Practical Issues > Factory Farming > Cows
Have You Ever Felt Like a Wounded Cow?

by Robert Cohen

"Have you ever felt like a wounded cow halfway between an oven and a pasture? walking in a trance toward a pregnant seventeen-year- old housewife's two-day-old cookbook?"

Richard Brautigan, 1982 (The Notmilkman's favorite poet)

It was June 20, 2001, and I experienced the most evocative day of my life driving to Mount St. Helens to visit a sleeping volcano. Along the way, we feasted on manna from heaven, four varieties of fresh dates which were purchased at a Portland raw food festival directly from the grower.

On that hot summer day, we drove across a bridge spanning the cascading Columbia River, separating Portland from Vancouver. There next to our car was a 40-foot long silver van with holes large enough to see through.

Inside of the truck were dairy cows.

They were packed tightly together with no room to lie down. The cows had served man's purpose. Each individual lived her short lifetime of stress, birthing a child who would be immediately taken from her, then injected with hormones that would painfully stretch her udder, depleting calcium from her own bones so that she would generate enough milk to fill 100 half-pint containers for school children to drink each day. Her ancestors naturally produced enough milk to have filled just four of those same containers.

The cow whose eyes I looked into for just one moment would be made to suffer through hours or days of driving hundreds or thousands of miles to what was to become a dairyman's final solution.

She would die a violent death shared by 10,000 of her sisters on that same day.

Ten thousand other Guernsey and Holsteins rode on Route 80 or Route 66 or I-95, in Kansas, New Jersey, or Florida, on highways and neighborhoods near to where your children and mine slept comfortably unaware of the predestined doom for living beings who had done nothing to merit such treatment. Tomorrow the same, and the day after that. Eternal death. Eternal slaughter.

We followed the truck for a bit until it veered off to the east, while I continued my drive north. We took the high road, and she took the low road, and her look will forever haunt me. Her body produced 2,000 quarter-pounders for one of many fast food franchises.

Her anus and cheeks, arms and legs, back and udder were long ago served so that others could have it their way. That day's total slaughter fed 20,000,000 people, and the year's tally of Elsie and her sisters added up to seven billion kids meals served.

I feel the slaughterhouse. I hear the screams and know their fear. I smell the sweat and blood and suffer their pain. I internalize the agony and distress of transported animals. I envision the once green fields in which these creatures grazed and the cold metallic ramp and smell of warm sticky blood that flows on the slaughterhouse floor, staining the psyche of us all.

I imagine the stun gun bolt to the head. The upside-down hoisting and the sliced neck artery. The animal who chokes on her blood, and the man with the chainsaw who slices off her legs as she kicks in fear from the ensuing pain of butchery. The last fifteen seconds of a death that no creature deserves. The arrogance of a man who eats the flesh and dares not consider the origin of each bite.

Nobel Prize-winning author Isaac Bashevis Singer once wrote about a man's love for his departed animal friend: "What do they know, all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka."

Do they not feel pain and deserve the right to live? I cannot eat them. I can no longer be then cause for their pain, although I once was a part of their genocide. I once denied responsibility for the acts of terror that occurred outside of my vision, outside of my consciousness. Their bodies were cut into smaller pieces and were broiled, baked, and fried.

Oh, that same crime of arrogance to which I now plead guilty! My penitence? Community service. I explain the act to meat eaters, and some turn their backs on me. Close their eyes. Shut their ears. Who wishes to deal with the truth and reality of death?

Arriving at Mount St. Helens, I carefully read one plaque after another, taking note of performances both heroic and ironic. I consider the day that once silenced the birds and boiled to death fish in the streams. A blink in the eye of geological time that stripped the landscape of the color green, divested pine trees of their needles and scattered whole trees like matchsticks across barren mountain tops.

I examined the original seismographs and warnings from hundreds of scientists to the residents to evacuate their homes and come to terms with an absolute truth.

I became dumfounded by the arrogance of one man, Harry R. Truman, who lived alone in a cabin aside the lake below a mountain that would soon explode with the magnitude and power equivalent to 27,000 Hiroshima-type blasts.

A man who declined to leave that mountain. A man who denied a truth shared by others. An arrogant man who looked death in the face and refused to respect man's destiny. I try to imagine his final moment of sensibility. At the same time, in my own mind's eye I call upon the face of a cow in a truck on a bridge.

More than 130 years ago, Ellen White wrote:

"Some animals are inhumanly treated while being brought to the slaughter. They are literally tortured...

"Some animals that are brought to the slaughter seem to realize by instinct what is to take place...

"Could you know just the nature of the meat you eat, could you see the animals when living from which the flesh is taken when dead, you would turn with loathing...

"Animals are often transported long distances and subjected to great suffering in reaching a market. Taken from the green pastures and traveling for weary miles over the hot, dusty roads, or crowded into filthy cars, feverish and exhausted, often for many hours deprived of food and water, the poor creatures are driven to their death, that human beings may feast on the carcasses."

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