The state of Kansas has a long and distinguished history as one of the most important centers of the beef industry.
From the decades after the Civil War, when tens of thousands of cattle were driven overland from Western rangelands to railheads in Abilene, Wichita and Dodge City, from where they were transported to packing plants in Kansas City, Chicago and St. Paul, Minn., to modern times, the state’s economy has revolved around cattle and beef.
Kansas currently has 6.4 million cattle on ranches and in feedyards, more than twice the number of people in the Sunflower State. Cattle generate more than $8.8 billion in annual sales, and the meatpacking industry employs more than 18,700 people, plus an additional 50,852 jobs in affiliated downstream industries, according to the Kansas Department of Labor.
Overall, the state’s meat industries are responsible for more than $12.9 billion in economic activity, according to recent data compiled by the North American Meat Institute.
As noted, the city of Wichita not only has links to Kansas’s historical emergence as one of the nation’s primary meat producers, the city of 382,000 — the state’s largest — lies in the heart of beef country adjacent to such packing plant towns as Liberal, Garden City and Emporia. And for many years, the city was the headquarters of Excel Corp., formerly one of the nation’s largest beef packers and now a subsidiary of Cargill Inc.
See No Meat, Smell No Meat, Eat No Meat
All this is the backdrop to an event that took place last week: the arrival in town of Sir Paul McCartney for a one-night show at Wichita’s Intrust Bank Arena. What made yet another stop on the ex-Beatle’s summer tour noteworthy is that he not only required that no meat products be allowed backstage — understandable, since McCartney’s a longtime vegetarian — he also demanded that all staff at the arena who might be eating a lunch containing animal foods avoid any proximity to the singer.
As the Wichita Eagle reported, several employees and ushers at the arena said they received e-mails informing them that “employees who planned to bring lunches that included meat were asked to eat them discreetly in their offices or in the locker area.
“Those who want to enjoy meaty concession items can do so if they take them to a designated area on the upper concourse after the concert starts.”
Look, it’s one thing to eschew animal foods on principle. But McCartney, mostly due to the influence of his late wife Linda McCartney, a militant animal and veggie activist, is seriously intolerant of anyone who doesn’t embrace the Full Vegan lifestyle.
His demands that everyone working at the arena cannot even be seen eating meat is outrageous.
Uh, which is business as usual for rock stars, of course.
Here’s the ironic part of Sir Paul’s holier-than-thou purity requirements, however: All of the concession stands at the arena still served their regular meat-based foods, although Christine Pileckas, the arena’s director of sales and marketing, told the newspaper that many of the concessionaires planned to add vegetarian options as an ode to McCartney.
And that’s not all. Many of the conventional concession items were temporarily renamed: a “Banh Mi On the Run” (a Vietnamese pork sandwich); a “Let it B-B-Q” sandwich; “Sgt. Pepperoni Pizza;” and “Live and Eat Fries.”
“It is a vegetarian tour, and as a venue, we will try to do everything we can to respect that,” Pileckas said.
Translation: It’s one of the few opportunities a (relatively) small town in the middle of Kansas gets to cash in on an evening when the arena is filled with high rollers.
Think that’s an exaggeration? Prior to the event, the newspaper reported that front-row seats for McCartney’s show started at $2,100. By concert night, scalpers were getting up to $7,000 a pop for special VIP packages.
And what did concert-goers get for their four-figure VIP purchases? Well, protection from any contact with some low-level employee munching on a roast beef sandwich, of course, but also “a collectible ticket, a collectible laminated ticket holder and merchandise designed exclusively for package buyers.”
And if you shelled out for the front-row option, the Wichita Eagle reported, you also got access to McCartney’s pre-show sound check — (wow!) — a pre-show hospitality reception, a “limited-edition, numbered lithograph” and priority admittance to the venue the day of the show.
Personally, I’d rather save the seven grand, spend a couple hundred treating family and friends to a big-time barbecue, and pocket the other $6,800, which I most definitely wouldn’t waste on some numbered lithograph that puts even more cash into the pockets of a near-billionaire who hates the industry I’ve spent my career extolling.
Besides, after McCartney left the Beatles? I never even liked his music.
Editor’s Note: The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.