Over the weekend, I attended the Food & Wine festival at Busch Gardens. 13 different food stations, each with several dishes, 65+ different wines, and over 70 different beers (SeaWorld, 2017). Among these offerings were dishes I’ve never seen before and exotic, spiced-up version of more familiar foods.
The “normal” dishes included various mac and cheeses, shrimp and grits, salmon, beef brisket, and hanger steak–all things I’ve seen on a regular basis and that most people would have no trouble eating (aside from vegans and vegetarians, of course). Things you can browse at the local supermarket next to toilet paper and rat poison.
The other offerings were not so easily accessible. Ceviche, goat cheese polenta, lamb chops, pheasant sausage, bison burgers, and venison meatloaf were all up for grabs. A veteran of cruising the gulf on pretentious cruise ships where food is often needlessly fancy, I thought I was pretty used to seeing strange meats. Sure, I’d seen lamb and goat cheese before but they’re not exactly supermarket staples. The others were much more unknown.
My stomach lurched at the thought of these exotic meats. I remember learning in middle school that 20 to 30 million bison once populated North America before they were nearly hunted to extinction and habitat loss further decreased numbers (Defenders of Wildlife, 2016). Fewer than 500,000 bison are alive today and the vast majority of those are raised as livestock.
An animal once nearly extinct, presented on a Styrofoam plate, garnished with sriracha ketchup, in the blazing heat of a theme park in Florida as drunk people sauntered around unsteadily by 1 pm.
Bison. What was so special about bison? The rarity? The fact that I’ve never seen one before? Knowing that the animal narrowly avoided going extinct? I don’t know, yet this simple bison slider made me uneasy. I eat beef, regular ol’ hamburgers without an issue. We sell them for $1 a piece at drive-thru windows of sticky fast food restaurants. This bison slider was a specialty item at a short-term festival selling for $5.
Bison and cows are similar in many ways yet one is much more special than the other. Cows are raised for meat and milk production on an enormous scale. Cows are injected with hormones and growth additives, selectively bred to produce the most equitable products, even if that means impairing the cows (Taylor, 2014).
We exploit cows for their bodies, their strength, and their products (Braidotti, 2009). We don’t care if the treatment is bordering on inhumane. The raising of livestock is a multi-billion dollar business and there are huge profits to be made. Certainly there must be profit in bison production. The slider was five times as expensive and a smaller portion. If there wasn’t money to be made people wouldn’t be in the business, right?
It’s morally a’okay to exploit cows but exploiting bison puts us shaky ground. This doesn’t even include the pheasant and vision offerings at the festival. Do we have farms full of deer and birds? Does the production of their meat have the same kind of standards as beef and chicken production? Are they treated with more respect due to their exotic nature or are they slaughtered even less humanely?
If we eat meat, where do you draw the line between animals that are okay to eat and those that are off limits?
Well, if you’re drunk off of wine and craft beer maybe that line shifts a little.
By Emily Skjerve
Braidotti, R. (2009). Animals, Anomalies, and Inorganic Others. PMLA, 124(2), 526-532. doi:10.1632/pmla.2009.124.2.526
Defenders of Wildlife (Ed.). (2016, September 19). Basic Facts About Bison. Retrieved from http://www.defenders.org/bison/basic-facts
SeaWorld (Ed.). (2017). MENUS. Retrieved from https://seaworldparks.com/en/buschgardens-tampa/food-and-wine/menus
Taylor, S. (2014). Animal Crips. Journal For Critical Animal Studies, 12(2), 95-117.