What Goes Around, Comes Around


When my hunting dogs are working, I feed them raw dog food from Wild Idea Buffalo Company. In the summertime, when they are off duty, I buy fifty-pound bags of prepared dog food from a farm supply store that carries at least twenty different brands. In the last couple years, I’ve noticed that more and more of those brands claim to contain buffalo meat. The advertising on the bags, depicting the American buffalo, creates the impression that your dog will be healthier and more wolf-like if you buy him a bag of this “natural” K9 protein. 
This buffalo-infused dog food is supposed to be excellent for your dog, but it’s about the same price as any other prepared dog food. I know all too well that the meat from American buffalo (especially like the ones who roam our ranch) costs much more to raise than the sixty cents a pound they are getting for this bagged stuff. Something wasn’t adding up, but I didn’t give it much thought until a friend of mine, who is incidentally a Viet Nam veteran, went out of his way to bring me a clipping from a national newspaper. His face was red, and he stuttered as he laid the clipping on my desk and beat his fist on top of it. “The sons-of-bitches,” he said. I only had to read a couple lines to find out what he was talking about. It was a subject of great interest in the American buffalo industry. The dog food I’ve been seeing (and no doubt other “buffalo” products) does not contain American buffalo and it was dipping into the profits of American buffalo producers in a subversive way.

Some wise marketer has done some very basic genetic research and found out that the buffalo that roam our ranch – the iconic, romantic, wild herbivores who ran in huge herds, shaped the Great Plains, sustained Native Americans, and came to define the American spirit - are scientifically not buffalo. According to modern taxonomists they are Bison bison. Technically, buffalo are buffalo Bubalus– creatures of Africa and Asia, mostly domesticated, and more like cattle than American buffalo.

How did this colossal misnaming happen? The first Europeans to see American buffalo were not taxonomists (in fact, taxonomy was in its very early stages). They were adventurers, seeking gold and silver. The truth is that the Spanish, English, French, and Dutch didn’t even know where they were, let alone the difference between American buffalo (bison) and old-world buffalo. They thought they were in India. That’s why they called Native Americans, Indians. They knew that there were buffalo in India, so the big shaggy herbivores that seemed to be everywhere in North America must be buffalo.

The buffalo meat that is sneaking into American market places are old, domestic water buffalo, purchased and slaughtered by the thousands at very low cost in Asia. “I saw these dirty bastards,” my friend said. Now he was thumping his index finger hard on the newspaper clipping. “Getting led around by little kids. Wading around in stinking, sewage lagoons.” He shook his head in disgust. “I was wading around with them.”

My friend was right, of course. There is no western romance or iconic majesty in a water buffalo. But there are lots of them, lined up at Asian feed bunks, eating who knows what, and drinking that fetid water like beef (and 90 percent of American buffalo) in feedlots. It is a classic case of the old marketing switcheroo and the American buffalo industry is livid, even though the purveyors of Asian buffalo meat are technically and taxonomically right in what they claim. Truth is, the American buffalo industry has been out maneuvered.

We at Wild Idea don’t have much to do with the American buffalo industry. Our goals for the animals on our ranch, is to keep them as close as possible to what the first Europeans found when they came ashore in the fifteenth century: Roaming in large herds on native grass and stimulating all the other creatures of the Great Plains. We are not interested in domestication, selective breeding, feedlots, or industrial slaughter of American buffalo. To hear the righteous indignation of the industrial producers of American buffalo meat, who are treating their American buffalo like cull, Asian, water buffalo and are using the same marketing tricks that are being used against them now, I find ironic.

The corporations who are selling water buffalo meat are stealing the majesty, romance and honest claims of the purity of the American buffalo. They are using subliminal advertising to sell their inferior product at high margins. The vast majority of American buffalo producers are doing the same thing. Their websites and packaging are covered with noble images of American buffalo and the landscape they used to inhabit. Everything is designed to invoke thoughts of freedom of movement, strength, and wildness, when in fact, their animals are crammed into stinking feedlots eating corn that is grown where native grass used to grow.  They are carted off to industrial slaughter plants where they are lined up and killed with disregard for the animal’s nobility and iconic power.

Marketing is the deceitful dog of modern materialism. It is faithful until it turns and bites its master. It may be true that many of society’s old conventions do not apply in the helter-skelter of the twenty-first century marketplace, but some of the old sayings do: “Buyer beware“ and “What goes around comes around” are two that come to mind.


  • Posted on by Blake

    these are exactly the same problems organic produce producers face these days. Agro/Chemical corporations fight for their quick and easy dollar with the help of paid politicians. what if producers of meat, whether beef, bison, foul or fish, were to move toward Wild Idea’s vision, where petroleum-based fertilizers and pesticides, herbicides, growth hormones and antibiotics were completely eliminated from the food chain. would disease and illness in humans diminish? would the land, air and water suddenly become cleaner, toxic run-off from massive feedlots become a thing of the past? toxic algae blooms in waterways, no more? and all this pollution adds to global warming.

    there is only one way to grow our food without causing harm. everyone should choose wisely or make a necessary change of diet to switch to a more balanced system like Wild Idea. at the very least we should be working at this. indeed, our dollars are our votes for a sustainable future.

    great article, brother Dan. admire greatly your ethical standards.

  • Posted on by Dan Page

    Thanks, Dan and Bob Jackson. I’m disgusted with the meat served up at Ted’s Montana Grill. It is SO inferior to Wild Idea Buffalo that I don’t bother to eat there (after the first time – I had to try once). I go to my freezer and thaw out some prime, Cheyenne River grind and serve gourmet burgers.

  • Posted on by William Cuff

    I have been buying bison meat about 36 years, when it was very hard to find in the DC area but knew from studies in college that the American bison was not a buffalo. All buffalo and cattle are members of the bovine family and the american bison is just that, the american bison, a different species. That is why the taste and texture of the meat is different.

  • Posted on by bob jackson

    I have raised bison for 40 years. 300-500 animals on mostly savanna prairie, all living in extended families, the way all grazers evolved. And even though I am in Iowa, no corn or other grain touches their tongue. Neighbors once in a while throw a ear of corn over the fence to see what happens. Nothing. A sniff out of curiosity, then my bison walk away. I am also a member of the National Bison association. I am a member because it allows me to “see” what is going on in the, as it is called, “the industry”. I also am a member because I get to let others know, with my booth, there is a different way to raise bison than copying the cattle “industry” model. I guess, at least, “they” allow another point of view. But at the same time it is soooo hard to see and hear all the performance touted bison ads coming out in the NBA quarterly magazine. Rate of gain, pictures of bulls bred for small heads (packers don’t like the extra weight of that big ole head, you know), seven way shots to keep them healthy … and on and on. Some bison ranchers even cut the horns off “because they are easier to manage”. I brought up to the NBA board one time, right after the “majestic” animal promotion was presented to the audience, wondering how an animal could be considered so majestic if it was living in a feedlot with all that shit those animals had to lay in while chewing their cud. I had never, ever voiced my opinion to this hallowed board before. It mattered little if what I said, impacted those elected board members or not. I did it because it “had to be done”. It was the right thing to do. So Dan, with his words, is doing what I believe is “right”, also.

  • Posted on by Peggy

    I used the same dog food, Taste of the Wild, I’m disappointed, I thought it was a very healthy dog food. What did you switch to.

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