01/08/2013 03:50 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2013

12 Things About Steak, Social Security and God


For this agnostic lapsed vegetarian, the occasional steak dinner is a medium-rare treat, a heavenly pleasure with an aftertaste of remorse about contributing to the slaughter of an animal, even one that's been grass-fed and pampered in a way that would warm the hearts of Portland's most persnickety diners.

To make informed choices about the role of steak in your material and/or spiritual life, here are 12 things to consider.

1. Let 'em eat steak. Outgoing progressive Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio) warns that if Social Security reform includes Chain CPI (Consumer Price Index), seniors might be forced to substitute cat food for steak.

2. Is steak the next frontier in intellectual property rights? Oklahoma State University is seeking a patent on the so-called "Vegas Strip Steak," which they cooked up with someone called the "meat geek." A spokesperson brags that until now, the very idea of a new cut of beef appeared to be "an impossibility." The University is making the Vegas "available for licensing" through its Technology Development Center.

3. According to the new book The Consumer's Guide to Effective Environmental Choices, making one pound of edible beef requires 17 times more water pollution and 20 times more habitat alteration than the production of its caloric equivalent in pasta.

4. Observing steak under the right conditions could be a transformational aesthetic experience for Charles Dickens, who wrote in Life And Adventures Of Martin Chuzzlewit: "Seeing the butcher slap the steak... was a piece of art, high art," adding, "meat, [the butcher] said with some emotion, 'must be humored, not drove.'"

5. Some steak-of-the-art snobs say that the mere ordering of steak in a restaurant is an art form. Others apply the term "art" to proper grilling. That's overkill. But we can all agree not to emulate my friend's request that a waiter serve his steak tartar "medium rare."

6. Philosopher/structuralist/semiotician Roland Barthes linked consumption of steak with the most fundamental aspects of what makes us human. He said, "To eat steak rare... represents both a nature and a morality."

7. Paul McCartney, on the other hand, thinks it's immoral to eat any kind of steak, even if you're the Dalai Lama. Could he be overcompensating for the Beatles notorious Butcher cover?

8. Religious overtones emerge in a Sopranos gangster rap for the ages when Tony asks Paulie Walnuts, "Do you eat steak?" Paulie's thoughtful rejoinder -- "What the fuck you talkin' about?" -- inspires Tony to observe, "If you were in India, you would go to Hell for that."

9. Even Mark Twain came close to leaving atheism at the steakhouse door. In A Tramp Abroad, he wrote:

"Imagine an angel suddenly sweeping down out of a better land and setting before him a mighty porter-house steak an inch and a half thick, hot and sputtering from the griddle; dusted with fragrant pepper; enriched with little melting bits of butter of the most unimpeachable freshness and genuineness; the precious juices of the meat trickling out and joining the gravy, archipelagoed with mushrooms; a township or two of tender, yellowish fat gracing an outlying district of the ample country of beefsteak; the long white bone which divides the sirloin from the tenderloin still in its place..."

10. Lady Gaga's all-steak gown had nothing to do with animal rights, she protested. It was all about, uh, gay rights.

11. Ben Kallen writes in LA Magazine that unless you're hip to the steak-laden paleo diet -- aka the Stone Age diet -- you must be living in a cave. Shades of Atkins? Seems everything uncool is hip again as long as it gets a new name.

12. Paul Newman used to parry questions about infidelity by asking rhetorically, "Why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?" In other words, a night without Joanne Woodward was, by definition, a missed steak.