When I was growing up, you could drive just about anywhere and come across vast open fields dotted with beautiful, grazing cows, spread out for what seemed like forever. I remember my mother frequently commenting about how pretty that was. I thought so, too. The contrast of the cows against the green grass and blue sky is a striking sight, and they seemed so peaceful and happy.
As I got older, I wondered why there were so many cows just hanging out in big fields eating grass all the time. I didn’t get a very clear response when I asked my parents. I believe they might have said something like, “The farmers take care of them.” It didn’t make much sense to me, but I accepted it. I do not remember just how I found out the truth about that beautiful, serene scene, but once I did, it never again seemed pretty.
What began as a move to Colorado last year ended up being a five-month road-trip. Getting to visit so much of America was quite interesting, mostly beautiful, and often times exhaustively depressing and took me from Florida through Louisiana and through part of Texas. My one previous visit to Texas years earlier was by plane. To say the least, this leg of my drive was a vivid, blunt, eye-opening and disturbing experience that, unfortunately, was only a preview of what I was going to see down the road.
Santa Fe, New Mexico is a very unique city with its beautiful adobe buildings and the city’s Native American culture. Spending a couple of days there was great; then it was on to Colorado where I stayed for a couple of months before heading on to Washington by way of Utah, Idaho and Oregon. After a month in Washington, it was time to head back South.
Leaving Washington and heading East took me through beautiful mountains and several popular ski resorts. My favorite season is ‘snow’, and there was still some of that to see. Soon after, the scenery drastically changed, especially just before Wyoming and all the way to Tennessee.
Wyoming was oddly dark, kind of creepy, and extremely industrial with tall stacks from four plants pouring out tons of smoke and steam. It was gloomy with literally thousands of cows and calves grazing under huge, thick clouds of fog and haze; the mountains to my left were enshrouded in a pinkish fog that could only have been some sort of toxic exhaust. I soon discovered the sign revealing that these four obnoxious, pollution-producing places were chemical plants, one of which was DuPont.
The ugliness continued, and the worst thing was that the main sights to see on this more than 400-mile drive were the poor, unsuspecting cows, dozens and dozens of feedlots, and quiet trains slowly but busily moving grain, hay, and cows off into the distance where the only visible things were tall silos and even taller smoke stacks. Where there were no cows, there were fields of freshly cut hay and a handful of low-growing dense, green plants, which I surmised to be soybeans or some type of animal feed. It looked like a dead zone. Texas was much the same minus the mountains, which really made it worse. At least mountains offer some semblance of beauty, usually.
Wyoming typically grows hay, barley, wheat, beans, sugar beets, and corn, according to Wikipedia. Check this out. In a July 14, 2017 article, Farm Flavor proclaims that the cattle and calves Wyoming “grows” bring in $1.16 billion. BILLION! The article does not reveal how many cows and calves are slaughtered to produce that income, however; but considering what I saw, it has to be a lot. That’s just cows, and that’s just Wyoming. The article gives similar details about eggs, chickens, and the other desperate, commodified animals they “grow”, and it is made to sound like a glorious thing. The horrifying part is that many people actually believe it is.
The next 400 miles were no better than the previous ones, and I pretty much had expected that, considering it was Nebraska. More cows, more feedlots practically next to each other, and more of the larger buildings with silos attached to feedlots. Many more trains, some of which had multiple engines and easily more than a hundred cattle cars mostly. Hundreds and hundreds of miles of this same, depressing reality that most of us have come to know as ‘meat’. Ugliness in so many forms, all being carried out seamlessly by the workers, the land, and even the cows who were doing their happy job of eating, eating, and eating.
I love to travel, and I love the country. But, as I went on, I had no desire to see more of this same, sad reality and tried my best not to look anymore. Unfortunately, as I got close to the next state line, I noticed a group of maybe 50 cows gathered up near a fence, just standing there, almost pushing to get up closer. About five cows had not yet joined the group but were now running to meet them, and it made me smile. They almost looked excited, like they were anticipating something really great. As I passed them by, I wondered why they would just gather at the fence with no apparent motivation, and I felt kind of sorry for them, regardless of the sweetness of the scene.
Then, it occurred to me that somehow, they had been “told” to go to this spot and were probably about to be collected, removed from their delightful green pasture and freedom, and loaded onto a ‘livestock truck’ or one of the sneaky, silent trains to be carried away to destination feedlot, which would not have a happy ending. They were being tricked, and their lives were soon going to end in a very cruel and undeserved way. This scene totally broke my heart. I was completely helpless to do anything, but I so wanted to. I wondered how long their excitement might last and imagined that these poor things might, in their own way, wonder where they were going and why they were being taken away from such a beautiful, peaceful existence. After all, they were so happy where they were, and now they were being taken away from all they had known and possibly leaving family members behind. I do not know how long cows remain at a feedlot, but I do know where they go from there.
Continuing on to Tennessee, the scene never changed. I have taken many road-trips before and passed through a lot of places, but never had I noticed the foulness that I found on this trip. I know the cows have always been there, but I do not remember the innumerable feedlots or slaughterhouses, or maybe I just didn’t realize (or want to know) what they were. Some are arrogantly displayed, and no one seems to mind or care. I drove past a “stock yard” that was almost touching the street. The pens out front were filled with gorgeous, strong cows and steers placed much like prostitutes, beckoning to buyers. I believe that this time it was all so much more conspicuous because: 1) there are more cows being raised for food; 2) more cows means more of all of the other things; and 3) I have progressed in my vegan journey to the point where I am more cognizant of the truth, hugely due to my study of The World Peace Diet, by Dr. Will Tuttle.
After seeing the group of cows patiently and eagerly waiting beside the fence and feeling outraged at the very thought of what was going to happen to them, I remembered Dr. Tuttle had said that we need to have compassion for not just the animals, but the participants also. That is not how I was seeing things, I have to say, and I’m not fully there, but passing those five cows really did a number on me. In addition to being so sad for them, it also opened my heart, and I found myself feeling a little sorrow for those who would be coming to pick up the cows and the rest who would have a hand in ‘processing’ them. I have to wonder if there are ever moments when those people feel guilt or remorse, or even just a little sad or sorry. I wonder if they might somehow feel trapped in the cycle and want to get out but can’t seem to. It helps me to think that some do, and that eventually those people will become the bystanders who speak out for the victims they used to torture.
While cows seem to be the biggest money-maker for the animal-ag industry, on these same roads and many others, there are chickens, goats, hens, sheep, horribly abused pigs on ‘hog’ farms, and sadly the list goes on and on. The conditions are far less than humane for the majority of these animals who are imprisoned, abused, forced to eat foods they would not ordinarily eat, and painfully impregnated against their will. It’s all tidily hidden behind trees, inside plain buildings at off-grid locations, on dairy farms, “free-range” farms, and inside of the many cartons and boxes containing their body parts. It is unspeakable cruelty, neatly packaged up with pictures of happy farm animals meant to entice you, the bystander, to continue supporting the deceit and abuse by purchasing their products, and they want you to keep thinking it is all okay! Please, do not allow them to fool you and the animals any longer.
Certainly, if we are eating meat, it does not matter who is loading the gun or pulling the trigger. In one hand we hold our full fork, and our free hand is firmly planted on the smoking gun. Like it or not, that’s how it is! No gray area there. Before becoming vegan almost eight years ago, I knew in my heart and soul that it was wrong to eat meat. I knew it! I have always ‘loved animals’ and hated the thought of eating them, but I always had. I didn’t like shopping for meat, touching and preparing it and always felt a sense of sorrow when chewing it. But, where was I (and my kids) going to get the nutrition that I had been brought up to believe was only obtained from animal products? What else would we eat? And…What about protein?!? Well, I found new places to shop, made a commitment to saving animals and became a raw food chef. Every day it gets easier to find simple vegan food choices and recipes on the internet, as well. It’s easy and totally worth it.
I am grateful to be vegan and diligently strive to do everything I can to be a ‘good vegan’. The only real joy I can possibly know is that I am no longer a part of the problem, but I am now part of the solution. Nevertheless, I deeply desire to do more. Sometimes, it takes a mountain to move a mole hill, and this road-trip seems to have been that impetus for me, specifically the scene of those five beautiful cows excitedly running to join their buddies in eager anticipation. I hope that I don’t ever forget them. For their sakes, I cannot imagine NOT doing whatever it takes to bring about the freedom, compassion, and the opportunity for all animals to have the lives they deserve and were meant to live. They are family and friends. Not food.
Are you vegan? If so, THANK YOU! If not, PLEASE consider making this very important lifestyle change, for the animals. You will not regret it. And I am here to help you.