Gary Rotstein's The Morning File: Go, steer, go! The Baltimore (former) bull that rambled


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Let's be clear from the outset that The Morning File is not a vegan column and doesn't even want anyone suggesting it should be a vegetarian column, which is only slightly less abnormal.

We're too lazy and too interested in what has always tasted good to us, instead of in what someone tells us is good for us. After consuming perhaps 5,000 hamburgers in the past half-century, the goal here is to double that before all's said and done.

But we couldn't help but be moved by a courageous steer's tale of escape from a Baltimore slaughterhouse Friday, every bit as much as our heartstrings were pulled by Steve McQueen's epic but futile quest astride a motorcycle in "The Great Escape" to race away from Nazi captors.

The first paragraph of a story in The Baltimore Sun read as follows:

"A 780-pound steer headed for slaughter in West Baltimore seized a chance at freedom Friday, leaping a barbed-wire fence and taking a brisk two-mile walk along North Avenue that ended when the animal was gunned down by police in Mid-Town Belvedere."

The incident brings a number of questions to mind:

1) What kind of 780-pound animal leaps over barbed-wire fences? Former Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton appeared to weigh only half that much, yet seemed incapable of such a feat.

2) Is this evidence that cattle are as dumb as they say, since the steer that should have subsequently been running for its life simply walked -- not ran, walked -- down the middle of a busy street instead of looking to hide itself?

3) How come Baltimore still has slaughterhouses but you never hear of them around Pittsburgh anymore? Yes, we're proud of our eds-and-meds economy, but for diversification to help survive a downturn affecting one of those sectors, wouldn't we be better off with an ed-meds-and-slaughter economy?

4) If a bull that has been castrated (that's what it means to be a steer) is capable of such a feat, is it something that should inspire all males to consider the procedure?

5) Shouldn't police in the city where "The Wire" was set be breaking up drug rings instead of gunning down defenseless animals out for a morning stroll?

This beast of a beast had less than an hour of final freedom after escaping from the George G. Ruppersberger & Sons Inc. slaughterhouse, according to police. It was one of two steers that got loose among 31 bovines brought in that morning, the Sun reported, but it was the only one able to jump the fence like some kind of Supersteer.

Motorists were stunned by the animal's presence in their midst, and people who heard about it converged on the scene snapping cell phone pictures like they'd never seen a cow in their lives. Or else maybe they were looking for a free steak.

When police cars tried to hem in the steer, a police spokesman said, it simply "vaulted over the hood of a car."

Clearly, this was not your ordinary runaway steer, if there is such a thing. If it could speak, and was properly represented by some skilled marketing agent, it would have become a national celebrity, appearing on all of the talk shows and writing a best-seller: "From Castration to Elation: My Run for Life in Baltimore." (Or was that title already taken by a Ravens running back?)

But because it was just a bum steer, it never had the chance to get a hero's treatment. It was felled by multiple shots by police who surrounded it.

In an ultimate indignity, The Associated Press reported, "The carcass was hauled away by representatives of a company that recycles restaurant grease and animal byproducts."

Nice. Doesn't really sound like a 21-gun salute is in store for this courageous creature. Its heart should be donated to some other animal, or even person, who would benefit from inheriting the organ of such an admirable creature, but this steer seem destined to live on only by virtue of its recycled byproducts -- whatever that means.

All this to avoid ending up as part of the menu at your nearest fast food franchise, perhaps. It's enough to make a vegan of a man ... at least after he gets those other 5,000 hamburgers out of the way first.

Gary Rotstein: grotstein@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1255.


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