After months of stumbling upon thought-provoking quotes by author Michael Pollan, I finally broke down and bought one of his books, The Omnivore’s Dilemma. What a writer. Anyone who can put together an entertaining, even humorous, chapter about corn has my sincere admiration.
I chose Omnivore’s Dilemma because I knew it addressed factory farm issues but I found myself dragging my feet as I got closer to the first chapter about animals, The Feed Lot. A few sentences into the chapter justified my apprehension:
“You’ll be speeding down one of Finney County’s ramrod roads when the empty, dun-colored January prairie suddenly turns black and geometric, an urban grid of steel-fenced rectangles as far as the eye can see-which in Kansas is really far. I say “suddenly” but in fact the swiftly rising odor –an aroma whose Proustian echoes are decidedly more bus station men’s room than cows in the country-has been heralding the feed lot’s approach for more than a mile. And then it’s upon you: Poky Feeders, population thirty- seven thousand. A sloping subdivision of cattle pens stretches to the horizon, each one home to a hundred or so animals standing dully or lying around in a grayish mud that, it eventually dawns on you isn’t mud at all.”
Sounds like a puppy mill for cows, huh? According to Pollan, the vast majority of cattle spend the last 150 or so days of their lives on feed lots similar to Poky Feeders. Confined to small areas where they stand and lay in a collective pool of poo and urine, they eat cheap food their bodies were not designed to eat, are pumped full of antibiotics to ward off the inevitable illnesses that result from this protocol and are then led to the slaughterhouse.
As I read Pollan’s book, I couldn’t help but think of TV chef Ree Drummond’s idyllic depiction of life on a cattle ranch. As a writer, blogger, photographer and host of the Food Network’s popular Pioneer Woman, Ree centers her works around ranch operations and often features her and her family interacting with cattle on the grassy plains of their Oklahoma spread. In one episode, she even names and bottle feeds baby calves born during a snowstorm. “I love this place more than anywhere else on earth,” she glows, talking about how fun the calves are as she cooks.
“Does she realize what happens to Abigail the calf and all the other residents who leave the ranch?” I wondered as I tried to reconcile her version of reality with Pollan’s . “Maybe not,” I decided when I looked on her website and read this caption under a photo of a beautiful young calf: “We…sold them to a cattle buyer for a large feed yard in Texas. Once there, our little bovine buddies will live out the rest of their days eating whenever–and however much–they want. Oh, how I’d love to be bovine…”