Eating an Entire Cow

Ever notice how people always talk about Indians using every part of the buffalo like it’s some mark of their harmonious relationship with the earth and not just a symptom of their culture constantly being on the brink of starvation?

Mar 1 2006, 12:00am

Dinner is served. Photos by the author

Ever notice how people always talk about Indians using every part of the buffalo like it’s some mark of their harmonious relationship with the earth and not just a symptom of their culture constantly being on the brink of starvation? We’re supposed to feel like spoiled assholes just because, after divvying up half a ton of cow flesh, wrapping our feet in the hide, and feeding its goo-ified skeleton to our dogs and kids, we toss the eyes in a Dumpster and call it a day instead of choking them back with some blighted corn or making a necklace?

Well, spoiled or not, I’ve been on the brink of starvation all fucking day now and bet I could not only find a use for every part of the cow, but make each of those uses involve me eating it. That would show those natives, right? Wait, that’s not right—it’d show the people who think the natives are better than me. Sorry, I seriously am really hungry.

In any case, to prove this point while it still vaguely makes sense, I’ve decided to head out to a slaughterhouse in the sticks where the prices are reasonable, pick up half my weight in various meats and organs and the other half in head, then get down to the business of eating every part of a cow that I possibly can. Sound like a plan?


Driving back with all that beef staring at me didn’t do much to stave off the hunger, so I stopped at a really la-ti-da French place to take care of one of the few things the slaughterhouse didn’t have on the ready: Calf’s brain. It tasted and felt like flavorless pudding and cost $15. (A note: After the leftovers sat in my fridge for a while, the brains tasted like meat ice cream. So maybe “serve chilled” is the secret to getting some flava from your brains.)


This looked a lot more brain-like than the actual brains, all gray and bulbous with a white stalk in the middle. Per some Googled recipe I sliced it up and fried it with onions. At first it tasted like a gamier and more urbane piece of hot dog, but that quickly gave way to the none-too-awesome tang of cow urine. Thanks a bunch, kidney.


First it’s a long, floppy wad that smells really bad and you can slap people in the back of the head with it, then you boil it for a couple hours and it’s a short, rubbery wad that smells really bad and you can bounce it off the table, THEN you peel off the outer layer and it’s a tongue-shaped hunk of meat that tastes about a million times better than it smells. Newsflash: I like tongue!


These glands looked, felt, and smelled exactly like chicken breast all the way through their ridiculous four hours of preparation. It’s a shame they couldn’t taste that way too, because I would have preferred that to “breaded cake batter cooked in burger grease.”


After squeezing a solid quart of blood out of this guy in the sink, it unfolded into the shape of a cartoon bear’s paw giving me the thumbs-up. Good sign, right? It only occurred to me after I shoveled a forkload of grainy brown meat into my mouth that this could just as easily be thumbs-down. Liver always sucks.


Every recipe I read for this started with the instructions “Tear off as many veins as possible before cooking.” Turns out this is about as reasonable as telling a gardener to just yank out as many tree trunks as he can before mowing the lawn. So not only did I ingest most of the stiff white tubes running across this ticker, but all the blood they contained seeped into the actual meat while it was boiling, making it taste like a chewy underdone pot roast cooked in melted aluminum.


These all tasted exactly like steak. Doye.


After half an hour of saying, “I can’t do this,” I finally got these puppies out of their thin gray skins and into the frying pan. Do you think it’d make me gay to say these were a pair of tasty, tasty nuts? There is no reason we shouldn’t be wolfing these down at breakfast every day. They’re like those sausages only your uncle could cook that were completely perfect, with just a little hint of hamburger.


Easily the most endearing part of the feast until ten hours in an overly hot oven turned it from charming banquet centerpiece into anti-tanning public service announcement. The skin right at the surface snapped off in little chunks and tasted like uncooked pasta. Everything below that was gray, sinewy, and oozed a ridiculous amount of blood when pressed. I forced down everything I could pry away from the skull—kind of like freestyle steak.


I discovered this while savaging the base of the skull in search of anything neither charred nor bleeding. Can you even remotely imagine what purpose it’s supposed to serve? After gnawing off as much meat as my jaw muscles could stand, I stripped the bone with a knife and cracked it in half on the edge of the table to get at some of the marrow. Inside it was completely hollow.


Getting the eye out of the socket took a solid hour of furious jabbing and digging around its sides; detaching it from the slimy white nerve bundle in back took another good 30 minutes and the application of barber’s scissors. Then, once the lens had been punctured, a shot-glass worth of viscous white fluid seeped out, followed by the same amount of viscous black fluid, followed by dime-size chunks of thin black flesh, followed by a thick gray cube with little tendril-looking things sticking out of each of its corners—all of which smelled like burnt ink. The second it touched the skillet, the whole thing popped and shriveled up like videotape on fire, yet somehow this crisping act didn’t prevent the surface from retaining a thin coat of slime. I suspect this would have helped it slide more smoothly down my throat were it not triggering the hell out of my gag reflex.


At first I thought the butchers had fucked the order and given me short ribs, but then I noticed that each piece I pulled out of the bag was slightly smaller than the one before, until finally I got to a little tampon-size tube of flesh around a tiny bone and went, “Oh, tail.” Getting pretty bored of constantly standing over the stove, I decided to just plop these fellas in a Crock-Pot with some wine and let them roast. Three hours later I was delighted to discover that the stewing had left them as moist and tender as sloppy joe meat.


I was still riding pretty high on the tail when this fish-smelling bummer squirted a load of thick yellow juice on my parade. Aside from being covered in a frosty layer of what looked like either scales or coral and slithering back into the shape of square when it wasn’t being pulled apart (how natural is that?), the only easy recipe I could find for this pile of tripe required it to be boiled in milk. This had the dual effect of making the apartment smell like Chinatown in springtime and imparting unto the meat a flavor uncannily similar to week-old garbage. Hands down the most condomlike thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.


Boot leather is generally the last stop people stranded in the wilderness make before moving on to eating their former buddies. I’ve had this pair of Docs since before they were embarrassing to wear, so actually I’m probably a little closer to them than a good deal of the people I hang out with. Nevertheless, I gave the eye-cutting scissors a good rinse and clipped a two-inch rectangle from each of my old pals. After an hour in the tail juice they were actually tender and pretty decent-tasting, although the thick black threads they left between my teeth made me look like I’d just gone down on an Italian girl.


Much to the dismay of 19th-century-era immigrants, the FDA made beef lung an “export only” organ back in the 70s due to its propensity to sop up all the pesticides cows spend their days huffing. Fortunately this draconian bullshit only applies to people food, so getting your hands on some flimsy wet lung meat is just a dog-food-and-paper-towels-aisle-length away. If you play your cards right, you can even get a can like ours, which rounds out the heifer with some entrails. Try guessing which one’s which between heaves. My money’s on spongy, barely-solid pap in little wet squares for the lungs, spongy, barely-solid pap in slightly curved little wet squares for the ’tests.


This was supposed to just be a little off each of the legs. As I was told when I got it, though, the butcher in charge of my flank steak got pissed that the cut wasn’t going right, cleaved it to shreds, then angrily crammed it into the grinder with the rest and went out for a smoke. Um, all right, guy. Anyway, it was hamburger. What can I say?


Of all the feelings toward beef I anticipated having at the end of this adventure, anger really never made the list. And yet there I was, trying to decide whether getting eaten or kicked was a more fitting punishment for being three stupid gray lumps of boiled meat in a bowl. I could barely choke this stuff down, and these were normal cuts.


At first I thought this was kind of a cop-out, and was going to pop back a tooth for a finale, but you know what I realized? Jell-O is fucking cow bone, and cop-out is just another way of saying, “I’m angry that you came up with something clever.” There, done.

I feel pretty accomplished for getting it all down in 24 hours, but mostly just stuffed as shit and slightly concerned about how long my hands are going to smell like meat.

I’m also looking forward to finishing this up and taking a nice big dump, in part because it should mean that I haven’t permanently fucked my digestive tract. More than that though, I kind of think sitting down and gently squeezing every part of this majestic beast into one pliant brown lump must be a glorious sensation, akin to how God must have felt when He shat out the original cow.

Wait. I forgot the fucking spleen.

[Breaking update: That “glorious” shit turned out pretty awful. It smelled so much like meat that for a second I actually thought I was having a nightmare.]

Vice Channels