There are times before I hit ‘publish’ that I think to myself “This is probably not the best idea I’ve ever had.” This is one of those times.
The application deadline for columnists and opinion artists at The Daily Pennsylvanian is coming up one week from today, and the impending due date brought back memories of my own brief stint as a columnist over three years ago (I am old).
Because I concluded my term due to conflicting time commitments/constraints – and as this blog attests, not because I ran out of opinions – I left the position with a page-long Word document full of ideas that never made their way to full-blown columnhood. I’ve never opened that file for review, and have forgotten almost everything I wrote in it. But there is one column that sticks in my mind as the one I never had a chance to publish.
That’s because I actually wrote it.
You see, as part of a columnist’s application, he or she is asked to submit two sample columns. My first column was well received – ‘exactly what a sample column should be’. One inside source relayed that it was a consensus favorite. Another mentioned it was everyone’s second favorite. It was ultimately published as my inaugural column in the DP.
And it’s a good thing that one turned out so well, because, well, the other column. Here’s one reader’s reaction: “What were you thinking? It was insanely weird.” To me, this sounded like a compliment, but was apparently not what the review committee had in mind (though given some of what the DP has published since my time, what it looks for may have since changed*).
In any event, the issue my column addressed is once again in the news – specifically, the congressional ban on domestic horse slaughter was lifted late last month – and I thought it was worth sharing even if the writing/editing/formatting/everything else could use some serious work. The column was written in early August 2008, one year after the ban first went into effect, and I present it here in its original, unedited, and unupdated form:
On the eve of the Olympics, two journalists – Kevin Pang of the Chicago Tribune and Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times — sat down in a Beijing restaurant that serves nothing but penis.
In an online video, the two describe their undertaking in the context of the Olympic Games: “I think both of us realize that these Olympics are about… breaking down barriers – and what greater barrier between this wonderful Beijing city and the west of the United States is [there other than] the fact that they eat penis and we don’t?” asked Plaschke.
An excellent point. None, perhaps – bar one.
After sampling ox and lamb, Plaschke admit, “I guess I like penis; it’s very tasty.” Pang disagreed: “Not a lot of flavor.” But although the two couldn’t come to a consensus over the delicacy’s taste, they did agree that it gave them an overpowering feeling of masculine vigor. “I feel like I can take on anything, everything,” declared Pang.
Anything, everything – that is, except dog.
When dog – unique because it was the only phallus on the menu containing bone – appeared, a barrier between Chinese and American culture quickly became evident. After fifteen minutes of deliberation, a teary-eyed Plaschke explained that he could not “eat any part of a dog, whether that be any part of them, including the penis.”
No matter the barriers our intrepid journalists managed to break through, others would remain. “There are certain cultural things, I think, that work [in Beijing], that maybe don’t work in our culture. I just feel that eating dog, which we consider pets, is offensive to us – not here – but morally, it doesn’t work,” Plaschke explained in earnest to the camera.
Dogs are hardly the only animal subject to cultural differences. But, in the United States, the decision to indulge – or not – in various foods is largely the prerogative of the consumer. Even dogs can be legally slaughtered in forty-four states and consumed in all but California and New York. But there is one sacred cow – so to speak – to which we take special exception: horse.
In September 2006, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly banned the commercial slaughter of horses. Then-representative John Sweeney (R-NY), a sponsor of the bill, argued that they are fundamentally different from other animals because they are ‘American icons’. Proponents of the bill likened them to ‘house pets’ and ‘intelligent companions’. The Museum of Natural History in New York is home to an exhibit through year’s end entitled “The Horse: How nature’s most majestic creature has shaped our world.” ‘Most’ is a heady claim to make about anything.
While equine-advocacy groups celebrated the bill’s passage, its effects have ironically hurt horses more than helped. Horses slaughtered in the United States were never intended for domestic consumption. Though Americans abhor horse meat, many cultures, particularly Belgian and French, consider it a delicacy. When the last American horse slaughterhouses were shuttered in 2007, the industry simply moved from the west of the United States, across a newly-erected barrier of the physical sort, into Mexico. The USDA estimates that nearly 50,000 horses were shipped south in 2007, where standards for pain-mitigation during slaughter are decidedly more lax. A bill under consideration that would end the legal export of horses for slaughter is nothing but a quick-fix and fails to address reasons why horse-owners sell them south in the first place – the slaughter ban.
Certainly, banning foods is not foreign to Americans. The production of foie gras is illegal in Chicago and soon will be in California. Whale meat is banned by international agreement for a mixture of practical and ethical reasons. But most bans are not enforced simply due to cultural preferences for certain animals. For the most part, groups with culinary aversions are content to simply abstain. Until someone is shoveling Black Beauty onto the plate of unwilling Americans, there is no justification to codify the distaste of the many for dubious benefit.
Former Representative Sweeney once described horse slaughter as “one of the most inhumane, brutal, shady practices going on in the US today.” Apparently, he might benefit from a visit to his state’s own Coney Island, where a new exhibit, “Waterboard Thrill Ride”, depicts robots engaging in state-of-the-art torture techniques. Waterboarding is not yet classified as torture in this country; our representatives might better spend their time by officially ending one of the most inhumane and shady practices in the United States – one they would apparently never think of performing on a horse.
I’ll close with a comment from one member of the review committee who did not know in advance which column was mine: “It had Mordechai written all over it.”
*Kids these days. Get off my lawn!
And for those of you interested in enjoying the video: