My connection to cows can be summed up with one word: limited. For my first 31 years, I would eat beef and drink milk and see my bovine brethren in-person at the annual Pennsylvania Farm Show. Even as a child, I was well-aware that the humans who brought the beef cattle, milk cows, and fuzzy calves to the Farm Show were less than awed by these animals. My family (both childhood and current offspring), however, were humbled by the lumbering beasts. Their size and smell were borderline overwhelming; a real sensory-fest! I couldn’t imagine interacting with them on a day-to-day basis, heck, I didn’t even have the nerve to touch one. The cows and their keepers were very intriguing to me.
My relationship with beef changed abruptly during my mom-years. When I was pregnant with my last son, I had such an aversion to meat (that’s a polite way to say the taste, smell, or thought of it made me want to barf) that I stopped eating it completely. My vegetarianism turned into veganism a couple of years later. A few years after that, cheese pizza lured me back to a diet that was a hybrid mix of –isms and I stocked our fridge with both regular cheese and ice cream, as well as, soy milk, almond milk, and vegan butter. Today our family eats eggs and fish, but that’s about as far as we dip into the animal kingdom for sustenance. It’s been good. We have great cholesterol and blood pressure readings. And we feel well-balanced in every way I can think of.
When my boys ask me why we don’t eat land animals (sorry, fish…and yes, I know all the reasons why we shouldn’t eat fish either), I tell them that it’s hard for the earth to support all the cows and pigs and chickens required to keep up with the standard American diet. A meat-centered way of eating, it should be noted, that has quickly become normalized around the world. Thanks, world-dominating McDonald’s and KFC!
We explain to the boys how the poop from insane amounts of livestock has caused ecological trauma to lower-income parts of the US. And we tell them that the deforestation needed for animals to graze around the world has devastated our planet’s rainforests. In lieu of juicy burgers and bacon, my husband and I decided to vote for better personal health and more oxygen-producing forests with our grocery store dollars. That has resulted in meal planning that borrows heavily from ethnic cuisines that emphasize veggies, rice, and beans. This isn’t a big deal for us when we go out either. We don’t advertise our way of eating very often (or do we? feedback welcome), because there’s always something we like to eat on the menu or at a dinner party.
A final reason why we don’t eat meat is because of the inhumane treatment animals receive in the US. There are lots of gross practices that I don’t want to explore here…cuz they’re so gross, but it’s not a secret that our meat industry has a lot of room for improvement. Let me know if you are curious to learn more about the grossness and I’ll post a bunch of documentaries that show what really ends up on your dinner plate.
And moving on…
So now I’m 40 (I’ll do the math- this has been a 9-year journey) and we have learned a ton along the way. Unfortunately, we default to different forms bread and cheese in way too many of our meals, we know accept that our beloved fake meat is not super healthy, and we often fill our boys with starch (pasta, rice, potatoes) because they eat sooooo much. My gosh, they eat so much.
We are still a work in progress and I’m quick to forgive myself for missteps. It hasn’t all been a series of mistakes, though. I’m proud that I picked an awesome guy who is open to thinking about what he buys and cooks for himself and his family. I’m proud of myself for admitting when I need to make a change because my body is obsessively demanding it. I’m also proud that we have three kiddos who understand what we are doing and why we are doing it. They still like to order meat at restaurants (we recently agreed to pay for it; up until now they’d only get it when out with grandparents or other nice people who feed them) and question our choices. Food is one of many things we discuss. Actually, our veg choices are just part of living a question- everything lifestyle. Analyzing everything works for us because we like telling stories, playing 20 questions, and debating in our house. In other words, we talk a lot. Ask anyone. A lot. I can still admit that it can be tiresome to be interrogated by a pre-teen, but our dinner table talks have lasted hours after the eating portion has concluded. We enjoy the dialogue only because we are all interested in exploring ideas. The human age of the person presenting the idea only carries a little weight. If it’s thought-provoking or funny, it gets respect in the Brooks’ house.
Today a herd of them ran up to the border of our property. Let me rephrase; our property in Costa Rica is right up against a mountain pasture where cows and horses roam and eat freely. Cows in pasture are beautiful, if they’re not running at you or too close to you. If I’m being 100% honest, I was scared, in part, because I always thought cows were slow. Even though, like every 40-ish year old, I’ve seen “City Slickers” and the cow herding scenes, I usually picture cows as slow-moving grass eaters. Note: I love that it sounds like a slur; “get outta my face, you freaking slow-moving grass eater!”
Today they weren’t slow. They were nimble and chasing each other. One guy, who was clearly the asshole of the bunch, kept ramming anyone who looked at him funny. They were all quite mature and left him to himself, even when he’d walk into their space and dare them to say something to him. I told him he was rude and it looked like he considered plowing through the delicate barbed wire fence between us to shut me up, too. Gratefully he moved on. I’m so glad because I really had no self-defense beyond running into my open floor-planned house that was completely open to the outside. Even with my veg diet, I know he would’ve won that race.
When they all trotted off: light brown on dark brown, black and white patches, black spotted, completely white, and completely black in their spectrum of colors, I noticed one guy still behind. I am excited to tell Brian that I know that all these cows were guys because he incorrectly identified some other cows earlier this week. He thought the long thing with hair on the end that was hanging down from their stomach was udders and indicated a female cow. Today I saw all the singular udder-wielding animals up close and they ALL had testicles. Big balls and small balls, they were each swinging guy parts along with (what I now know) are stomach penises and not girl-cow mono-boobs.
So my one remaining guy. He was soooo cute. He had dark black fur (?) that glistened in the sun like an airbrushed woman in a Pantene shampoo commercial. His body looked lean and sculpted. I think he was young. He was so happy to stay behind and enjoy some time away from the others. He seemed completely carefree.
Before we go on, I need you to know that I am a very happy, optimistic person. I see the best in everyone I meet, whether I like it or not. I am so darn upbeat that some people get annoyed by me and move away from me at parties. That being said, I have a VERY graphic imagination and it is often worst-case scenario gloom and doom stuff. I’ll tell you later about how I clearly imagined/saw the trajectory of my own death as a zip line cable I was gliding down snapped and snaked its way towards my face as I flew over a rainforest 20 stories below. I imagined that tragedy while zip lining. Way to stay high-vibe in the moment, Amy! While it’s not always a fun default brain function, I’m hoping it serves me well as I dabble in fiction writing for my next book.
Anyway, as I looked at my cow eating leaves off a low-branched tree, I suddenly imagined this silky-haired beauty being held down and sliced open at the neck. He had a long, wide neck. I heard his moaning cry and I saw his tear-filled eyes. My stupid mind then fast-forwarded to happy people who were proudly eating “grass-fed” beef from happy cows who led happy lives. They were at a chic restaurant with lots of exposed brick, if you must know.
I want to curse now to make a point. Get ready: I don’t give a shit if you eat meat. I am writing this post about my relationship to cows. It’s a weird topic, I know, but it feels necessary for some reason. Regarding religion, diets, and sexual preferences: I have lost my attachment to the choices that other people make. I make my choices, you make yours. I can, however, think about how things are connected without judging. To that point, I know that people who are buying grass-fed beef are making the best choice they can. It just hurt my heart in that moment to think about this animal being killed and turned into something featured in Whole Foods at double the normal price. To say it another way, I saw a toucan this morning and I had no similar sadness. Same non-human earth-neighbor, but not the same destiny as a cow or other land-locked birds. When I saw the Mr. Rainbow-face, I just celebrated his big-beaked life by lifting my coffee mug and wishing him a heck-of-a ride in paradise. I wish I could do that for my cow.
My black cow will probably die for human food, right? I’m really asking. I’m a city/suburb girl who sees cows at the farm show. I’m beyond ignorant. Boy cows are for food and girl cows are for calf-making and milk…right?
Going on the assumption that Silky (now he has a name) is going to die, I feel justified in telling you I cried a little as I watched him peacefully eat. He was so real and so perfect. He seemed like the manifestation of “being present” (to be fair, all animals are) up against my clothes-wearing, phone-having, fork-using life. I’m so high up on the food chain and I’m such a silly busybody.
One, then two tears ran down my #firstworldproblem cheek. I realized then, in that slow-tear moment, that I needed to hug my cow. Makes sense.
I took a step forward towards Silky, he stopped eating. I reassured him that he was okay. I was a nice person. I said…out loud… “I love you” to the cow. I kind of wish this was satire, but I really did say that…out loud. I then walked towards him with more passion. My beloved cow looked like he was about to meet the good Lord. He backed away from me so fast that he FELL DOWN THE HILL. It looked like he was going to break a leg trying to get away from the two-uddered humanoid (me) who was threatening his life.
I called after him. I told him I was sorry I scared him, but he was all “f this!” and continued scrambling, falling, running down the hill.
In conclusion, I’m a girl who has always lived in a city or suburb. I see cows at farm shows. I drink milk. I am an idiot when it comes to interacting with them. That is all.