Seeing cows

This entry is part of my journal from Semester in the West. For all SITW journal entries, click here. For all SITW posts, including blog posts I wrote while on the program, click here. To learn more about the program, click here.

camp: Baker National Forest, Baker County, Oregon
Today, I went running without my glasses on. I saw the same landscapes I‘ve been seeing all week, but without the sharp focus I’m so used to. Somehow, I think that blur makes it easier to see. Sight becomes a matter of color and pattern, general characteristics spread out across the entire skyline. The specific details tend to fade. A black dot on the horizon moves closer and closer, until suddenly you realize it’s a cow ten feet from you. And then you feel vulnerable, realizing that the cows of the world, organized into reasonably sized herds, could wrest control of everything from people if they put their minds to it. A single cow could trample me to death, leaving my body bleeding in the road until someone noticed I hadn’t come back from mg run. Yet they eat so placidly, wander our public lands and follow each other calmly to slaughter in an industrial warehouse. Tick. Slit the carteroid artery. Tock. Dripping blood. Tick. A resigned moo. Tock. The line keeps moving.
Cows seem almost to belong in this system. They’re thoroughly domesticated, stubborn perhaps in insignificant matters, but complacent as cogs in the wheel of industry. I don’t know this for certain; I’ve never spent time with a cow, birthed a calf or played my part in the slaughter. But looking into a cow’s eyes, I don’t see the wild. They’ve had it tamed out of them.
Can there be honor in a kill like this? Can the predator kill its pretty without the delicate dance between the two that has existed since time immemorial? I don’t think our slaughterhouses and pastures honor that dynamic, but perhaps they honor what the animal is, in itself. This seems like a better medium, though we’ve raised them to be that way. I’ve never killed a cow. I’ve never killed any mammal at all. In fact, I believe the most highly evolved murder I can be held responsible for was boiling a moonsnail and eating it whole on a breach trip freshman year of high school. And yet, I eat meat, after eleven years of refusing. I eat it happily, relishing the taste of flesh, overenthusiastic after so many years of trying to live what I believed was a better way. I eat is uneasily, feeling insincere in my excitement because I’ve never proved to myself that I know what it is to nourish myself with the flesh of another living being. I eat it hoping of a better world, where food is transparent and I won’t have to worry that the labels I’ve decided to screen my food by don’t actually mean anything about the health of my body, the animal, the ecosystem, the planet. I eat it, and I feel nourished. This feeling is what I go back to when I have nothing else to make it ok.
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