September 10th, 2012 by Gary Smith
Op-ed writer Nicholas Kristoff’s Sunday piece “Where Cows Are Happy and Food is Healthy” explains that there are farms across the United States where the farmers love their animals, where the farms still have souls, unlike those big, bad factory farms. His article, as well as books by Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, Nina Planck and others, all serve the same mythology, that humans can not only not feel bad about consuming the flesh of sentient beings and their secretions, but that it is somehow noble to do so. And, magically, all of the chronic diseases that have been associated with consuming animal products – heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, some cancers, kidney and liver disease – are not associated with eating animals from these magical farms.
All of that is offensive in its own right, but if you actually pull some of the ideas/quotes from the article, it’s even more offensive.
As long as I’ve known him, Bob has had names for every one of his “girls,” as he calls his cows.
He names his slaves. There’s really nothing remarkable about that. Plantation owners named their slaves as well. Note the emphasis also on “his” girls and “his” cows, implying that they are not sentient beings but rather property owned by Bob. It’s amazing that Kristoff doesn’t make the connection between seeing the cows that are exploited on Bob’s farm as property. How can you have a relationship with property?
“I spend every day with these girls,” Bob explained. “I know most of my cows both by the head and by the udder. You learn to recognize them from both directions.”
This is plain creepy. He knows “his” cows so well from extracting their milk from their nipples that he can recognize them by their nipples. I get that this is supposed to be playful, but it illustrates how often he uses them for his gain. It’s as if he is saying that he exploits “his” cows so often, that he has an equal relationship with their udders as he does their face.
I asked about Jill, and Bob rattled off her specs. She is now producing about eight gallons a day, with particularly high protein and butterfat content. Jill’s mother was Jolly, a favorite of Bob’s. When Jolly grew old and unproductive, he traded her to a small family farm in exchange for a ham so she could live out her retirement with dignity.
If Bob cared deeply for “his” cows, how in the world does Kristoff explain him trading her for the flesh of a once sentient pig? If he had a relationship with Jill, how did Jill feel about being traded for a ham? I would feel certain that Jill would be upset by Bob trading her for flesh. What happens to his parents or his wife when they become old and unproductive? Maybe they get traded for a pair of leather shoes?
Many cows in America now live out their lives in huge dairy barns, eating grain and hay and pumping out milk. But evidence is growing that cows don’t do well when locked up, so now many dairies are reverting to the traditional approach of sending cows out to pasture on grass.
Who knew that sentient beings with complex inner lives and emotions don’t do well when locked up? I hope he doesn’t expect me to believe that humans incarcerated have healthy, balanced lives in prison. Of course, the cows that Bob exploited didn’t actually commit a crime to be sentenced to a life of exploitation. (Neither did a lot of people in prison.)
“For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows,” [Bob] said. “If a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”
This could easily read, “If I keep my slaves contented, they get way more work done on the cotton farm.” I wonder exactly how he calculates happiness in cows? His statement also draws us back to the fact that “his” cows are inventory. They are production units. It’s no different than any business that sells products, non-sentient products.
This isn’t to say that Bob’s farm is a charity hostel. When cows age and their milk production drops, farmers slaughter them. Bob has always found that part of dairying tough, so, increasingly, he uses the older cows to suckle steers. That way the geriatric cows bring in revenue to cover their expenses and their day of reckoning can be postponed — indefinitely, in the case of his favorite cows.
I’m glad we acknowledge that Bob and other farmers slaughter, i.e. murder “their” happy cows once they no longer are profitable. Kristoff seems to brush off this fact as if he turns in his old tractor for a new tractor. I also like that he plays god in that his favorite units of property aren’t murdered. If I were his son, I’d make sure I was his favorite!
I teased Bob about running a bovine retirement home, and he smiled unapologetically. “I feel good about it,” he said simply. “They support me as much as I support them, so it’s easy to get attached to them. I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me.”
By “supporting them,” does Bob mean feeding and keeping them alive? Thanks for the support, Bob. Please don’t trade me in for ham. Is that equal to “providing” him with gallons of milk for him to sell? As for taking good care of him, that’s an odd way of saying their being exploited against their wills has provided for him financially.
“You hate to have it go to legislation, but we need to protect the animals,” he said. “They’re living things, and you have to treat them right.”
How is he protecting “his” cows? By only murdering a percentage of his slaves? I’m glad that he acknowledges that they are living “things.” Not “unliving things” like tractors, hay, shoes. How does he treat them right, by exploiting them and using them as milking machines until they are less productive? Wonder how he’d feel about his children being supported like Bob supports “his” cows?
As Bob’s dairy shows, food need not come at the cost of animal or human health and welfare. We need not wince when we contemplate where our food comes from.
Animals are healthy being force-bred, confined, having their children and milk stolen for Bob’s wallet? Yes, you do need to wince. You are stealing the lives, the babies, and milk from sentient beings. You need to wince because all of us know that using individuals is wrong. There is no better or kinder way of exploiting others. Wince, my friend.
The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.
The fact that Kristoff uses the term “it” to describe the happy cow just about sums everything up. Neither Kristoff nor Bob have any respect for the sentience of those that they exploit for their pleasure. If they truly respected dairy cows, or chickens, turkeys, pigs, sheep and other animals used for food, they’d go vegan.
What is missing from this in-depth, fantasy piece is what happens to the calves who are born on Bob’s farm. Are the boys sold off to become veal? Does he keep the girls and exploit them when they reach the proper age to be force bred? Does he sell some of the female calves, the ones he doesn’t give a name to? How does he breed the dairy cows?
The only “humane farms” or “happy farms” are sanctuaries, such as Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary in New York, co-founded by Jenny Brown and her husband Doug Abel. They pick up after the likes of Bob and others. They rescue and care for hundreds of animals who are the refugees of this fantasy world of kinder exploitation. At WFAS, the animals do have names, and get to live out their lives in dignity. They are not asked to produce profits nor will they be traded for a ham when their lives have no financial meaning. As Brown’s new memoir “The Lucky Ones” makes clear, the “small,” “local,” “humane,” “family” farms are places of egregious cruelty, neglect, and indifference.
Some might find Kristoff’s article refreshing, believing that his farm is a step in the right direction, or that his farm is much better than a factory farm housing thousands of dairy cows. The problem is not in the size of the farm nor the treatment, the issue is using individuals in the first place. No cow deserves to have their lives and rights taken away from them so that another can profit and others can please their palates.
Articles like these are dangerous because they lull people into believing that if you buy your milk from a farm like Bob’s, your conscience is clear. It’s not. If you know enough to care about the treatment of animals used for food products, then you know enough to go vegan.