Dateline: January 1st, 2021, on my sofa
I was mildly puzzled this last week to see that beef was being energetically promoted at the supermarket. Beef in Japan is expensive, steaks especially so. But the local Seiyu had piles and piles of steaks, exceptionally large steaks, and other beefy stuff. You could hear the death moos as you passed the cold shelves.
And then yesterday I had a depressing epiphany: beef is de rigeur because 2021 is the Chinese year of the ox.
Yes, it’s moo-cow year, so let’s get stuffed on moo-flesh. Never mind that oxen and cows are different animals. They both have a leg at each corner, eat grass, and say moo. More to the point, the marketing people have deemed we shall spend our money thus.
The simple syllogism suggested by those marketing folk goes like this: 1. it’s the year of the ox 2. ox is like a cow, kinda, 3. ergo, eat beef — and the more depressing thing is that people in their bovine herds go ‘Oh, yeah! That’s so profound — if we eat steak we’ll have good luck all year.’
It’s a bit disappointing for me as a writer to confess that it’s hard to find the words to convey how fucking inane this all is.
First, there’s all the death. How many extra creatures were bred and slaughtered to feed this facile fantasy?
Then there’s the superstitious conflation of dinner and fate.
‘Hello, humans,’ says the cow.
‘Hi cow! How are you doing?’
‘Great! Next year is the year of me!’
‘Yay! Congratulations, cow!’
‘So, you’d better kill me and eat me.’
‘But why, oh moo-cow? If we kill and eat you, there won’t be any you!’
‘Because killing and eating me will make me happy and I’ll bestow magic and good luck on you all year. ‘
‘Oh,’ say the humans. ‘That’s very nice of you. So, is there some special ritual or ceremony to go with this?’
‘Not exactly. I’ll just stroll to the abattoir, where the nice men in blood-stained smocks will string me up on a chain and slash my throat. Then they’ll dismember me, package my bits in plastic and truck me to supermarkets all over the country. The magic bit is where you go go to the supermarket and buy whatever bits of me you fancy — but don’t forget, the bigger the price tag, the more the luck! It’s a special deal, you know.’
Well, we do like shopping, and we have nothing better to do with our heads other than stuff them with this nonsense, so see you there!’
Perhaps 2020 was a crap year because we failed to eat enough rat in the final week of 2019.
And so to be a real thing, eating for lucky fortune must be consistent. The years of the pig and the chicken are to be anticipated with bibs on and a knife and fork in hand, but how do we deal with the year of the snake? Apparently people eat eels, which are not snakes at all but will do considering actual snakes will frighten the customers and since none of this makes any sense anyway. The years of the tiger and monkey present legal and safety problems. But what do you do in the year of the dragon, that particular beast not existing and all that? Does the universe end in entropy because there’s no animating nosh?
Why stop at years and the Chinese zodiac? In March we should eat Mars bars, both July and August demand feasts of caesar salad; on Mondays we can eat rocks and cheese, and, best of all, on Saturday we get to devour our children.