Das Kowpital

"Has anyone ever seen a clean cow?"

It's hard to know where to begin to respond to Jeremy Rifkin's apocalyptic new book, Beyond Beef. You could start with Chesterton's famous remark on "believing anything," or some of the paleoconservative ruminations on "Gnosticism." Perhaps in a time when Oliver Stone's paranoid (and lucrative) fantasies pass as history and when even critics who know that there is no truth in these genuflect before JFK's "power," we should not be surprised when such establishment organs as Time magazine take Rifkin's "ideas" seriously. My peculiar circumstances as a naturalist with a background in biology who actually lives in cattle country have perhaps distorted my responses, since I find Beyond Beef to be very nearly hilarious in its mixture of hysteria and warped emphasis.

"Ancient beef-eating myths and dietary practices," Rifkin argues, "have been used throughout history to maintain male dominance and establish gender and class hierarchies. In the modern age, beef-eating has been used as a tool to forge national identity, advance colonial policies, and even promote racial theory. . . . We will . . . assess the moral and ethical implications that flow from the deconstruction of modern meat." Cattle, he believes,...

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