From Publishers Weekly
While Americans may take a plentiful supply of hamburger patties for granted, the days of easy beef are threatened by climate change, dwindling Great Plains aquifers drained by irrigation and an unsustainable business model's thin profit margins, argue the authors of this lively and unsettling history-cum-polemic. Rimas and Fraser preface their sobering assessment with a panoramic history; they write vividly about the semimystical aurochs that became extinct in 1627, the Spanish bullfighting tradition, the African Masai's continuing reverence for cows, plagues that ravaged European herds in the 19th century, and the cowboy era of great cattle drives. Once fattened entirely on pasture grass, cattle are now confined to feedlots for half their lives, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics and stuffed with grain they aren't naturally equipped to eat, sacrificing quality for quantity. The authors lament that cows ceased to be animals and they became commodities, and they certainly aren't antimeat; their colorful account is well-seasoned with a series of culinary interludes for such dishes as bull's tail stew, steak tartare, beef jerky and, of course, the great American hamburger. (Oct.)
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Distinctive among the many titles currently assessing the role of carnivorism in modern life, Rimas and Fraser’s spirited approach examines the evolution of the role of beef consumption and its varying effects on diverse cultures. The aurochs depicted in primitive cave paintings offer evidence that early humans were already interacting with cattle in wild state. East Africa’s Masai still engage in exuberant communal hopping after gorging on fire-roasted beef ribs and blood-based stew. The Spanish tradition of bullfighting has less to do with food than art: it reflects the tragic, the performance played out in the corrida strikingly similar to the drama acted out in Shakespeare’s theater. Rimas and Fraser recount the little-remembered but devastating effects of rinderpest, an infectious disease that decimated Europe’s cattle into the nineteenth century, efforts to contain it thwarted by shortsighted, greedy entrepreneurs. A few well-chosen recipes break up the authors’ narrative. --Mark Knoblauch