Last December, we were driving northbound, in California, on our way back from a Holiday.
The air was hot, the sky was grey. The whole atmosphere on the highway was gloomy and oppressive.
Then we started smelling something. A stench in the air, was gradually getting stronger as we kept eating up miles.
We were wondering what it was – a lot of pooh for sure but we weren't sure if used to feed the fields or otherwise?
We had never witnessed a smell that repulsive, and it wasn't just pooh – it was certainly a lot of that, but mixed with sweat and tears and sadness and death.
After many miles of that, it became too strong to bear and we were feeling physically cramped up and on the verge of vomiting, and it was then that it appeared. When I saw it I was literally shaken, and I almost lost control of the car: all you could see on a side of the road was miles and miles of bare ground, or rather mud, certainly covered with pooh, till the eyes could see. And those field were literally filled with cows, and more cows, and even more cows – more cows than you can possibly imagine. They were resting on each other, not having enough space to even move, with no grass anywhere, literally standing or sitting in their own pooh, surrounded by clouds of their own farts. Miserable.
I regained control of the car without consequences, and managed to stop the vehicle by the side of the road. I stepped out for a second, I felt like vomiting. I didn't have the guts nor the clarity to shoot a photo. It was like walking in hell.
Now you might think I am over dramatizing – but it really felt that way to me. I knew that high density farms existed, and I knew animals were not treated nicely, but after having seen this, even the memory of it makes me feel the stress and the pain and the desolation of that place in my heart and I can't ignore it.
Think of it – we are what we eat. If the cows have lived that life of stress and pity, do you really want to eat them?
I now largely stopped eating meat – I would not call myself 'vegetarian' as I did not make a strict rule of it – I still eat what I feel like eating (I have eaten lamb twice in the last seven months for example), but I generally found I have little to no appetite for meat these days. I like it, but I don't need it and I don't crave it as I used to.
I am not making an argument for never eating meat. There is place for a bit of that, we are omnivores, but we should making them live happy and treat them respectfully. I am making an argument for moderation, respect, compassion.
"[…] It could be argued that, since our primate ancestors had to make do without a major meat component in their diets, we should be able to do the same. We were driven to become flesh-eaters only by environmental circumstances, and now that we have the environment under control, with elaborately cultivated crops at our disposal, we might be expected to return to our ancient primate feeding patterns. […]"
In addition to my ramblings and memories, and a 40 years old book, here I collected a few more recent news/articles I invite you to read and they feature some photos of the horrid place we drove by (and other similar ones):
Besides the 'poor cows' argument, and the willingness (or lack thereof) to eat them after having seen (or just knowing) how they suffer, and whether we need to eat it or not, this type of intense exploitation has side effects for carbon emissions, is responsible for droughts and water problems, and other issues – the articles linked above talk of all these much better than I would. Summary: it is not a sustainable way of farming. It is causing all sorts of issues to the environment, not just the cows themselves. There should be enough warning signs we are doing it all wrong, and yet we continue in this craziness.
Some additional tidbit to note is about the 'diet' of those cows – the last article I linked also brings up some additional information about what the cows are fed:
"[…] Most of the beef consumed in the United States comes from such feedlots, where cattle arrive after living for six months on pasture and grass to be finished for another six months or so on a corn and other grains. Because a diet mainly made up of corn wreaks havoc on the digestive systems of cows, which are ruminants and designed for grass not grain, they are fed daily rations of antibiotics.[…]"
Corn. Cows are being fed corn.
This is because in America there is an excess production of corn (largely GMO) so that you can basically find corn everywhere (directly, or indirectly) in 75% of products in the average American grocery store:
If you read those articles, you'll see the overall corn industry in the states makes it so that you basically have a very hard time if you don't want to eat corn, you can't find food without it. They force it down on you. A lot of it is GMO, and you can't escape it.
Obesity and other issues (heart problems, etc) in the States are largely related to corn, especially in its derivative product, the 'high fructose corn syrup' that is used as a sugar substitute all over the place (and even in places you wouldn't imagine they'd need sugar for their preparation…). Too bad that high fructose corn syrup is actually junk:
"[…] Fructose can only be metabolized by the liver, which is not a good thing. This means a greater number of calories—about three times more than glucose—are going through liver processes and that results in a much higher production of VLDL (the bad cholestoral mentioned earlier) and fat. It also results in a higher production of uric acid and a lot of other things you don't want, which is believed to lead to fun stuff like hypertension and high blood pressure.
On top of that, fructose consumption negatively changes the way your brain recognizes your consumption. This is because your brain resists leptin, the protein that's vital for regulating energy intake and expenditure (which includes your keeping your appetite in check and your metabolism working efficiently). As a result, you keep eating without necessarily realizing you're full. […] Your brain doesn't get the message that you really consumed much of anything and so it still thinks you're still hungry.[…]"
Give me 'normal' sugar any day please.
But to go back to what the cows – before the humans – eat, they are also fed antibiotics to 'compensate' for having fucked up their digestive system by feeding them corn in the first place!
Cows are so important for milk – even more so than for meat – but we mistreat them and let them live in hell and feed them things they can't digest and medicines; as a result, even their milk is also of poor quality, carrying over the antibiotics and having little nutritional value.
All it would take is to just eat less meat. Just eat less meat. I am not saying none at all, but just a lot less. We don't really need as much of it. Then you need a lot less cows, and you can make them live in comfortable conditions, eat grass (non GMO please) which would be good for them, and enjoy the good healthy milk they'd then start producing again. Live in balance with Nature, not exploit it.
This article about 'the Cows in Hinduism' makes some very good point as to why in India the cow is 'holy' (as in – treated with respect):
"[…] Milk is just as important, if not more so, to Indians as it is to Americans. We use it so much, for so many things, that the respect for the product carries over to affection for the source. Cows are the lifeblood of many small communities, and the size of a herd can indicate a great deal about the status or health of villages in India. We use ghee (clarified butter) and milk in ceremonies, and we revere the cow for providing it. We drink the cow's milk, as though it were our mother's. So indeed, we respect the cow as if it were our mother.
However, the question about 'worshipping cows' is based on misinformation. Hindus do not 'worship,' cows, in the implied sense of the word. There is a religious relationship between us, but it is not one of worship. In its place, there is a deep reverence for life in all forms. […]"
While I wasn't raised a Hindu, this actually resonates with me – I love nature and all of creation, and I think we should always remember we are all interconnected, and hurting nature ultimately hurts ourselves. And it is already making us suffer, because deep down we know we are hurting mother earth, and the environmental issues are showing us that.
Even the Native American knew and told us that. Chief Seathl (Seattle) wrote a letter to the President of the United States of America in 1854:
"[…] Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. […] Whatever befalls the earth befalls he sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. […]"
We should have listened, but you know how that went.
Me and my wife are pretty sensitive, my digestive system was pretty messed up as a kid, from the too many antibiotics the doctors fed me in the '70s, and my youth is a history of food allergies and intolerance that had progressively gone better as I became an adult and gradually de-toxed. In America it all came back, as it is really hard to 'pay attention' to what crap is in each product, each and every day. But as I paid more attention, in the last year I started dreading the sight of the cafeteria's at work and I was often escaping for lunch and heading to a small Indian place that at least used fresh veggies and didn't use GMO-vegetable oils; my wife developed Ulcerative Colitis and literally changed 'shape' from being overweight to underweight, in the last 2 years. Partly due to the food, partly due to the stress of various situations a couple of which I wrote about it my previous posts: http://www.muscetta.com/2015/07/03/imaginary-friend-sara-about-public-school-in-the-united-states/ and http://www.muscetta.com/2015/06/30/when-i-stopped-sleeping-well-at-night/ , and other ones – some of which I won't write about.
But specifically in regards to food, in our shopping, we support local farms and try to buy all organic, biologic farmed food. This was the case in America – albeit it was hard to find and *extremely* expensive – and continues to be the case now that we moved to the Netherlands. Granted, you can find plenty of crap also on this side of the world, largely from the multinationals, but it is way easier to find better quality products, and to do so without completely breaking the bank.
I think if America would invest the right resources in supporting sustainable farming it would do a lot of good to all sort of problems the country has.
There is evidence of this all over the place, and yet fueled by the corn lobbies, the pharmaceuticals, and other industries, the intensive planet-destroying methods of food production continue to be supported.
I recently moved to the Netherlands (whose milk – and cheese! – tradition is famous), and the cows I see now are mostly happily roaming in the grass, and watching them is helping me and my wife heal. And healthy, organic Dutch cheese and bread, too.