"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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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."