The opinions in this commentary are those of Dan Murphy, a veteran journalist and commentator.
Animal activists love to agonize over the “horrific” living conditions of the animals belonging to the species Bos taurus.
Which, you have to admit, is a really cool name for an animal considered slow, placid and relatively dumb. Step aside, Vin Diesel, because even Hollywood would be hard-pressed to come up with anything nearly as hip as the zoological classification of the domestic cow.
Nevertheless, there’s no other animal on Earth that is both excoriated for its supposedly bad behavior — spewing methane into the atmosphere, wolfing down a huge portion of the world’s edible crops and wasting fossil fuels riding all over creation in livestock trucks — while at the same time being anointed as Victim Zero, the poster cow of animal abuse, forced to suffer the indignities of harsh confinement, inhumane handling and an all-too painful demise.
But instead of either piling onto the cows-are-killing-the-planet bandwagon or brandishing the torches and pitchforks for the monsters who raise cattle for a living, maybe we ought to step back and realize that cows can teach us humans a lot about a pursuing a better way of life.
Comparing food and shelter
Take housing. Animal activists love to rail about the architectural horror that is the farmer’s barn, agonizing over the fact that cows do not have “free access” to green space to “pursue their natural behaviors.”
Oh, please. Try bidding on a new condo or townhouse and informing the real estate rep that you want a nice, big backyard, or else the deal’s off!
After the agent stops laughing, you’ll get a look like you just shared the fact that you’re currently on parole for murder, followed by, “Wait … you were serious?”
These days, you’re lucky to get a little square of “lawn” barely big enough to park a modest-sized barbecue grill along with your $350,000 new digs, and yet there doesn’t seem to be any widespread outcry about outdoor access from the members of Couch Potato Nation.
We’re totally content to cocoon inside our living rooms, huddled around a big-screen TV while mindlessly snacking on whatever’s easiest to consume with the least amount of effort.
Which brings us to nutrition.
For most Americans — and I’m not excluding myself — “nutrition” is some abstract concept to which we vaguely pledge allegiance with the same occasional (and temporary) enthusiasm as our post-holiday resolutions to lose weight and get in shape.
We eat what we like and then we moan about the inevitable impact on our appearance, energy levels and health status.
Cows, on the other hand, if left on their own, will consume a totally organic, high-fiber, locally sourced diet of fresh foods absent any preservatives, additives or artificial ingredients.
When raised as livestock, they’re fed scientifically formulated rations containing balanced protein and carbohydrates, along with all the requisite vitamins and minerals. Entire university departments of professors, scientists and research assistants (also known as indentured graduate servants) devote their careers to determining with rigorous precision the optimal diet that will keep cows as healthy as possible.
In comparison, what do scientists crafting foods engineered for human consumption prioritize? Taste, flavor and sensory appeal.
Oh sure, there’s always a consideration of how labeling can help with marketing whatever concoction emerges from corporate test kitchens, but that’s more about positioning a new product in alignment with whatever trends are au courant, like “high-protein,” “low-fat” or the ultimate in absurdity, “non-GMO.”
In the food industry, marketing teams care deeply about consumer perceptions about protein, fat and carbohydrates — but only as they impact sales — while the scientists and technicians who actually develop the products spend their time fine-tuning formulations based not on what’s healthiest but on focus group data about how successfully an item triggers people’s built-in preferences for sweet, salty and savory sensations.
Nobody prioritizes ways to appeal to a cow’s culinary desires; they’re fed what’s best for them because their health is a producer’s primary goal.
Would that more parents took that approach in raising their offspring.
Not to mention us (allegedly) enlightened adults.