To: "Adrianna Ardanowski"
From: "Jennifer Reisner"
CC: "Peter Greenwood"

Subject: Where’s the beef? We don’t know.

Adrianna -

This is my last plea for you to reconsider the beef council story. Yes, I've still been working on it in my downtime, as I'm sure you already guessed. I've included a summary of all the information Peter and I have uncovered below. If you still don't think there's anything there, feel free to dismiss this as the grievance of a lifelong vegan and ag-industry skeptic. I just ask that you hear me out.

Peter noticed the first billboard on May 6 last year when he was driving to the office on I-70. It was typical of the billboards that would appear after it: a raw cut of beef in front of a plain black background. Next to the picture, it said, "Eat beef." He once told me they reminded him of those Got Milk? Ads - I think the Milk Processor Board has grounds to sue, honestly.

We all talked about the billboard that day, but Peter was the only one who saw it, even though others drove that same stretch of interstate. Peter, feel free to correct me if I'm mischaracterizing your response, but you seemed rattled by it. I don't know what it was that got to you, the glistening, artless photo of the meat or the fact that no one else knew what you were talking about.

Like Peter, I take I-70 to work, so I kept an eye out for the billboard the next day. I didn't see it. Peter and I had a brief debate about where, specifically, the billboard was, and he swore up and down that it was just before exit 12, across from the hospital. I looked for it the next day, but I still didn't see it. Peter was still the only one in the office who had ever seen this billboard.

I didn't think much of it until a few weeks later, when I was talking to my sister. She lives in Madison, and she mentioned a weird billboard she'd seen recently. It was just like the one Peter described, except she said her billboard said, "Buy beef." She claimed the cut of meat was different too, but I won't pretend that difference means anything to me.

So this wasn't just something in Peter's imagination! (Sorry, Peter.) When I told him about it, he shared that he'd seen another, similar billboard south of the city. This one was more unsettling than the first. It had an extremely close-up, almost macro image of fat and tissue, and it said "Don't eat soy."

Because both Peter and my sister claimed the billboards had no company name or contact information on them, I called the company that owns the billboards. All three were owned by Bosch Advertising, and all three were paid for by an organization named the Midwest Beef Council. Bosch provided us with contact information for the MBC, but the phone number was disconnected and our emails bounced back. The organization has no website (shocking, I know), and it isn't registered with the US Agriculture Marketing Service or the IRS.

As you and I discussed a few months ago, that avenue seems to be a dead end.

Peter and I attempted to gather some more info by interviewing shoppers at the strip mall a few exits down from the first billboard. Based on that (admittedly limited) data, it appears that about a third of people have noticed the beef billboard. Of the people that didn't, many couldn't name any billboards they'd seen recently. There were a few who seemed entirely amiable and interested in talking until I brought up the billboard. Then they got agitated and refused to discuss the matter.

Those who had seen the billboard, on the other hand, were relieved to talk to someone about it. None of them had met another person who knew about the billboard, and they all felt unsettled by it. Some said they had even pointed the billboard out to other people in the car with them, but no one else seemed to see what they were looking at.

At this point, I should confess that I still haven't seen the billboard. Peter and I drove that stretch of highway together and even took a trip to see the other billboard, but I've never seen anything like what he’s described - even when we were both supposedly looking right at it.

I've felt the sense of dread that he and so many others have talked about feeling when they look at it, though. I've started taking a different route to work so I don't have to drive past where it should be.

There's something here, Adrianna. Even if we just shunt it into the corner in a weekend edition as a quirky local interest story, it's worth putting it out there. Here's your news peg: The Journal of Consumer Research just published a report that beef consumption in our region has increased substantially since last year, but no one can figure out why.

So far, I haven't been able to find any reports of beef billboards outside of the Midwest, but my sister just told me about something she noticed in a magazine she subscribes to. I asked her to send me a picture, but so far she's refused. She thinks I'm giving her shit by pretending not to be able to see the ads.

The magazine is nationally distributed, based in New York, and right there in the middle is a full-page beef ad, just like all the others. Black background with a whole skinned cow on it. You have to turn the magazine on its side to see it right side up. She said the tagline on this one is "Beef is strength."

Whatever it is, I think it's spreading.

To: "Adrianna Ardanowski"
From: "Jennifer Reisner"
CC: "Peter Greenwood"

Subject: Re: Where’s the beef? We don’t know.

One more thing - unrelated! Since we were talking about recipes earlier, here's one for Steak au Poivre I tried last night. So good!

To: "Adrianna Ardanowski", "Jennifer Reisner"
From: "Peter Greenwood"

Subject: Re: Where’s the beef? We don’t know.

Jen, do you notice anything odd about the ads on that webpage?