Sunday, November 16, 2008

Andrew Rimas & Evan Fraser's "Beef"

Andrew Rimas and Evan D. G. Fraser are the authors of Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World.

Rimas applied the “Page 99 Test” to Beef and reported the following:
Our page begins with what I think is a pretty fortunate sentence fragment:

"'…a toothbrush made from a branding iron!' Once again, the Masai turned expectantly to the clever boy.

"He puffed out his chest and said to them, 'Go and slaughter your steers, and then circumcise me. I am going to become a warrior!'"

I like the toothbrush bit. This passage has more exclamation marks than I’m accustomed to use, but since I’m quoting a legend being told by a Kenyan tribal elder, I figure I can dip into the emphatic. The story ends with a murderous denouement in which the Masai kill all their oppressors – it has a gory, retributive feel similar to Odysseus’s homecoming. Back outside the story, we leave the village, mulling over the connection between cows and bloodshed:

"We drove on, a shower of stones drumming on the undercarriage as we passed a boy stooping on the edge of his family’s field, watching for stray cows nosing at the crop. He waved at us with one hand, while the other held tight to a knotty stick. Then he vanished, swallowed by the bleached dust of the road."

So we’ve got a dramatic tribal myth followed by a metaphor for the ambivalence of progress – the boy half-clinging to a vanishing way of life, even while he’s helplessly enmeshed in a situation that rejects the traditions he loves. He’s literally stuck on a roadside nurturing a modern, commercial cash crop at the expense of his darling cattle. That pretty much sums up one of our main arguments. The history of cows is a descent from the mythic and whole to the
fragmented and dully material, and there are costs (dully material costs, even) to this debasement.

As random pages go, I’m pretty happy with the breadth of this one. It combines storytelling with travelogue with an elegiac meditation on our profound relationship with this animal. Add some recipes and agricultural science, and you’ve got our book.
Browse inside Beef, and learn more about the book at the publisher's website.

Visit Andrew Rimas's website and Dr. Evan Fraser's website.

--Marshal Zeringue