Raising Steaks

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In Raising Steaks, Betty Fussell saddles up for a spirited ride across America on the trail of our most iconic food.

When we bite into a steak’s charred crust and tender pink interior, we bite into contradictions that have branded our national identity from the start. We taste the colliding fantasies of British pastoralists and Spanish ranchers that erupted in land wars between a wet-weather East and a desert West. We savor the ideas of wilderness and progress that clashed when we replaced buffalo with cattle, and then cowboys with industrial machines. We take in the contradictions of rugged individualism and the corporate technology that we use to breed, feed, slaughter, package, and distribute the animals we turn into meat. And we participate–as do the ranchers and chefs, feedlot operators and rodeo stars, boot makers and scientists Fussell talks with–in the mythology that inspires cowboys to become technocrats and presidents to play cowboy.

Raising Steaks is a celebration of, and an elegy for, a uniquely American Dream.


“No one writes better about the byways of American food and American culture than Betty Fussell.”
— Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma

“From cowboys in the West to celebrity chefs in the East, she reveals the human side of beef production, marketing, and comsumption.”
— Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat

“I just finished reading Raising Steaks. You are a wonderful writer. The knowledge and wisdom you convey in the pages of this book about the cattle and beef industries is of great value to all of us on ranches and at dinner tables across America.  Anyone reading it, from steak eater to recovering vegetarian, will be enriched. Thanks so much for writing it.”
— Mike Callicrate, Ranch Foods Direct

“Fussell (My Kitchen Wars ) focuses on the history of American beef, from cattle pens in 17th-century Manhattan to myths and contradictions affecting national identity to the people directly involved in the cow life cycle. Fussell does a fine job examining the profound effect a particular food has on the social, economic, and political fabric of a society. Her in-depth treatment and astute observations (about rugged individualism, romantic notions of the Wild West, among other images) that stem from her participation in the lives of ranchers, rodeo players, cowboys, and other beef handlers will impress readers.”
— Christine Holmes, San Jose State University Library, Library Journal.com, 1/15/09

“An unapologetic carnivore, this veteran food journalist and author clearly had great fun researching the story of beef in America. Crisscrossing the nation, visiting everyone from small ranchers to famous chefs to corporate honchos, Fussell skillfully explains why beef, steak in particular, has come to symbolize what this country is all about — for good and ill. A wonderful writer, sharp-eyed, witty, graceful, Fussell can make even the driest statistic seem appetizing. You’ll want to dust off the grill and get cooking, which may explain why Fussell ends the book with a number of recipes; a nice touch.”
— Bill Daley, Chicago Tribune, 12/10/2008

“Fussell’s book, the result of three years’ worth of firsthand reporting, is not the only tome on the history of American beef to have been published recently (others include Beef: The Untold Story of How Milk, Meat, and Muscle Shaped the World by Andrew Rimas and Evan Fraser; William Morrow, 2008), but it is surely the most thorough. The author’s subject comes the most vividly alive in the moments when she documents the real-life people and places that fuel the American ardor for red meat. She attends a stock show in Colorado Springs; tours the bloody floor of a meat-processing plant in Fort Dodge, Kansas; sits in on a Beef 101 class at Texas A&M’s Department of Animal Science; roams grassland prairies to discover the benefits of “green” ranching; and attends an auction in Florida to get a glimpse of the endangered Pineywoods longhorn cattle.”
— Sarah Karnasiewicz, Saveur, Issue #116

“In a similar vein, 81-year-old author and food historian Betty Fussell has penned a celebratory book of that most American food, the beefsteak. Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef (Harcourt, $26) starts right where it should: at a re-creation of a 1920s beef bacchanalia in Manhattan. The “beefsteak” phenomenon was not for the faint of heart: No utensils, slabs of spit-grilled beef atop hunks of bread (this was the plate) and huge flagons of beer. It was all you could eat, no dames allowed. Steak is a little more refined and certainly more gender neutral these days, but Fussell explores the steak as a symbol of the Wild West and rugged individualism. Through profiles of today’s cattlemen, meat scientists at Texas A&M, buffalo breeders, mad cow disease watchdogs and ethanol experts, rodeo bull riders and others, Fussell weaves a complex tale of the push and pull between cowboy and machine, wrapping it all up with a bunch of recipes collected on her journey.”
— Laura Reiley, St. Petersburg Times, 11/12/2008

“Cattle-raising has deep historical roots in America, dating from the earliest Spanish and British settlers, and Fussell whitewashes none of the ambition or violence that accompanied it. The author of ‘The Story of Corn’ (1992), Fussell knows that the beef we eat is ‘as much an industrial byproduct of corn as ethanol is,’ that ‘cheap oil created cheap fertilizer which created cheap corn which created cheap beef,’ and that the consequences of supplying vast quantities of inexpensive beef have been disease, pollution and low-quality meat. But she balances an unvarnished account of what has gone wrong with an effort to seek out those who want to do things better. What she finds is a surprising heterogeneity in the beef industry, which unlike the pork and poultry industries ‘still has a large herd of small ranchers who cling to a vision of rugged independence utterly at variance with 21st-century realities.’ In that resistance to total industrialization she finds multiple possibilities for a more responsible, sustainable model of beef production.”
— Michael Shae, New York Times, 10/17/2008

“Fussell (My Kitchen Wars; The Story of Corn) follows beefsteaks from cattle pens in 17th-century Manhattan to Brooklyn’s Peter Luger Steak House today. On her visits to an independent Vermont butcher, ranching couples in Colorado and Oregon and feedlot owners in Kansas, Fussell critiques the polemical meat writing of Michael Pollan and the mythology of a rare, bloodied ‘he-man food’ by giving an evenhanded look at the many sides of beef. One visit with Temple Grandin explores the work of the ‘outsider’ cattle researcher who wants to foster a cow’s-eye view of animal husbandry; similarly, Fussell’s research into the lives of the men — and, particularly, the women — who raise and research cattle presents a human-eye view of an industry riddled with impersonal jargon and machismo. Fussell also participates in grading and weighing cuts of beef, attending an industry conference and even dressing in a pair of heels to play a part as a rodeo cowgirl. The breadth of her observations is impressive–from congressional decisions to simplified anecdotes from the voyage of Lewis and Clark and quotes from Woody Allen–but such details might become tedious for casual readers. ”
Publishers Weekly, 9/1/2008

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