I'd get out my handkerchief at this point, but every time I think of how cattle must endure human cruelty, I remind myself of the inhumane treatment I got as a waiter from rude, overbearing and gleefully sadistic customers. Unlike my bovine buddies, I wasn't sent off to the packing plant, though I can think of a couple of hateful customers and at least one restaurant owner who might have enjoyed that.
When it comes to eating beef, I'm of the "don't ask, don't tell" school. Over the years, I've looked at more than one juicy, succulent Kansas City strip and wondered: Could this be from an animal infected with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (or, in plain English, mad cow disease)? I ponder that terrible thought just long enough to pick up a knife and slice into the steak. I trust the USDA the same way I trust all government agencies looking out for my welfare: with a heaping helping of disbelief. Still, I haven't been scared off beef. What I don't know or pretend I don't know can't hurt me, right? Sort of like my friend Betty's father, who smoked cigarettes right up to the day he died of emphysema, insisting that there was no connection between his two-pack-a-day habit and his inability to breathe.
I have several friends who won't eat chicken because of the allegedly heartless way the poultry industry raises birds for slaughter. "No living creature should be treated like that," insists my friend Dixie, who refuses to eat any animal products. And then I think of my late father, who hated watching his mother grab a squawking live chicken, wring its neck and, with a swift slash of a knife, cut off the bird's head. That didn't stop him from eating roasted chicken the same night.
"When you're hungry," he said, "you can overlook a lot of unpleasant realities."