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Photo by Keith MayGiven the chance, my cats would eat me. It would be an accident, of course. I'd fall and hit my head, and then I'd be dead. Days would pass, the kitties would get hungry, and they'd begin to nibble. I am red meat, after all. Calvin Free, owner of the Beef Palace Butcher Shop in Huntington Beach, told me so.
A student filmmaker turned me on to Calvin and his Palace. For the director, Calvin and his shop exude the manly Americana essential to her story of a backwoods couple trying to breed perfect children. Exactly what that manly Americana essence was, I wasn't sure. Until I visited the store.
At the corner of Springdale and Warner, a huge white sign rises from the parking lot emblazoned with the phrases "Circle the Wagons" and "Let Freedom Ring." Old Glory waves majestically above two giant fiberglass steer standing at the front door like the crouching lions of Trafalgar Square.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649
Region: Huntington Beach
The red-and-white exterior recall an old-time ice cream parlor—like the old Farrell's. Unlike that happy place, this place, the Palace, is more an homage to carnage and slaughter. Dozens of bleached Georgia O'Keefe cattle skulls hang from blood-red walls. Almost everything in this store is red—not just the meat, of course, but also the butchers' aprons and the matting of the framed pictures on the walls, though not the dried pig's head, which looks more of a faded pink sitting next to the salami and crab legs, both red.
If the Beef Palace indicates the manly essence the director wanted for her film, then what does it indicate about the owner himself? There's a bit of a Texas drawl in Calvin's voice, which might lead you to think "redneck," someone with the wild, mangy hair and wide, wild eyes that we all should be afeared of. But Calvin looks a lot more like TV's Chad Everett, just a bit shorter and beefier. As for the redneck thing, Calvin readily admits that he's a bit of a hick, hailing as he does from the south: San Diego.
As we stroll through the store, Calvin enlightens me. Slaughterhouses, he says, are models of cleanliness and humanity. He proceeds to describe the nutritional benefits of red meat and suggests that vegetarians and health professionals are just misinformed. His declaration that "You are red meat" is posted on handwritten signs throughout the store.
"Beef always was and forever will be the ultimate heath food," Calvin says. "Nothing else maximizes growth, strength and speed."
Displayed in the front window, National Geographic and Scientific American discuss the theory that the development of human intelligence is directly related to the acquisition and consumption of meat. To me, that sounds suspiciously evolutionary. When I ask Calvin if he believes in evolution, he skitters away from a direct answer. A few minutes later, he breezes by the topic again, so again I ask: Are you talking about evolution? Are you a Darwinist?
All right, Calvin. If you're not going to answer that question, how about this one: If we humans are red meat and we need to eat red meat in order to replenish muscle, produce energy, etc., then why do the cattle we eat for meat become meat if they are herbivores? I mean, shouldn't they eat meat in order to become red meat?
"'Cause they're slow," he says. "As vegetarians, they have no strength, no energy, no stamina. They're lazy, and they get fat. Starch's do that."
Now, I'm stuck. Working toward that inevitable day, years from now when I have 30 cats and live alone, should I continue to eat red meat and replenish the red meat that I am? Or should I switch now to salad?Beef Palace Butcher Shop, located at 5895 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, is open Mon.-Sat., 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (714) 846-0044.