Step Four P.S. The Cows


” I recently saw a video recorded secretly by a Humane Society investigator . . .that sparked the country’s largest-ever beef recall . . . as part of the USDA inspection process, cows must be able to walk under their own steam to slaughter as a precaution against their having, for example, mad cow disease and thus introducing tainted meat into the food stream.

The Humane Society video showed slaughterhouse workers doing anything they could to get downed cows to walk.  They sprayed hoses of water into their nostrils to try to get them to stand.  They tied chains to their legs and dragged them through the mud with trucks.  They used bulldozers to try to force the cows to their feet.  And throughout the video, you can hear the sounds of the cows – they are screaming.”

-from No Impact Man by Colin Beaven, pgs. 134-135

Sorry to surprise you with this.  Most of the time, Ben and I try to walk on the sunny side of the street – or at least to recruit from there.  We work hard to tell people how delicious, fun, joyful the sustainable life is.  But sometimes, it is important to be reminded just how bad our current system really is.  I read this passage on Saturday, hours after visiting the cows at the farm where we drive to pick up raw milk, and it has been haunting me ever since.  They tied chains to their legs and dragged them through the mud.  The cows are screaming.

calf(all photos are from our meat farmers, Chestnut Farms)

Our life’s work is sustainable food, community food, and I while I have done a ton of research into this, I still find myself, as I did last Saturday, holding a book and crying.  For the cows, for the workers, for all the families out there who think they are getting such a great deal when they eat a 99 cent hamburger.  We are all responsible for this (unless you’ve been a vegetarian/vegan your whole life).  Our family, as I said, is not vegetarian.  We do take a lot of care to know our farmers and how they raise and slaughter their animals, and we have greatly reduced our meat consumption.


There is a reason that some of the world’s oldest religions (Judaism and Islam come to mind) have strict rules about slaughtering and eating meat.  If you do not respect, give gratitude, and make sure that you are killing a healthy animal, you are simply playing Russian roulette.  And Americans pay with their lives all the time, not to mention their on-going health.


I know that the next time I find myself in a restaurant, tempted by an industrial steak which is so easy to order, and might taste so yummy, this is what I’ll remember.  The cows, screaming.  We can do so much better than this.


5 Responses to “Step Four P.S. The Cows”

  1. 1

    Yup. That’s why I became vegetarian when I was 17. It breaks my heart. There are better ways to eat meat if that’s what one wants to do, like you said. Know the farmer, how they slaughter, although, it just makes me sad regardless, but that’s just me. I think if people are going to eat meat, they should know what it is they are getting and how they are getting it. Don’t just turn your ear away from the story. Know what that 99 cent burger is made of…all of it! Thanks for sharing!


  2. 2

    Thanks Lisa – I was a bit nervous about this one, but I think, as you said, people *at least* need to know what they’re eating

  3. 3

    Thanks. While difficult to read and aware of these disgraceful practices, it is necessary to get a dose every now and again as a reminder for those one off times that I do find myself in a restaurant toying with the idea of what I know to be factory farmed meat. I was a vegetarian for 15 years until I became pregnant with my son who is now almost four. I recognize that my body does better with meat in my diet but my mind recognizes the importance of the source. We try to get as much local as is available (we are in Southampton, NY) and there is so much pride when we do and always, always say a thank you, privately or aloud for the animal’s sacrifice. Thank you for sharing. Are you familiar with Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Eating Animals? He is a vegetarian who really gives you an excuse to second guess food choices, but not beat yourself up entirely.

  4. 4

    I am 63 and was as we called it then, part of the ‘back to the land movement’ in the late ’60s. Problem was I had no land on which to realize what I was imagining. There were others who did, but even so, few of us had ever grown up on farms and hadn’t a clue what we were doing. So, since we couldn’t farm we focused on eating as though we lived in an agrarian culture. Best choice we ever made. We raised five children all now adults except for one premie who, due to complications, only made it through the first two years. I stopped seeing doctors when I was in my 20s and our kids made it to adulthood wondering who those folks in white coats were. My point here is not to suggest that doctors and western medicine have no place in our lives, but rather, if we take good care of ourselves through good food and exercise, our bodies will take care of themselves and we might just never need a doctor’s assistance.
    Your point about ‘to meat or not to meat’ is similar. In both cases, eating a natural diet without animal food, and foregoing doctor’s visits is a difficult swim upstream against the current of this rather insane culture we find ourselves living in. I can look back and say in hindsight that the struggle was well worth the effort, but believe me it is a difficult swim and so we shouldn’t beat either ourselves or our neighbors up when they tire and float back downstream for a while. Instead the best we can do is remind ourselves and others about the common sense of what we are doing.
    The thing that killed the ‘back to the land’ movement in the 60s was a robust economy that eclipsed that rather pathetic first attempt that few of us managed to realize. I remember almost to the day when my contemporaries took off their overalls and put on three-piece suits and I realized that ‘back to the land’ had bit the dust.
    And so our generation lost its way and the machine moved forward toward self destruction. I even ended up with a corporate job at one point (plastics…shudder) with a good salary, lost my way, grow a pot belly, commuting all the time, and developed arthritis that almost put me in a wheelchair. Lost that job in the smaller 2002 recession, then ageism took over to keep me out of the job market, regained my health and started back upstream. So now we are faced with global warming and financial collapse and out of that comes the sustainability movement. For me this is very exciting to see since it is the second wave and much stronger this time. I see actual working farms now where the word ‘weed’ has a whole new traditional meaning. I see grain being harvested by old timers who are coming back to life along with new kids on the block.
    Congratulations! You’re doing a great job. When I take stock at 63, my commitment to a more natural diet and staying active remains by far the most meaningful aspect of my life. Trust your instincts.

  5. 5

    Thanks for your encouragement! What a story – wonderful to hear you have found your way back to the land again :) It’s interesting to see the movement resurge, changed of course, but with the same heart. All the best to you and yours.

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