2 21 2013
Last summer, I flew to San Francisco to help my friend Danny move to New York. We drove across the country, through Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, etc. We saw a lot of animals, and possibly the majority of them were cows. Maybe even something like 90%. In Nevada, where roads stretched straight out in front of us until they disappeared into the horizon, I saw a straight line of cows walking slowly across a gigantic, sprawling field with no visible destination or origin. I thought it was really strange and couldn’t figure out why they would be moving like that.
In Denver, we saw an exhibition of Theodore Waddell’s “Abstract Angus” paintings and drawings, all of which were of cows and landscapes containing cows, which ranged from small drawings on paper to very large paintings. I was pretty inspired by the dedication to capturing this one particular form. It was clear that the artist had spent lots and lots of time just sitting outside in Montana looking at the same scenes. I thought the abstract style represented his own relationship to the cows he was observing—he didn’t really understand them, but they became an aesthetic experience for him. In a way, this is very different from most of the cultural depictions one comes across of cows or any other animals. The abstract cows have very little personality, but they feel very true to form.
My friend Danny really likes Chick-Fil-A restaurants. I hate them. This has been a contentious part of our relationship since we used to hang out at the mall in high school. We saw a lot of these billboards between San Francisco and New York. I actually don’t like the food at Chick-Fil-A, but mostly their advertising annoys me, probably disproportionately to how much I should care about advertising at all. The idea of cows campaigning for people to eat chickens just seems really stupid to me. My reaction is a little ridiculous, because I do like cartoons a lot, and wouldn’t probably be as offended if this wasn’t part of an ad campaign. The Chick-Fil-A protests caused by the company’s large donations to groups opposing same-sex marraige and an Mike Huckabee inspired appreciation day happened during our road trip and we watched coverage on the news one night in a hotel.
We never ate a Chick-Fil-A on the trip. We did eat a lot of terrible food and I can say with some certainty that I ate some kind of cow product every day of our three week trip. Between San Francisco and Chicago, with the exception of Denver, there is basically nothing that I would consider a reasonable place to eat. So we erred on the side of kitschy Americana and ate most our meals at diners, casino restaurants and local bars. I had a lot of hamburgers. I had a patty melt in Utah that made me fart more than anything in recent memory. Our meals were usually followed by several hours of driving during which the car was alternately filled with horrible smells by driver and passenger.
In Ohio, we drove past a farm that looked a bit like the one in this photo I found on the Internet, where a whole bunch of cows were being milked by machines in a sort of barn that was mostly open. I wondered aloud how long it would take to milk them before they would be let out to walk around the large fields nearby in weird lines. Danny suggested that they would never be let out. It was kind of a funny and somewhat accurate contrast between our personalities.
In the little research I’ve done recently, and having read some of Eating Animals when it came out in 2009, I know that there is a basically unfathomable amount of cows being born, killed and eaten in America, I really have no way of knowing how to deal with that.
This is a picture I found on Flickr of a cow painted for a ritual in India. I have been reading about the treatment of cows in Hindu and Islamic traditions, but I don’t really know much about India. Most of my exposure to Indian culture is through V. S. Naipaul, who I wrote a lot about in college. He wrote extensively and controversially about India, and for whatever lack of compassion he displays toward humans, he does have empathy for animals. In a critical work by Rob Nixon, he gives Naipaul credit for having “the ability to distinguish the death of an ordinary ox, which, being of concern to no one, may be put quickly out of its agony, from that of a sacred cow, which must be solicitously guarded so that it can die its agonizing death without any interference.” His work often uses examples of animal abuse in criticism of religious practices.
I really like the look of the cows painted pink, but so far I haven’t found the background behind that particular ritual or whatever it is. There are a few pictures on google search that seem to suggest this is somewhat common.
This image comes from a Wall Street Journal article on the pink slime controversy. This image is very recognizable, not the specific image, but the what it depicts.