13 May 2006

32. Mad Cow Disease

Dear mad cow disease,

I love you. Not just for your name, although it is fabulous, and not just for the beautiful poetic irony of your very existence. Seriously, thank you for pointing out the almost mind-numbingly obvious fact that maybe forced cannibalism is a bad thing, especially for herbivores, and even more so when those herbivores are livestock that's intended to be slaughtered for eating... seriously. It's pretty much impossible to write to you without snickering a little.

Speaking of snickering, I love you despite the fact that people's fear of you leads me into stupid conversations like the one I had at work today with a woman who won't buy our macaroni and cheese because it's made with cheddar that comes from England, home of the original cases of mad cow disease in humans if you don't count all the cannibals who've gotten it throughout history. I mean, good lord. You're awesome and all, mad cow, but the prions thought to cause you are still found mostly in brain and nerve tissue and only very occasionally in muscles and so the odds of them turning up in milk are pretty miniscule, right? I'm going to do more research just to make sure I'm not being some kind of crazy Pollyanna optimist, but really. Like I told the well-meaning lady at the hippie grocery store today, if prions are getting into milk, we have bigger problems than you, mad cow disease. (And it's not like you're only happening in England, but it's probably a good thing I didn't remember to mention that this afternoon, because there was enough to worry about in that conversation as it was.) Anyway. I can understand prions getting into ground beef, because slaughterhouses are basically sweatshops and mistakes are hard to prevent even under humane working conditions, but I don't want to imagine what the hell kind of dairy could slaughter a cow while milking it, and in such a splattery way as to get brains in the milk. There's a whole new book of kosher rules to be written about that problem, I tell you what.

But back to my love for you, which is also not just because prions are awesome in the good old-fashioned fear- and awe-inspiring kind of way. I mean, proteins gone wild! That's terrifying and beautiful and pretty much completely beyond my comprehension to the point where I give up and revert to making sand castles — oh wait, that's the ocean, but it's similarly huge and amazing and I mean the analogy as a sincere compliment to you both. I love you for a combination of these reasons and more, mad cow disease, like how I could have you and not even know it, so I'd better hurry up and write these and all my other letters because my brain could sprout holes and turn even spongier than usual any day now if you've been incubating in there for years. Sometimes I worry that humanity is going to destroy itself by something as crass and boring as war or pollution, and then something like you happens, and I realize that I haven't even begun to think of all the ways the universe could easily help us along to our demise by using our own incredible stupidity against us. And that's a grim thing to laugh at, sure, but I don't know how else to respond. So thanks again for being one of my very favorite dark jokes, mad cow disease.


Started 8 March 2006, published 13 May 2006. Title abridged 1 December 2011, last updated 6 June 2014.