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I went to the MN Beef Expo in search of knowledge and all I got was this incredible cheesesteak

A benevolent giant, inflatable steer watches over the 2019 Minnesota Beef Expo.

A benevolent giant, inflatable steer watches over the 2019 Minnesota Beef Expo. Sarah Brumble

A nugget for all you PR folk out there: Tease me with an event called the “Youth Knowledge Bowl” at the Minnesota Beef Expo 2019, in which “four-member teams participate in a quiz bowl competition that tests their knowledge of cattle and the beef industry,” chances are amazing I’ll show up. 

Do I need to see how much more The Youth of our fair state knows about what Burch serves than I do? Gods yes

This is how two members of City Pages found ourselves rolling into the Lee and Rose Warner Coliseum in the opening hours of the Beef Expo yesterday morning. We were unprepared for the sheer quantity of giant faux-bulls that would greet us -- the best of which was bigger than Lizzo’s inflatable ass and bore a beguiling smile over what we believe was a calf clipper/hair styling demonstration at the ring’s center.

You see, we came in search of knowledge, knowing full well we were outsiders to a very specific industry that nonetheless touches so much of the food world here in the Cities' dining scene. Where better to learn, we thought?

Yet it turns out a sense of confusion would loom large, like that balloon-cow, throughout our nearly two hours perusing the expo’s demonstrations scattered about the State Fairgrounds’ barns and rings. 

Without exaggeration, we were the only non-expo participants (in one way or another) present. One need already be a members of this club in order to learn anything about it—which felt a perfectly funny catch-22 to find oneself in, especially when the topic was cows.

When we finally located the beef-centric quiz-bowl competition to which we’d been "invited" (after an office-enabled detour to the wrong building), an awkward scene designed to host zero spectators greeted us. It was only us, and frankly we were probably mistaken for animal rights protesters at first glance. 

Rousing competition in the Juniors division yesterday morning.

Rousing competition in the Juniors division yesterday morning. Sarah Brumble

Between rounds of bracketed play, no rules were announced. You either knew what was happening and were involved in the game… or you were us two, slouching on the edge of earshot, trying not to be in the way, but nodding approvingly.

Two-thirds of game-play involved the profoundly knowledgeable competitors – decked out in spangly denim, cool belts, and matching button-ups – buzzing-in to cut-off a pair of moderators mid-query to gain an advantage over the opposing team. This meant the questions were spoken in halves, and the children rattled off their answers with precision and at lightning speed.

Though rousing from a competition standpoint, it rendered gathering actual information on the topic at hand impossible.

Right after my companion noted “they know as much about cows as we do about Bikini Kill,” we abandoned our trivial pursuit as the moderators (whom we’d become determined to interview) remained engaged for our entire visit. 

Roaming the grounds, we found there was an area displaying photos of champion cattle of various kinds stretching back a decade, but little explanation of what the technical terms meant. The children's area was, frankly, more our speed, thanks to its big cow illustration chopped up into recognizable cuts like "chuck" and "flat iron" right next to a television that had just concluded its showing of an animated movie.

In this world, we'd just discovered we're kindergartners at best. And kindergartners we would remain.

This is a very good cheesesteak, folks.

This is a very good cheesesteak, folks. Sarah Brumble

Before taking our leave, we found a wonderful saleswoman by the name of Cow Patti who taught us about Mexican versus Brazilian hide tanning methods, and her cows' personalities over the years. Were it not for Patty, and a discovery that the food vendor operating in the coliseum is home to what I'd consider an all-time top-five cheesesteak (served with bonus waffle fries) for $12, the day would have been a knowledge bust.

That said, you should go to the Minnesota Beef Expo, which runs through Sunday and is free to the public.

Not solely for Cow Patti and the cheesesteak, of course. But do order a fantastic cheesesteak in the belly of the arena. Being there, enter a world many know so well with a spirit of curiosity and absorb of it what you can. Revel in how much of what ends up on your plate (or in your hand) you’ll never fully understand, no matter how much “steak training” you think you’ve got under your belt.

There's a lot to be said for any opportunity to find out how much you don't know, and simply never will. Unlike a cheesesteak, take it like a helping of vegetables.