section of each animal being
separately and appropriately tagged, each as if with an epitaph. But then
something went wrong with this means of delighting the diner, and of comforting
the nutrition-conscious consumer. At first, quite predictably, the tags came
out reading things like "Much grass, a little moss, medium grain" and
"Much grass, much grain, generally ate a lot." And this, as one might
expect, proved (at least at first), a great pleasure to purchasers! But then
tags began coming through reading things like "A little grass, a little
grain, many diverse scraps from our table"; and "She was our favorite
pet--gave her all we had to give"; and there was even one (featured at
dinnertime one evening on network television news) which was tear-stained and
which said, in a child's handwriting, "Good-bye, Little Blackie Lamb,
sorry you had to grow up--I'll sure miss you!" And so, gradually, despite
its efficiency, this system somehow ceased to delight the diner, and comfort
the nutrition-conscious consumer. And this is how the practise of The Beef
Epitaph became generally neglected over the course of time; and how the members
of a large, nutrition-conscious, and otherwise generally quite sophisticated
modern nation very much like our own, came to eat their beef--as indeed they
still do today--partially or even totally blindfolded.

by Michael Benedikt

Comments (1)

Michael, I liked this, as well as your other work.