Full Circle: The Steak Out
Red meat’s not good for you? Baloney!

We didn’t have social media when I was growing up. We did have anti-social media. I called her Mom.

And technology? No drones to bring us something we ordered earlier that day. Just black, dial telephones. My mother would pick up the phone in Mayfair every Monday and call the kosher butcher in South Philly.

“Hello, Izzy. This is Mrs. Levy.” For the first seven years of my life, I thought my mother’s first name was Mrs.

“I want three rib steaks and they better be very lean or I will send them back, so help me. And I want two pounds of liver, a nice brisket and two chickens. And this time, Izzy, make sure the chickens are plucked. God forbid my husband should get a feather stuck in his dentures. They cost us a pretty penny, those teeth.

“And I need this all by 3 o’clock. And, Izzy, don’t forget a big jar of schmaltz.”

The telephone gave my mother power, the power to yell at people without having to face them. Sort of FaceTime in reverse. And when yelling didn’t work, she threatened them.

“Listen to me, Izzy. My husband is very good friends with Jimmy Crumlish, the big-deal judge. If his rib steak isn’t perfect, Izzy, he will tell his friend Jimmy Crumlish, and Jimmy Crumlish will shut down your fakakta butcher shop. Am I making myself understood, Izzy?”

At our house, dinner was an all-day affair. It was my mother’s fulltime job, and she worked hard at it. By 9 am, she was off to the Penn Fruit to buy fresh Idaho potatoes. Now, really, we lived in Pennsylvania before the interstate highway system. How fresh could potatoes from Idaho be?

“You never want to buy the ones with the eyes,” she told me. “Potato eyes are like goiters. They take a long time to grow. Show me a potato with goiters, and I will show you an old potato.”

And lettuce. “Never buy lettuce with brown leaves,” she told me. “Lettuce grows in the ground at a farm. Do you know what else is brown and on the ground at a farm? You don’t want to know. But don’t buy the brown lettuce.”

Green lettuce and red meat. That’s what we ate. The production of meat was a small industry at my house. We had a giant iron meat grinder. High technology for the ’50s. You put the meat in the top, push it down and turn the big handle with all your might. And the meat came out in skinny shreds. Ground red meat. Perfect for burgers or meatballs, lunch or dinner. Perfect for growing boys.

Red meat was good for you. So said my mother. “If you want to grow up and be a big, strong man like your father,” she would tell me, “you eat lots of red meat.”

And so I did. Five nights a week, without fail. Rib steak, meatloaf, fried liver, meatballs, chopped liver, roast beef. Now that was a balanced diet.

But when I grew up, big and strong like my father, people would tell me that red meat wasn’t good for me, that it would give me hardened arteries and heart disease. Sounded pretty scary. So I stopped. I stopped eating red meat. For 20 years. I ate turkey burgers and chicken dogs.

Then someone I know said to me, “What if all that healthy eating only buys you two weeks more in life? Or what if you get hit by a bus? Think of all the juicy cheeseburgers you’ll miss out on.”

I thought about that a lot. Especially the bus part. The drivers on the 88 bus were really reckless. If I was putting my life in their hands, I’d like to have a good meal first.

So, I started eating cheeseburgers again. And I started taking Lipitor. And now, I might not be healthy, but I am happy.

Red meat. They said it would kill me. But they didn’t say when.

September 2014
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