Unpalatable on all counts

I don’t know which would be worse, 55,000 year old beef or the doggerel they served with it. After uncovering a frozen steppe bison in the Alaskan permafrost, this group of university people, for some unfathomable reason, decided to cut off a chunk and eat it. Then someone decide to make a poem of the meal.

The skeleton, the skin, the muscles — all in near-impeccable condition,
Guthrie named it Blue Babe, then sliced off a piece for a culinary mission.

“You know what we can do?,” he asked
Host a dinner party and with cooking the meat, I’ll be tasked.

The Blue Babe neck steak served eight,
With veggies and spices, and lots of booze they ate

Years later, writing about the taste,
Guthrie said, When thawed, one could mistake

The aroma for beef, not unpleasantly earthy.
But once in the mouth, his wife, Mary Lee Guthrie,
Told podcasters from Gimlet, it was worse than beef jerky.

Here’s what it looked like:

I would not consider for a moment the idea of putting any of that in my mouth, especially since decay and bacteria would have predigested it, and who knows what species of organisms had started breaking it down, or what byproducts had accumulated in tens of thousands of years of slow rot.

I suspect the booze was the most important ingredient in the recipe, and in the composition of the poetry.


  1. StevoR says

    Wonder how many of them had food posioning and gastro from it afterwards! Did they say?

  2. cartomancer says

    I mean, I know we’re not supposed to be in favour of authoritarian solutions and all, but can we make an exception for people like this and set up poetry re-education camps where offenders are forced to learn how scansion works before they’re let out again?

  3. says

    My masters supervisor made regular trips to Novosibirsk to work on joint research with two Russian colleagues. At a conference he attended while there they served up steaks from a mammoth found frozen in the permafrost.. Most of the diners came down with a horrendous case of food poisoning.

  4. robro says

    I have a friend who lived outside of Nome, Alaska when his partner was a public health nurse for indigenous people around there. Some of the local folks, Athabaskins I believe, took him with them to a place where they had buried a moose they had killed some time before. They buried the carcass as part of a curing process and planned to eat it, apparently a common practice. They offered him some but he declined.

  5. says

    I am of the unpopular opinion that most poetry is overbearingly self-important. This does not seem any worse than any of the classics we were taught at school, who were allegedly super great but whom I found all super annoying. Most poetry is a needlessly overcomplicated way of saying the simplest things. I have never seen the point of it.

    I would not eat 55000-year-old bison found in permafrost either, but I would love to see it.

  6. microraptor says

    I’ve always heard that the meat of animals that are pulled out of the permafrost tends to start rotting almost immediately.

  7. Larry says

    @ #11

    Just what I was wondering. A species for which mankind has no natural immunities.

    As Dr. Ian Malcolm once said “They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

  8. StevoR says

    @12. Charly : Poetry can be memorable and powerful done right.

    It has its place and isn’t a bad thing. You never enjoyed The Digital Cuttlefish or so many others that could turn a phrase and rhyme and amek things just sound superluminous?

    Bad poetry, well, the place that has is in the wastepaper bin or Vogon starships..

    But, done right, poetry is great art same as other art in my view. Can be inspirational, powerful, thought-provoking, enjoyable, amusing, discomforting, revealing and so much more. Something a lot of people love for various reasons, myself included.

  9. says

    @StevoR, I can, of course, observe the effect poetry has on other people, but I would be hard-pressed to name any poetry that I like. There probably is/was some somewhere, but I cannot name any from the top of my head.
    And no, I did not read Digital Cuttlefish. My general dislike of poetry does not get smaller with adding language barriers, it gets bigger.
    Most of the literary classes in high school were focused on dissecting what some poet or other was trying to say with some complicated masterpiece of theirs. And the bigger the alleged masterpiece, the less certain one could be about what they actually intend to say. Our literature teacher thought that poetry is the highest form of literature. I disagreed, very strongly. I almost did not pass the final exam because of it.

  10. HidariMak says

    I’m surprised to be the first to mention how freezer burn alone could make food less palatable on its own, before the effects of prior bacterial decomposition could make things much worse. Cooking and eating meat that has been at the back of the freezer for a single year seems unappealing. Random roadkill kept in a giant snowbank for tens of millennia is factorially more rejectable.

  11. weatherwax says

    I just saw this story on FB, and frankly I’m calling BS on. I really want to see some primary sources.

  12. robro says

    A rare discovering turned into an awful sounding meal turns into a poem, and thence a discussion of the merits of poetry. How poetic.

  13. Tethys says

    What idiot finds a 55,000 year old carcass and decided to try and eat it? These must be the adult version of children who found lead paint chips and decided they looked tasty. It also explains their lousy ‘poetry’.

    Charly @17

    My general dislike of poetry does not get smaller with adding language barriers, it gets bigger.

    I had the same opinion of poetry, and a teacher who thought it was high art. Haiku was the only form I appreciated, though my teacher liked the poems I had to produce for the class.

    However, the alliterative verse of skaldic poetry is frickin amazing if you can understand it in its original language. Sadly, it loses all its rhythm and most of its meaning when translated, but there are some incredibly poignant lines in those stories.

    ‘Eitt sefu tvaerna’ is impossible to say in English without destroying the meter , but how can you dislike a poem about berserkers, grave robbing, a gender changing protagonist, and a magical sword and helmet?

  14. asclepias says

    I’ve found some poetry to be pretentious and some to be lovely, sort of like books. Just as an example, I tried reading Don Quixote a while back. I skipped the first 50 pages or so because they consisted of the author talking about “the classics” and how they applied to what he had written, in essence, bragging about how well-read he was. The story itself turned out to be a series of short stories rather than one long story, with the author using far more words than necessary to express himself. I gave up. I’m only just now getting around to reading “the classics” like To Kill a Mockingbird or One Hundred Years of Solitude because my parents bugged me to read the classics while I was growing up, and I guess my way of rebelling was to NOT read them. Right now, I’m struggling with The Three Musketeers. My take is that many of them are good books, but not necessarily worth all the fuss they generated. (Yes, I know that the reason they are is that. they introduced radical ideas for their times, but those ideas to me amount to just being a decent human being.)

  15. cartomancer says

    Tethys, #21

    A lot depends on the translation, though I will grant that some great epics have never found great translators, and perhaps never will.

    Personally, I find Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey work pretty well in English, even without the poetic flourishes of the original ancient Greek. Vergil’s Aeneid, on the other hand, feels lively, poignant and grandiose in Latin, but every published English version I’ve read just feels contrived and try-hard. I have come to the conclusion that there is a powerful narrative simplicity in Homer that doesn’t need the garnish of clever poetry to work, but Vergil’s narrative lacks that special something, and is redeemed by the metric rhythms, clever word choice, dramatic pacing and creative use of Latin sentence structure.

  16. asclepias says

    Tethys @ 21, I think what really killed it for me was this poem about a man cutting his thumb off with a saw and bleeding out. Every English teacher in junior high read that thing out loud to us at least once a year and I never understood what made them think this was such a great poem. There are some things that just aren’t poetic. No matter what the author did with the language, it always made me want to throw up.

  17. says

    I prefer Phil Foglio’s poem about mammoth meat from What’s New With Phil And Dixie:

    “‘We’re cold you blockhead’?”
    “I know! I know!! There’s just nothing funny about an ice age, okay?”
    “What? Did my ears deceive me?”
    “Phil, there’s a mammoth in the house.”
    “Oh, good. I thought I was hallucinating again.”
    “Nothing funny about an ice age?! Ha! Listen to this—”

    Look upon that field of ice.
    Ain’t it smooth? Ain’t it nice?
    It makes you want to run so fast and fleet—

    But as that field of ice you cross
    Suddenly a large crevasse
    Opens in the ground beneath your feet!

    So ten thousand years from now,
    The guy who drives the big snow-plough
    Runs into a ton of mammoth meat!

    It’s still froze but he can’t eat it.
    Do you stir-fry, smoke, or heat it?
    If you cook it wrong it won’t taste sweet.


    Because those fools in ten thou B.C.
    Could not write down the recipe
    All their mammoth cookware’s obsolete!

    Now you tell me that’s not funny!
    I’ll bet you can’t for love or money.
    ’Cause those old mammoth jokes just can’t be beat!

    (“Okay… surrealism is good.” “Tell them it’s ‘art’.” “‘Art?!’ Hey, does this mean I don’t get paid?!”)

  18. Tethys says

    Cartomancer @23

    A lot depends on the translation, though I will grant that some great epics have never found great translators, and perhaps never will.

    Brekekekèx-koàx-koáx. :)

    I agree completely. Some translations of the Eddas get turned into awful purple prose, and the most readily available versions are written by very prudish 1800s men who were Xtian. They get so focused on the manly Vikings, swords and dragons that they completely omit the baudy jokes and don’t comprehend the independent women acting with agency. In original form and meter it is very lyrical and evocative, but English is completely backwards to all the other Germanic languages and has very strict rules about word order. End rhyme is a sign of crappy poetry, but translating to modern English often produces end rhyme.
    It’s not general knowledge that Vikings were expected to be able to bust out a good poem, and wield a weapon with equal skill.

    I never expected to read 900 year old lines about womens sexuality that made modern me blush. It’s in a homily about the certainty of death, but it clearly says ‘you fucked him in the woods’ about her deceased stud. (Who is not her husband, and seems to have been ‘hung’.)

    Asclepias @24

    I think what really killed it for me was this poem about a man cutting his thumb off with a saw and bleeding out.

    Ugh, that does sound gruesome. The only poem that I remember from that class is the Odyssey, all the rest was immediately forgotten after the test.

    There is plenty of bloodiness in the Norse sagas, but the alliterative phrases are sometimes completely familiar to modern readers due to their use in ‘Fairy tales’. Big, bad wolf. Red riding hood. Swan-white has become Snow-white, but they both had very wicked stepmothers.

  19. says

    Eating whatever you scrounge up in the permafrost is pretty dangerous. Does anyone else remember that anthrax outbreak in Russia back in 2017? The permafrost thawed out and there was an anthrax strain frozen in ice for 10 or 20 thousand years. It devastated the reindeer population. It was so old it was almost alien. If global warming is a virtually unstoppable force, then we better be getting ready for whatever else is frozen out there.

  20. birgerjohansson says

    “So old it was almost alien “.
    Now you reminded me.
    Artemis 1 launch is set för Monday, 12.33 UTC (13.33 London time).
    No aliens expected unless the Weyland-Yutani corporation was involved in the running of the mission.

  21. says

    Cold just freezes microorganisms, hard radiation kills them dead. Hit anything with enough rads to turn it’s DNA to confetti and it’s not coming back. It’s one of the reasons I’m actually in favor of food irradiation.

  22. cartomancer says

    Tethys, #26

    The thing about end rhyme is that it is the first and most obvious poetic technique that children pick up on in school, and a lot of people don’t realise that there is more to poetry than end rhyme. I’m personally quite fond of it when used well – medieval Latin tirade rhyme springs to mind, the Archpoet and goliardic verse in general – but when that’s all you do it isn’t very imaginative and tends not to be very interesting unless the subject matter is very interesting.

  23. nomdeplume says

    Yes, William Buckland claimed to have eaten his way through the animal kingdom including mole and bluebottle fly, panther, crocodile and mouse, and once a portion of the mummified heart of King Louis XIV. He would have loved this bison.

  24. silvrhalide says

    @21 “What idiot finds a 55,000 year old carcass and decided to try and eat it? These must be the adult version of children who found lead paint chips and decided they looked tasty.”
    You beat me to the punch. Jesus, why would your first thought be “I’m going to eat that”?! It’s not like it was USDA inspected and flash frozen. Plus, it wasn’t gutted, bled out, etc. or otherwise dressed or prepared for human consumption–it’s just roadkill that hung around for who knows how long before it froze.
    Basically, these lunatics decided to eat something whose intestines hadn’t been removed, or whose bladder may or not have been voided pre-mortem. Bet there was all sorts of gut decay before this thing froze solid. Yuck.

    @24 “I think what really killed it for me was this poem about a man cutting his thumb off with a saw and bleeding out.”
    Never ever read “Der Strewwelpeter”. Although it does rhyme in the original German.

    @27 Well, someone discovered the original Spanish flu of 1918 in Alaska permafrost, so yeah, I think that this is just the tip of the iceberg. So to speak.

  25. monad says

    @14 Larry: It wouldn’t have any preparation for our immune system either though. People keep talking about diseases from ancient spores and other things we haven’t encountered, but so far all the worst ones come from one another and animals in close contact with us.

  26. John Morales says

    Everyone who partook is hale and hearty, no?

    I know there are examples of people eating all sorts of rotten food all over the place. Rotten cheese, rotten whale meat, that sort of thing.

    (Better they than I, that’s for sure)

  27. mordred says

    silvrhalide @35: The nice thing about the “Struwwelpeter” is that it’s a whole book with about a dozen stories about children being … children and coming to a rather gruesome end because of it. My paternal grandmother had that book and read it to me a few times.

    I usually was reminded about the “Suppenkasper” who starved to death because he didn’t like his soup. I used to be a skinny kid.

  28. lumipuna says

    Basically, these lunatics decided to eat something whose intestines hadn’t been removed, or whose bladder may or not have been voided pre-mortem. Bet there was all sorts of gut decay before this thing froze solid.

    That was indeed the case with Blue Babe, based on some recounts of the story I’ve seen. They took the meat from the animal’s neck, which would’ve frozen much more rapidly and hygienically – though obviously it wasn’t entirely safe just because it wasn’t noticeably rotten.

  29. brightmoon says

    As far as poetry I like Shel Silverstein’s ( I know I’m a big kid) and I’d never try that carefully aged bison . Yuck!

  30. silvrhalide says

    @40 But did you wash your face, cut your nails and comb your hair? Lol.
    I read the whole book as part of my German language classes.
    It’s like Mother Goose for little German kids, if HR Geiger wrote Mother Goose.
    My favorites were Bosen Friederich and the one about the hunter and the hare.