A quarter-century ago, when I interviewed for a position at this newspaper, editors took me for lunch at the Hoof & Horn Steak House. I wondered later if an out-of-town job candidate ever rejected an offer of employment.
In those days, there remained catty-cornered from the South Side restaurant the pens that had been used in one of the pre-eminent stockyards in the nation, a heretofore bustling construction through which traveled the raw material of a million meals.
From where we sat at one of the window booths, I could look out and see a bit of history. And from my plate, the last link of this food chain beckoned.
As documented before in this space, the dinners of my youth had never been an occasion of off-menu requests.
In truth, you did get a choice: the meal put before you or a growling stomach. I always went for the first option.
On my plate, we usually had red meat … not for any particular allegiance to local producers but because that’s what people did in that place and time. I come from a long line of carnivores, and I make no apologies for my nature.
I have had occasion in my adult life to travel through the north-central reaches of Nebraska. A couple of features distinguish this region, one related to the other.
The landscape has dunes known as the Sandhills, formed by a glacial period tens of thousands of years ago. When the glaciers receded, they deposited sediments across these plains, and grasses eventually took over.
Because of this, the land proved largely unworthy for crops but supremely suited for grazing. Thus, this second feature, the abundance of cattle, can’t be missed in the vast countryside.
In fact, Cherry County, Nebraska, named for an Army lieutenant killed by a drunken soldier under his command, has a census of roughly 166,000 cattle and about 5,800 human beings.
I wonder, given the solidarity of my childhood meals and the prime-cut industry of the Sandhills I visited in later years, about the astonished perspectives in this continuum on meatless meats.
Celebrities have fallen in with the creators of plant-based burgers, backing items named Impossible and Beyond available on store shelves and at chain restaurants.
It has become a fake-beef fad, with the greatest accolade being a description of “somewhat meat-like” and vaguely “realistic.”
(Cattle ranchers, standing amid a herd in boots caked with mud and other less appetizing by-product, surely counter with, “I got your realistic right here.”)
Add to this a study out in recent days by Canadian, Spanish and Polish researchers finding little link between meat consumption and various cardiovascular woes. Not enough evidence exists to advocate changes in dietary habits, they said.
This nearly caused members of the American College of Cardiology to have a collective heart attack, the group decrying “the reckless dietary recommendations.”
None of this should be surprising, given the times. If we agree on anything, it’s that we can’t agree on much, not even a steak dinner. Especially a steak dinner.
Anyone lauding moderation as a personal virtue will be informed by someone that moderation just isn’t good enough. Extreme views get embraced, as long as they’re the proper extreme views. Otherwise, they’re despised.
Those of us in the nonmedical laity can never understand why the next health study so fully contradicts the last health study. (Coffee has benefits. Coffee kills. And so forth.)
Maybe in these conflicts, we find balance. Divided times have centrifugal force, pushing folks to the edges. At least people can count on a good meal.