Peter Lovenheim, Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf

Update: Read this article by Peter Lovenheim, entitled simply "Won't You Be My Neighbor?" in the New York Times. A really great little piece, and indicative of the best parts of this book - without the discomfort of having to read about animal slaughter.

Inspired by the book club selection of Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, I got out of sequence and raced through Peter Lovenheim's Portrait of a Burger as a Young Calf: The Story of One Man, Two Cows, and the Feeding of a Nation. The book's more serious than its parodic title suggests, but less weighty than its no doubt publisher-scripted subtitle might imply.

A brief summary: journalist Peter Lovenheim experiences cognitive dissonance while lined up at McDonald's with his young daughter, waiting to get both a hamburger and a cow-shaped Teenie Beanie Baby. As a result, Lovenheim decides to follow a cow from conception to consumption, so he buys a couple of calves and finds himself involved with several smaller operations rather than the MegaCorps that supply the fast food monolith. In the end, he has to decide what to do with his calves, with which (with whom?) he's developed a fairly close relationship over a span of about two years. Should he send them for slaughter, or not? and if so, eat them or not?

It's more focused than Pollan's book (only covering one of his "meals"), and it's rather less precise in its assessment of ethics, markets, and capital. On the other hand, it's more of a story, too, so it might be more readable. Not for me, unfortunately, because I got kind of tired of the narrator and his waffling, but if The Omnivore's Dilemma was interesting but slow, this book might work for you. You'll learn quite a bit more about meat operations than you do in Pollan's book (who knew that 30% of a hamburger is probably made of dairy cows rather than beef cows?) - and actually I'm finding Lovenheim's book is having a bigger impact on my habits than Pollan's did.

Which is seriously maddening, because I was so distracted that I kept wondering if Lovenheim was having an affair on one of the farms, or expecting a husband to punch him for spending too much time with his wife! I mean, that's a sign of how engaged I was by how Lovenheim went about addressing the book's central questions.

Enjoyable and fairly informative, but relatively light in its philosophic heft, and yet somehow sneakily effective. Can a book about slaughtering cows be light summer reading, I wonder?


sexy said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Popular Posts