It takes but a couple seconds searching online to access dozens of horror stories about the (allegedly) negative consequences of eating meat. But here’s one story that is truly horrific.
As summer approaches, the media treat us to their annual round of stories about folks who’ve suffered from a Lone Star tick bite and are now allergic to red meat.
Even though researchers have determined that people who develop such an allergy generally have a history of being bitten multiple times by ticks, those stories are painful to read and even more painful for the victims, who can develop severe symptoms after consuming beef, pork or lamb.
Of course, the tick bite itself triggers an allergic reaction whose characteristics resemble those disclaimers accompanying every ad telling you to ask your doctor if some new miracle drug is right for you: hives, fever, headaches, joint pain, swelling and fatigue.
You had me at hives.
However, none of those tales of woe surpasses a recent report from CBS News that was headlined, “Couple dies of bubonic plague after eating raw marmot meat in Mongolia.”
That is horrendous in every respect.
First of all, although marmot meat is likely no worse from a culinary standpoint than the possum stew Granny used to serve up as vittles for the Beverly Hillbillies, why would anyone consume it raw? And in this case, it wasn’t a couple strips of Marmot Tartare, to be washed down with a slug of the local horse milk vodka (seriously), it was a big ol’ bite of raw marmot kidney.
Raw — not baked in a horse-and-kidney pie.
According to the story, the Mongolian couple who died from raw marmot triggered a quarantine that “left tourists stranded in a remote region in Mongolia's westernmost province of Bayan-Ulgii, which borders Russia and China.”
Again, I question why “tourists” are hanging out in a remote region adjacent to the two most repressive, autocratic countries on Earth. What, Airbnb got ya’ll a great deal on an upscale yurt, complete with complementary horseback transportation to the closest village hosting All-You-Can-Eat Marmot Mondays?
Black Death Redux
Perhaps the biggest surprise in this story is the fact that people are still dying from bubonic plague in the 21st century. After all, most of us assume that plague, the Black Death, was an historical relic, one of the downsides of long-ago feudalism, along with the fact that the millions of peasants victimized by the disease had no land, no money, couldn’t read or write and were subject to the absolute authority of a bunch of tyrannical, inbred monarchs, of course.
During the Middle Ages, it is estimated that the Black Death killed 60% of the entire European population, a human death toll that historians have estimated at more than 200 million people.
Six hundred years later, the truth is that at least one person dies from the plague every year in Mongolia, mostly due to consuming raw varmint — excuse me, marmot meat, according to the National Center for Zoonotic Disease.
In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that there have been more than a thousand cases of the plague — two-thirds of them fatal — since records started being kept at the beginning of the 20th century.
In North America, bubonic plague is typically transmitted through a bite from fleas carried by infected rodents in western states, including a 2015 case in which a high school athlete in Colorado died from septicemic plague that entered his bloodstream.
So, let’s recap: Eating raw marmot kidney? Your doctor will tell you it’s not right for you.
Honeymooning in Mongolia? Michelin Guidebook says “No!”
And bringing home an infected possum for Sunday dinner? Not even acceptable on a TV sitcom.
The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.