End of the Line

Meaty Issues

Saving the planet––one bite at a time

Illustration: Barry Blitt

Recently Joan went away for two weeks, to see about her mother. “Oh, well,” I thought, “at least I can go non-organic.” Don’t get me wrong, we have a robust gustatory marriage. But she is determined to shop and cook and eat in such a way as not to destroy the planet. I’ve done a thing or two along those lines, myself. You know nutria? Red-toothed beavers with long skinny tails? I ate two big servings of nutria once. It tasted sort of like pork, if a pig were a rodent. I did it on TV, as part of a campaign by the state of Louisiana to encourage the eating of these rodents because they are doing their best to consume that state’s wetlands. I enjoyed the nutria, cooked by a French chef, but the campaign did not catch on, perhaps because I come off as being too much like the character in the Harry Crews novel All We Need of Hell whose mother says of him, “He’ll eat anything he can chew up.”

I don’t like to be fussy. A friend of mine had an aunt who was into health food way before anybody else in Mississippi even considered it. She would send away for special beans and powders and nuts. And sure enough, she kept trim and lively and never got sick. But her family did not approve: It wasn’t how the Lord meant folks to eat. At a ripe old age, this aunt went into a coma. And stayed that way for years and years. “See,” said her family, “when her natural time came, her mind passed, but her body was too healthy to go.” For everyone’s sake, I’d prefer for my mind and body to go out together, ideally over a bowl of chili.

But when I got to the grocery store, and went straight over to the produce that cost two-thirds as much because it wasn’t stamped “organic,” and began to squeeze it openly—I felt, I don’t know, it wasn’t as though I was seeing other women. But I was seeing other vegetables. And speaking of other women, what if Joan’s friend Bonnie walked by? If you ever need to know that something you want to eat will kill you, check with Bonnie. Soy products? Haven’t you heard? Pasteurized milk? Do you think calves drink that? Pineapple? Not unless you grew it yourself.

So I had lunch at a Mexican place. Frijoles! They may not be holy, but they’re pretty darn near free! And made my way home. Where our cat Jimmy insisted that he be let out to take his chances in the food chain. (I did let him go, with a little prayer, because the fox and her litter that had been lurking on the land next door were reliably reported to have moved on.) And I found that Joan had e-mailed me a video. It showed a man named Allan Savory telling a TED conference that more and more of the earth is turning to desert.

Well, I didn’t need convincing that the world is running out of water. And tempting as it may be to conclude, based on other YouTube videos, that this is caused by cats who have learned to flush the toilet (I know if Jimmy ever got the knack, he’d be at it nine hours a day), it’s more likely people’s doing.

But the aptly named Savory says all is not lost. Clever cattle growers around the world are reversing desertification by rotating their herds at thoughtful intervals, so that bovine pee and poop, worked down into the soil by bovine footwork and given time to mingle with hopeful seedlings, are turning virtually barren, all-but-grazed-out land into green pasture, which absorbs carbon rather than sending it up into the ozone layer. We can go on abusing the planet otherwise, and the cows (who, yes, can continue to fart) will save us.

And how can we help? By eating the right beef! Nothing fussy in that! 
First I went out and urinated on the lawn and walked around on it—mostly as a symbolic gesture, but we might want to get a cow. Then I went back to the store and bought a big old juicy all-grass-fed steak. Which, to be sure, cost nine dollars a pound more than the feedlot-finished steaks, but it sure was tasty. And I felt involved in responsible husbandry.