Friday, October 5, 2012

Texting Cows and Exotic Fast Food

March 2014 Update: Another company has created sensors for cows that will "text" information to the farmers. Once again, a the main purpose is to find out when the cows are in heat. For another look at the situation, read on...

Doc Callahan, retired professor, part-time farmer, and full-time pontificator, receives countless inquiries about the food we eat, and after hours of deep thought, he provides the road apples of knowledge that help fertilize the mind. This week, Doc looks into texting cows and kimchi-flavored donuts.


Dear Doc,
I heard about Swiss farmers who receive text messages from their milk cows. I was having trouble picturing a Holstein with opposable thumbs until I read that implanted sensors transmit the messages. The thing that disturbs me most is that the information lets the farmer know when the cow is in heat. Sounds like an invasion of privacy to me.  Soured in Spokane

Dear Soured,
Don’t get in a twitter about all this. The farmers say that because of greater milk productivity demands, their cows have dropped in reproductive activity. The implanted sensors measure heat, and the text messages let the farmers know if the time is right for artificial insemination.
Animal rights proponents object because they think the cows’ reproduction problems are due to stress coming from their “juiced” diets and increased milking demands. I’m not an authority on this because when I was a kid on the farm, we had only one milk cow—a Guernsey named Bossy, of course. She never seemed stressed even when a sleepy-eyed, uncoordinated thirteen-year-old came in the stall to milk her before school. One thing I know for sure--she could communicate without a cell phone. If I pulled rather than squeezed, Bossy had a quick right leg kick that could send the bucket flying. And occasionally she swept her long, frayed—and mucky—tail right at my head while I was working away on the three-legged stool. That was her way of texting “BLOL”—bovine laughing out loud.
As for the Swiss farmers, I recommend that they ask themselves, “What would Heidi do?”  Doc

Dear Doc,
            My ag student friend recently returned from study abroad in Asia. She says the Wendy’s chain in Japan serves lobster-and-caviar burgers, and a Dunkin Donuts in South Korea offers cheese-monkey-banana donuts. Why don’t I have such choices here in Wisconsin?  McBored in Madison

Dear McBored,
            Many fast food corporations adjust their menus to local tastes. I understand that cultural sensitivities mean they do not include beef in some areas of India, and several countries will not allow pork on the menu. But your question intrigued me, so I found some menu items in a foodie story that puzzled me. Truffle-grilled chicken in Singapore and foie-gras burgers in Japan? Seems they should be items in a French establishment. Instead, fast food restaurants in France offer Darth Vader Burgers. Other countries seem to go for the zen effect. Places in China provide the yin-yang burger, and in the Netherlands, you supposedly can purchase a McMood burger. In Amsterdam? Hmmm. That’s good mood food.
            Like you, I’m from the Midwest, and the fast food chains were only starting when I was a kid. That was back when ketchup was king, and mustard was an exotic condiment. But things change, so don’t get frustrated. Ask your local burger joint to start with something regional—maybe a brat-and-cheese-flavored burger called the McBadger. Wait--on second thought, that might lead to roadkill connotations, and you don’t want the new menu item to bomb. After all, that Dunkin Donuts your friend visited in South Korea discontinued the kimchi croquettes they once offered. What a shock. Donuts with the flavor of fermented cabbage, garlic, and chilis didn’t make the grade. Bon app├ętit, Doc
by dan gogerty (cow photo from satirewire.com and burger photo from wendys.co.jp)

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