Rendering Judgment

I recently heard a friend describe her declining atheletic prowess as like “a horse who should be sent to the glue factory,” which set me to pondering about the fate of loyal farm animals when they make the inevitable transition from livestock to deadstock.  And I had always wondered whether glue of my childhood, good old Elmer’s or the intoxicating rubber cement, was somehow derived from Old Dobbin.   Though I had not put much thought into it, I had assumed only the hooves of horses were used for the glue, so it seemed a bit wasteful to send the whole horse to the factory.  But perhaps that is the whole point of the phrase – someone has grown so useless that only the hooves, which are nothing more than a big old toenail, are of any value.   I called up the fellow that lives near my parents’ gentleman farm and asked him what happens if one of his beef cows unexpectedly went hooves up.  “Well I just call the renderer,” he said, “ and they come with a ramp and winch and just haul it away.”  When I asked him where, he said “well I don’t know, but I think that they make glue from their feet.”  Picking up dead animals and taking them to a glue factory must certainly be an entry level job to a pretty grisly enterprise.

There is no better testament to the power of the internet when I can type in “animal rendering” and discover a 314 page manuscript entitled, “Essential Rendering Techniques,” authored by the National Rendering Association.  Here was my first glimpse into a huge and vital industry that annually processes some 100 million hogs, 35 million cattle and 8 billion chickens producing 54 billion pounds of renderment, There are some 20,000 rendering plants sprinkled across the country.  Field trip anyone? 

I could envision a huge bubbling vat at the centerpiece of the plant, a relentless gaping maw that ground up endless Dobbins, Elmers and Elsies into a myriad of products.  The first step in the process is to steam the carcass at high heat, allowing the fat to float to the surface.  The fat has many industrial uses, but plenty of human uses, such as for soaps and lotions.  McDonald’s also came under fire for using the beef tallow to cook their fries.  Everything else becomes bone meal and pet and animal food.  The renderer’s website refer to themselves as the “first recyclers” and points out that without their services the countryside would be overwhelmed with rotting carcasses and mass graves.  But at the same time I could sense a little skittishness.  Basically using the meat scraps as food forces these animals to be cannibals, and there was the disquieting specter of  mad cow disease.  When I clicked on this topic, up came a blank screen entitled “under review.”       

Prior to the centralization of rendering plants, our forefarmers would sell their deadstock to local Mom and Pop operations, and actually make as much money off the carcass as the live animal.  While there was no mention of a “glue factory” in the 314 page document, it is quite possible that the hooves were processed separately.  For example, Julia Child, in her classic “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” points out that you can make your own gelatin by boiling pigs feet.  Gelatin is essentially the same thing as glue, but with a higher water content.  The image then emerged of self sufficient farm wives boiling hooves to make glue for their children’s art projects.  I then recalled Elmer’s glue, the staple of countless childhood art projects, and its symbol of the smiling cow on the label.  Could the cheerful smiling cow reflect the bovine origin of Elmer’s?  Oddly enough, Elmer’s glue was initially made by Borden’s, which also was one of the first commercial diaries.  The symbol of Borden’s milk was Elsie the cow, and thus Elmer was contrived as Elsie’s “husband.”  It was somewhat unsettling to think that Borden’s both made milky white milk and milky white glue, but it made sense as a vertical integration strategy.  Elsie could be milked endlessly and then when barren, renamed as Elmer and sent to the proverbial glue factory and then off to grade schools all over the country.

In my childhood there were two principle types of glue, either Elmer’s or rubber cement.  (Airplane glue was only a fringe product for me since building plastic models was a male dominated activity.)  I wondered if the preference for one or the other was one of those polarizing issues, much like the debate between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip. (I like mayonnaise.)  One entire summer my family debated the relative merits of Wheat Thins and Triscuits, and it seemed that everyone had an entrenched opinion, despite the fact that Wheat Thins are clearly superior.  But not so for Elmer’s and rubber cement, as both have their distinct appeals.  Personally, I am a rubber cement fan, though I have dabbled in Elmer’s.  First there was the intoxicating odor of rubber cement and the cute little brush attached to the cap.  You could take the rubber cement and smear it on your hands and then clap your hand together and let the glue set, just so.  You could then mush your hands back and forth and slightly separate them to see the little stalag-tighty and –mighty tendrils of glue.  Now for the best part, rolling the little globs of cement into rubbery boogeroid balls.  That was the end point for me, I was perfectly happy rolling the little balls around and peeling the glue off my hands.  However, some of the boys might throw them at each other, put them in each other’s hair, or sneak one into the pages of a textbook.  As I recall, rubber cement was labeled as flammable, and thus rubber cement could have been a gateway drug for both glue sniffers and arsonists. 

Elmer’s glue had less appeal since it didn’t smell or ball up.  But you could paint a thin veneer of Elmer’s on your hand, let it get dry and shiny and then peel it off like sunburned skin, which would even have the tiny little wrinkle marks in your skin.  While rubber cement might have appealed mostly to nose pickers, Elmer’s might particularly appeal to those who liked to nurse scabs and pick them over and over again.  My friend Maria used Elmer’s to feign some sort of tragic skin disease.  You could horrify your friends by sadly explaining that you had contracted leprosy and now your skin was falling off in sheets.  In our safety conscious age, I am sure that rubber cement has been banned from schools and that Elmer’ glue has been replaced by glue sticks.  A shame, since as far as I can tell, you can’t repurpose glue sticks.

The missing words in the following poem are all anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like post, stop, spot) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with either the previous or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers. 

As the first recycler the renderer lets nothing go to waste, 

He boils dead carcasses to make pet food, candles and *****.

Such clever repurposing is something Americans should admire,

But a ***** of mad cow disease cases has the industry under fire.

As we dig into a McDonald’s burger here is a scary prediction,

 Perhaps we are now  * **** closer to this brain rotting affliction.







Answers: paste, spate, a step

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