Tuesday, November 12, 2002

A steak by any other name?

Norman has ruined steak for me.

This is something neither cholesterol alerts nor the antics of People for the Ethical Treatment of All Animals Except Humans has been able to accomplish. I remained a selective carnivore. I don't eat dogs, cats, exotic animals or horses, but everything else, more or less, was on the table.

Until Norman, a Guernsey calf. Technically, half his various steaks and chops belong to me. I also own the briskets of the Holstein brothers, Freckles and Domino. Beginner's luck, you might say, at my first livestock auction.

I'd promised my husband - and myself - that I was there as a spectator. Only one of us believed this. Mike remembers the last time I "spectated" at an auction and came home with a lava lamp and a set of bongo drums.

`Eat Mor Chikin'

Our daughter, Meg, met us at a stockyard in northwestern Ohio, near her home. Her home, by the way, is a gorgeous little farm with lush pastures, two barns and very few animals.

A dozen tiny calves were herded into the ring. Two were black and white - the kind of cows climbing up the Chick-fil-A "Eat Mor Chikin" billboards. The rest were tan and white. Very cute.

The bidding began.

And I began bidding.

I can't explain this, but apparently it is genetic. Meg hissed that she'd "go halfsies." The last farmer dropped out at $95. We think. I have been known to raise my own bid.

"I'll take the black and white ones," I shouted. Mike rolled his eyes and slipped out to find an ATM machine, as the bidding continued. Finally, just one tiny tan and white calf was left. He swayed on spindly legs. He batted his long eyelashes. He cried in cow language.

For $7, Norman was ours.

He and the Holsteins are on solid food after weeks of bottle feeding. It was touch and go for Norman. After electrolytes and antibiotics, he's on his way. But we're not sure where. Not really. Our cows are what is known as "dairy beef," meaning every cow has a job and Holsteins and Guernseys who can't give milk are expected to give, well, you know.

We feel stupid. And sad. We didn't know cows had personalities. We didn't know they'd come when they were called. Or that they like to be scratched under their chins. That they are affectionate and aware.

"This is something a lot of us struggle with," says Harold Dates, the genial director of Hamilton County's SPCA.

Last weekend, Mr. Dates joined Peter Max at Malton Gallery in Hyde Park in honor of the famous slaughterhouse escapee, "Cindy Woo." This cow was allowed to take her steaks intact to a sanctuary in New York last February. In return, the pop artist pledged to raise $180,000 for the humane society here.

I missed the art sale, but Harold thought I might want to go to a vegan dinner later this month.

I told him my consciousness is only partly raised. I have not yet made my peace with tofu. I suppose I could `Eat Mor Chikin.' And fish. And beans.

Because I don't know any personally.

E-mail lpulfer@enquirer.com or phone 768-8393.

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