Part 4: There’s a Contract Out to Kill Steer #534

In the last post, this is where I left off: If Michael Pollan ever taps you on the shoulder asking for a dance, run like hell. If you do not, this is what can happen. He will be as dismissive and unfeeling for you as he was for the individuals in his book. Toward 534, a young steer named after the number on his ear tag, he turned a blind eye. Pollan bought 534 to document what he already knew would be a steer ’s short, barren, industrialized life. A social, intelligent being, 534 had experiences that undoubtedly included attempts at bonding with others of his kind. Those bonds were shredded by animal agriculture’s customary practices. The rancher-humans forcibly took him from his mother, shuttled him from one group of stranger-steers to another, and then drove him to an industrial feedlot.


After standing idle and distant while 534’s innate needs were denied to his short life, this is the observation Pollan gives his readers: “As I gingerly stepped toward him the quiet shuffling mass of black cowhide between us parted [Pollen’s steer was now at the feedlot], and there stood 534 and I, staring dumbly at one another. Glint of recognition? None, whatsoever. I told myself not to take it personally; 534 and his pen mates have been bred for their marbling, after all, not their ability to form attachments.”


Dilemma reports very little contact between him and 534 prior to that moment. Pollan’s observation in a feedlot helps us understand at least some of how his worldview is constructed, how he sees this meat unit, number 534, and how he will perpetuate the myths he needs to remain an omnivore.
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