I was going through my art supplies here in my apartment, attempting to sort and arrange things better now that I’ve been in the new place a few months. I came across a stack of handmade paper I’d made out of cattail and cottonwood fuzz, remembering how I’d used my grandpa’s cattle brand (seen here) as the watermark. When held to the light, these natural sheets of fiber revealed the brand faintly in the lower corner.
Grandpa had raised Herefords, but but got rid of them when I was five years old. I have only vague memories of them, though dad is pretty sure he’s glad they got rid of them. According to dad, they got sick, got out, got loose, or got into trouble at precisely the moment when you were least conveniently able to deal with it.
While watching Food, Inc. several months ago, I remember turning to my friend and telling him that not only did we know where our beef came from when we were growing up, but that we often knew the name.
“There was this steer we called Bubblebutt,” I said, knowing that any conversation started with such a great lead was only destined for eye rolling.
Growing up, my sister and I were over in my grandpa’s pasture quite a bit, since he kept the horses out with the cattle. If we wanted to ride horse, we had to go out there to get them. Sometimes we’d lure the cattle up to the gate by feeding them tall grass. It wasn’t as if they didn’t have grass to eat in the pasture, but cows always seem to go to the farthest edge of their pen, stick their neck out, and get that “better” grass on the other side. We’d easily have a mob of cattle up at the red metal gate, hungrily pulling the grass from our hands as fast as we could pick it, doing all the weird things they do with their tongues and noses.
Bubblebutt was the easiest to pick out of the herd, for obvious reasons. He had a lump on his posterior. He was always front and center when we fed them grass, and so we fondly talked to Bubblebutt as he munched away on the grass. And then one day, he was gone. He did not come up to the gate with the rest. It was just a few days before our freezer was filled with white-wrapped packages of meat from the butcher in Munich.
“Where did Bubblebutt go?” I asked my sister in a panic, realizing that summer barbecue season wasn’t going to be as festive as it had in the past.
Bubblebutt was much smaller, crammed into that freezer, than I remembered him.
Perhaps my nephews are more aware of things than I was at their age. I named my 4-H sheep project “Friendly” and they named their beef projects things like “Sir Loin” and “Jerky” and “Roast” and “Supper.”
I think somewhere there is a line between knowing the source of your food, and being able to talk about your memories of it back before it was food. That is, the hamburger is less enjoyable if, between bites, you can reminisce about all the fun times you had with it when it mooed.