What About Bob?
Most of us found out about Bob’s death on Facebook, in a two-sentence obituary posted by his two-legged caregiver:
“So glad old Bob the Steer is home again – in the freezer,” the owner wrote. “Anyone want his heart or liver?”
(Someone chimed in that they’d bring the fava beans and Chianti.)
Bob was a benevolent bovine, in the fullest sense of the word. He would affectionately bat his long eyelashes at you, and then you’d swallow hard, knowing that this cud-chewing grazer was eventually going to simmer in your crockpot.
When my daughters found out about Bob’s scheduled demise, the oldest one chimed: “Awwww …. Bob’s going to be steak now? He was so nice, and he’s definitely going to Heaven because he donated his body to the dinner plate.”
I grimaced, not because of the graphic nature of this transition from field to freezer — but because my daughter was headed down the road of works-based theology: that one can earn his or her way to Heaven. Then again, she was only eight, so I avoided a theological treatise on grace. I digress.
Back to Bob.
The last time I saw him was late last fall before they loaded him onto the trailer. We had gone over to visit the animals — the cow, the horse, the pheasants and the exotic chickens. The clucking birds wore feathery plumes atop their heads — like floppy church-lady hats that swayed color with each jerking strut. The church ladies paced a bedside vigil, clucking Taps like they knew: It won’t be long. It won’t be long.
And it wasn’t.
A few weeks later, the butcher separated Bob into those white-paper packages that drop like boulders to the bottom of your freezer.
I hadn’t thought about Bob for quite a while, until I read the much-more-refined thoughts on food written by the much-more-reverent Wendell Berry. Berry, a farmer-author, writes of the advantages people have in knowing where their food comes from:
“The knowledge of the good health of the garden relieves and frees and comforts the eater. The same goes for eating meat. The thought of the good pasture and of the calf contentedly grazing flavors the steak. Some, I know, will think of it as bloodthirsty or worse to eat a fellow creature you have known all its life. On the contrary, I think it means that you eat with understanding and with gratitude.”
— Wendell Berry, The Pleasure of Eating
This morning, I called Bob’s human family, to ask a few questions.
He was a sweet steer — Angie recalled — cream-colored with the curliest lashes. He’d sleep with the cats, who cuddled in close, sometimes too close, in that they would meet death prematurely.
Angie and her husband, Randy, even sent a few photos of their old friend Bob:
It was before Thanksgiving when Bob left the farm.
And the next time I saw Bob, I was with the caregivers’ sister-in-law at the meat-locker. A coveralled butcher pulled cardboard boxes from the walk-in freezer. And there was Bob — God, rest his soul — separated into white-paper packages stamped with words: “T-bone. Beef roast. Hamburger.”
I gulped. Part of me thought: “Maybe it would just be easier to pick up the anonymous meat on display behind the glass case at the grocery store. Do I really want to get this close to my food?”
But Angie says that Wendell Berry is right. She and her family eat beef with greater appreciation because they knew the animal first. They know what he was fed, and how he was treated, and they know he’s all-natural. No additives or preservatives.
She said, however, that next time they bring home a steer, he shall remain nameless. It’s just easier that way.
“In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and our gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.”
— Wendell Berry
And in this way, we can say “Thank God for Bob.” (And we really do mean it.)
Photos contributed by Bob’s family, who live just up the road. Thank you, Randy and Angie!
This post is submitted as part of the book club discussion on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God. Laura Boggess is leading the discussion over at The High Calling each Monday. Even if you haven’t read the book, you’re welcome to participate. Feel free to join us there.
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Oh man. (I keep writing and deleting cause I am not sure what to say–being a vegan and all!)
Gulp. … I know, SCG.
I thought of you and some other vegan/vegetarian friends — dear friends all — when I wrote. Bless your heart for tapping out a blessing to me anyway. And can we still be friends?
I remember someone saying they named their steers after the food they would one day become, so that everyone would maintain an appropriate perspective throughout their time on the farm. So instead of "Bob," one might be "Chuck" and its brother, "Roast." One might be "Sirloin" and the other "Prime."
I've eaten my share of cattle raised on my parents' hobby farm. I didn't get very closer or personal to the animals, but I did go vegetarian at one point, as a teen.
I can attest that those cows and steers had a lovely life on the farm, though. Dad took very good care of them.
And there was Bob — God, rest his soul — separated into white-paper packages stamped with words: "T-bone. Beef roast. Hamburger."
If I had had the fortitude (and the money) to consider where my meat came from when I was busy making choices about these things (ten years ago), I probably would have looked for a Bob solution. Well, but our family was also facing the issue of heart disease, so maybe I wouldn't have.
But I love that you went with Bob. 🙂
We had a cow and calf that we named hamburger and cheeseburger when I was a girl. That's what they became too. I don't know. I don't think I could do it now! Is that lame? Naive? I know Berry is right when he says much better this than the animals raised in the "concentration camp".
Ugh. Vegan is sounding better by the minute, SCG.
Oh my this brings childhood memories to mind. We had rabbits. One night at the dinner table I was told it was chicken, and even at 6 I knew it didn't taste like chicken. Finally someone told me it was rabbit to which I responded with HUGE tears, "Is it Flossie or Rusty." That pretty much cleared the table and their was no more naming of pets that would wind up on the dinner table.
Love the pics of "Bob."
So your title is "What About Bob?" (one of my favorite movies). And you bring in a quote from Wendell Berry (one of my favorite authors). And you describe something that happens around here all the day–someone's beloved bovine ends up in someone else's beloved freezer.
I'll make a salad and baked potatoes for the feast.
I'm a meat lover, but I have to admit that some of those pics pulled on my heart strings! 😉
I love those "grass-fed" beef or organic stuff…Love those quotes you shared and the beautiful shots your neighbor gave. Our Scriptures can be speaking so loud and sometimes, just silent….So, why not savor "Bob" if the conscience is clear? This is written with love… 🙂
Your speaking of Bob reminds me of my daughter's reaction the first time she saw her uncle kill a chicken. She wouldn't eat chicken for a long time.
I grew up on the farm, where we raised animals for food. So no, we could not really name them, and then eat them.
But your post today makes me smile and remember those dear animals so the 9 of us children would have food on our table to eat.
Love this! Our kids grew up helping raise our animals for food. (Yes, we had a steer named "dinner table.")
People get too far away from the farm and tend to forget where their chicken nuggets, cheeseburgers and bacon come from.
Every other time I've read a piece describing an animal that's died, it's usually left me feeling bad for the animal and owner. This is the first time I've felt not bad, but appreciative of such a fine animal and the blessing it brought to its owners and their friends. A life that was meant to be given for the sustenance of others, and it tastes great!
Terrific post, Jennifer!
I love this post, Jennifer, especially as someone who grew up on a cattle farm, and can only eat meat, now, from the animals I know. Not only because I know where they come from, but also because I just haven't found any that taste better!
I've been reading along, but haven't posted. Much to chew on (sorry) and reflect on (and WAY too much shoveling going on in my world. I'm glad you wrote about this. My husband is a hunter, and I have to say–those who take the life of an animal know that there is something sacred going on there. Little upsets my husband more than an animal's meat going to waste. So glad High Calling chose this book (even if I haven't been able to play along).
My brain gets it,
my heart not so much.
I'm mostly vegan but have a family of meat lovers.
I lived for a time in a rural area where we enjoyed fresh locally grown and slaughtered chickens, beef , etc. No naming was involved.
I wonder what my children would make of all this . I read Animal, Vegetable ,Mineral not too long ago as well.
and yes, I'm with Nancy. Not just ready yet to buy , or read, but I'm listening. So thank you.
I am going to let my son read this. He recently sold Jailbreaker (Angus steer). I must say the love that child has for his animals is great but he has yet to be able to enjoy the fact the Jailbreaker would be on his plate. I must say it is much harder to watch them leave the comforts of home when they have a name. They are part of the family even if they do live in the barn. Bob has made me smile. Thanks Bob!