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Monday, January 5, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Northwest lite

Reflections of a mad cowboy: Be a man, eat that burger

Seattle Times staff reporter

If you're as alarmed as I am about Washington's mad-cow case, then you know precisely why the disease must be stamped out without an instant's hesitation:

To shut the gobs of insufferable vegetarians here. Especially the ones who wear leather.

One of mad cow's most horrifying symptoms is to make these people even more self-righteous than usual. In a just ecosystem, they would begin to stagger after eating veggie burgers with those fake grill marks. Silly Cow Disease. (Incidentally, I plan to have my next New York strip cut into the shape of a zucchini.)

Take note of my bovine field research: During the WTO riots, I found myself interviewing one of the lead protesters in their headquarters. He seemed ill at ease, so I tried an ice-breaker. "Pez?" I said, holding out the dispenser.

He gawked at it. "Is it vegan?"

"No, but this is," I said, and launched the ninny across the room with a swift foot to his sunken chest.

At least that's what I meant to do. Is it vegan? Pez? Now you see the scourge we're really up against. Our meat must be safe, or that guy can cock back his powder hat — but not jauntily, never jauntily — and say, "I told you so, dude."

Dude notwithstanding, government officials claim Americans are at virtually no health risk from mad-cow disease. But if I sit in just one more restaurant where some imperious veginazi makes a show of grilling the poor waiter about every molecule that goes into the menu items as if it were a final exam in electron microscopy, then everyone had better pray to the Sprout Gods that this mad cowboy ain't packing a cattle prod. I'll give Mr. Meatfree the attention he craves. So there's a serious safety issue here.

The diseased cow found in Mabton was a "downer," meaning it couldn't walk. Consuming it could cause a "bummer," meaning your brain could melt into your lap.

To be more precise, the disease, called Bovine Somethingorother, eats holes in victims' brains and turns them spongy. It erases memories, destroys reasoning faculties, and leads to either Courtney Love or a coma, and then an ugly death.

Tasty irony here. Cows are vegetarians who generally mind their own business, and never pick an argument over whether the guy they're dating would store his meat in their refrigerator if they were married. They get sick when evil ranchers turn them into carnivores — and cannibals — by feeding them nasty remains of cattle and other livestock. It's all very impolite.

As part of its irony-reduction program, the United States banned the use of most animal products in feed in 1997. The Food and Drug Administration admits that the process was flawed but says compliance is around 99 percent now. Officials said they're recalling meat only out of an "abundance of caution" and not because they think it's dangerous.

Since our government never lies, I want officials from the agriculture secretary on down to every inspector to eat nightly meals of head-cheese fondue until the coast is 100 percent clear. Showing the most charisma of his career, Gov. Gary Locke exhibited Leadership Through Eating by announcing he'd be having beef for Christmas dinner.

Meanwhile, McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's promptly issued statements to reassure consumers that their beef is safe from mad cow — and the Hamburglar has always walked that way. Fast food will only clog your arteries, make you balloon into Ruben Studdard and then implode your heart. But your brain is perfectly McSafe.

Chew on these items: The General Accounting Office investigation last year showed that those FDA feed inspections were spotty. Downers were banned only last week, after meat lobbyists had thrown themselves in front of previous legislation like the NRA with assault rifles. (You can pry the burger out of my cold, dead hands.) And the brain trust just now figured out that the crazy Mabton cow was born in 1997. We're not exactly talking about the strictest velvet rope at Heifer Studio 54.

This means we're still at grave risk of the spread of obnoxious vegetarians. They can't discreetly be euthanized, but other measures are being taken.

Washington scientists are looking into labels for mad cow that better reflect our state. For instance: Disappointed Cow Disease: Because nobody's mad; we just want the cow to think about what it's doing.

Researchers have also discovered a localized strain they're calling Passive-Aggressive Cow Disease: The cow acts friendly in front of you, then waits until you've left the room to act mad. It gets back to you through mutual friends.

Seattle-based coffee companies are also developing a new milk-based espresso drink: Skullcappuccino! Would you like extra froth with that?

Mark Rahner: 206-464-8259 or mrahner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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