Save the Buffalo


November 18, 1993|By BERNARD GILBERT

San Francisco. -- The Nature Conservancy wants to save the buffalo, and it wants you to pay for it.

''You can help establish a home where the buffalo can roam,'' the ad promises. ''Please give as generously as you can.''

The American Bison Association has a different idea.

''Animals that people eat do not become extinct,'' says Harold Danz, the executive director. ''That's why we have so many more chickens than bald eagles in this country.''

The association is promoting buffalo food products: buffalo steaks, buffalo sausages, buffalo luncheon meats, canned buffalo and Teriyaki Buffalo Sticks (''A Taste of the Old West'').

The Nature Conservancy's approach is genteel and appeals to your sense of generosity and fair play: ''Once he supported entire civilizations. Now he needs one to support him.''

The Bison Association's approach is pragmatic and appeals to your self-interest. In the bisoneer's vision, everyone's happy. You're happy eating your buffalo steak (which is reported to taste like lean beef, but is lower in cholesterol and fat even than poultry and some fish).

They're happy taking your money.

And the buffalo is happy grazing on prairie grasses, until its eventual appointment with the food-processing, distribution and marketing systems.

It's a market-driven Reaganomic approach perfectly calibrated to the style of the no-nonsense '90s. It can't be long before Rush Limbaugh applies it to the Somalis. (''A people that people eat will never vanish from the Earth.'')

Already, buffalo-related food sales amount to millions of dollars each year. Ted Turner is a buffalo rancher now.

For that other endangered species, the American worker, the Bison Association's ambitions promise lucrative non-union jobs as bison wranglers, meat packers and sales assistants in grocery and novelty stores.

No life at all, or a life dedicated to making profits for tough-minded entrepreneurs. Which would you prefer?

Bernard Gilbert is a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner.

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