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Avoid mad cow disease - eat ostrich instead

Oh graceful ostrich, you flightless bird of white wing tip and elegant plume. To witness you darting across the verdant plain would be breathtakingly magnificent.

So would grinding you up into patties, frying a few until they are well done, putting them on a sesame-seed bun, then devouring them with some pickles, onions and perhaps a bit of Swiss cheese.

Such is the less-than-subtle advice of a company called Ostriches On Line (www.ostrich.com), which identifies itself as a totally and vertically integrated ostrich business. With anxiety over mad cow disease being the first documented trend of the new year, the ostrich company wants you to boost its business by incorporating ostrich into your diet.

"Ostrich meat is lower in fat, cholesterol and calories than skinless chicken or turkey," company spokesman Steve Warrington said. And, "right now, with all this mad cow disease, I don't think I would really want anything else on my dinner plate."

Thank you, Mr. Warrington, for that thoroughly objective analysis of the not-nearly-yet an epidemic.

The American Ostrich Association also endorses ostrich consumption. Its Web site boasts recipes for such delicacies as grilled ostrich with wild mushrooms in a mustard sauce, and ostrich and shrimp in roasted garlic sauce.

The association does not recommend boiling ostrich eggs. Because a single ostrich egg is about the size of two dozen chicken eggs, it takes about an hour to soft-boil an ostrich egg and an hour and a half to hard-boil one. Who has the time for that?

Curious about the beef industry's reaction to this blatant attempt to undercut it, I called the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Spokeswoman Michele Peterson did not seem overly concerned.

"I'm wondering if consumers could even find ostrich in the grocery stores," she said. "We're not worried about people giving up beef. We're confident that consumers are confident that it's safe to eat."

Asked whether the beef association wanted to rumble with the ostrich types because of this blatant attempt to steal away business, Peterson said, "I honestly don't think it tops our priority list."

The beef association might not be angry over this, but the product that bears its name sure should be. Ostrich organizations want people to forsake the bovine for the bird. If you were a cow, how could you not take such a blatant insult personally?

If any cows weren't mad before, this affront ought to put 'em over the edge.

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