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At one time in my life I might have enjoyed a sizzling thick porterhouse steak or lamb-stuffed veal wrapped in bacon. Today, I'm furious I no longer savor a good old-fashioned dish of Grade A meat or byproduct.

I don't know why. It isn't a moral, ethical or health issue. My theory?

I blame the incessant need to give the features of a human being to some of the tastier animals on our planet. It's what people with thesauruses call anthropomor-phism, and it has permanently altered my diet. Let me explain.

When I was in 10th grade, I got a job as a cleanup boy at the local meatpacking plant. Every weeknight I'd trudge out to a place called Greenview Meats in rubber boots and a white butcher's coat. Two hours later, I'd slop back home reeking of Clorox and ground chuck. Every grinder and cutting table, every inch of floor and ceiling had to be scrubbed spotless. One speck left on a wall would incur a fine from the morning USDA inspectors and the wrath of the owner, who would gesticulate wildly with his hands while yelling something about firing me, and one more chance, and shoving me onto a meat hook if it happened again. Then I'd notice how many missing fingers he had from years of shoving rib cuts into errant saw blades and miss his whole rant.

No matter. He treated me well, ran a clean plant and made a spicy pepperoni.

The only thing that bothered me about the place was their company mascot, a smiling, dancing pig that was stamped on everything from T-shirts and hats to the sides of their refrigerated trucks. Who was this absurdly giddy hog, and why the big smile? Didn't he know he was shilling for a company known for its smoked pork roast? I used to think, "He wouldn't be prancing around if he knew his chubby neck was headed straight for the band-saw blade I'll scour in hot water tonight."

That's usually about the time I'd pass out from the bleach fumes.

The point is, I don't want to picture my dinner with a personality or character. It should be thinking of ways to remain plump and scrumptious. That's it.

Here's a ridiculous ritual: Every Thanksgiving, the White House grabs some poor turkey on trumped-up charges, parades it through a show trial and then, at the eleventh hour, our president intervenes, places a benevolent hand upon its quivering little head and delivers unto it an official pardon.

This is bad policy. It shows weakness to terrorists, and it means my Thanksgiving turkey was executed because it either had no influential friends or poor legal help.

It's unending. Cows are now rapping in a hip-hop milk TV ad campaign. Birds try to escape the roasting pan in the movie "Chicken Run." Even fish a food I still enjoy tasty, delectable fish carry the lead role in two cartoon box office hits, "Finding Nemo" and "Shark Tale."

What are they doing to the children? Fish aren't supposed to suffer from separation anxiety or kidnapping. They're supposed to hop onto a bed of rice so I can dunk them in soy sauce and slurp sake until my eyes cross.

In a fit of disgust, I tried a slice of Tofurkey, which is baked tofu with artificial flavoring. How can I describe the taste? Imagine dipping a football into a very large bowl of Chunky chicken noodle soup and taking a bite.

But the soy industry has exploded. Sales have skyrocketed as manufacturers keep refining flavor and texture. Special production devices called extruders are producing what the industry markets as meat analogs. Yum.

Not dogs, fake sausages and tofu burgers are flooding the market. Thanks to the wonders of science and chemical flavorings, they taste, in some cases, almost like the real thing. I searched the Net and haven't come across a Pixar movie on a soybean losing his family in a threshing accident and having to search the entire state of Iowa for a new home.

What I did find was an alarming number of studies pointing to the potential health risks of excessive soy consumption. Every benefit of soy, from cancer prevention to lowered cholesterol, has now been called into question.

Options are dwindling. In my ongoing search for foods lacking human features, I have noticed this TV season's reality show contestants do look rather tasty.

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