I have already seen the unsettling speech by Philip Wollen several times before, but only a few weeks ago I have decided I would like to see the entire debate in which he gave his words. In this debate, circling around the question whether we should eat meat or not, six participants had their say. Three were in favor of meat consumption and three against it. I immediately set my eyes on the third person from the carnist side of the argument. I had the feeling he is going to say something fresh and challenging, instead of the tiring arguments I have heard before. Imagine my disappointment when he finally gave his speech, which said nothing more then stating the obvious, that the guy likes meat. He said one more thing, about the murdered animals on his plate. “They have many good days, and one bad day”, so he says.
We decided to spend the vacation of Rosh Hashana (the Beginning of the the new Jewish year) by taking a trip we have been planning for quite a while now. Our friend Omry Revach has invited us to his home and from there we went, Omry, his little dog Pixel, Ori and me to visit a number of dairy barns in order to see the enslaved cows and to understand their captivity better. I do not remember the last time I have seen a fully grown cow, certainly not the last time I have touched one. We parked our car and came closer by foot, and greetings us even before the cows themselves was the smell.
We approached the first barn, which held in captivity young bulls. We arrived at the gates, which were made of rusted old metal pipes, and looked at them. One bull lifted himself up and approached, standing in safe distance from us. I stretched my hand towards him and drew the attention of several other bulls who came towards me as well. One of them came even closer and examined my stretched arm from safe distance which ensured that I will not be able to catch him, should I change my mind. Whenever I moved my hand, even a little bit, he drew away from me. It’s hard to win the affection of creatures who do not know what love towards them feels like.
I suddenly remembered two videos Omry once showed me. One he recorded by himself and the other was recorded abroad. Both of them showed cows who came towards a source of music that was played to them. They stood there, listening to the sounds. I took my mobile phone and played the only album I had there that was melodic enough for the ears of these prisoners. I played the first song and put my mobile in front of the bulls, and in few seconds even those who ignored us until now stood up and came towards me, standing in line and staring at the device I had in my hand. I wanted to touch them, so Omry took charge of the music and played some from his mobile.
This is the song I had played for them.
Success. One bull came close enough and I gently touched his nose. He drew away for a brief moment but came towards me and immediately licked my hand and demanded that I pet him. When it was proved beyond any reasonable doubt that I am not here in order to inflict either pain or authority, more bulls approached. I laid my hands over their big, gentle heads. Their huge eyes looking at me, at Ori and at Omry, and every one of us immediately took charge of at least two bulls who almost fought among themselves in order to win our affection and warm touch. The tongue of the bull is very long and rough. It covers my arm and pulls it towards his mouth. At first I am scared because of the teeth I had seen inside his mouth, but then I decide to trust him, and if love is all I have given him, then love is all I get in return.
I would like to focus on one important detail. The cows (both the bulls we just saw, and the rest of the cows and calves we are going to meet soon) live their lives while their legs are sunk in sticky, constantly wet blend of shit and piss. There is no visible floor, no grass, no mud and no dry areas. Instead there’s only the filthy mold of the combined feces and urinations of these cows, who have no choice but to sit and sleep in it. There’s no escape from this filth. The bulls constantly pee and drop their diarrhea, and they were conditioned to live in this debased state by their captors. I hear young bulls cough all the time, their noses are running and they cannot rub their nose on anything in order to clean the sickly liquid that is dripping from it. Omry tells us about their legs, which are rotting from the ever wet shit and piss in which they are condemned to live their short lives in. Ori takes pictures of the shit that has dried on their legs and tail, as flies gather, obviously, around their wet eyes, as they live their unlives within a prison that not only takes their semen or milk, but every other bodily fluid they have.
The young bulls are sorted into age groups that are confined to different areas in the barn. Sometimes they manage to put their heads through the fence and lick or sniff calves from a neighboring section, and as we slowly visit them all, I notice we are approaching younger calves, and younger, and even younger. All males, all wait for the same horrific fate.
We came closer to the younger calves, who were afraid of us as well, and began our quest for gaining their trust. Omry played music for them and they stood and stared at him while I looked at the other regions of the barn, where other calves stood as well and stared at our friend, Pied Piper of Hamelin, who did not need any magical instrument in order for the calves to stand by him. You do not need magic in order to draw the interest of a thinking, feeling and understanding sentient creature, who lives in a prison without anything to occupy his mind and nothing interesting for him to see or hear.
Pixel the dog was happy from the trip and showed interest in the huge calves. He went inside and out of their confined areas and watched them taking interest in that tiny and fast creature. I do not know if they have ever seen any similar creature in their short, rapidly ending lives. We bid these calves farewell and moved on to the next barn. Omry set Pixel loose from his leash, and let him walk freely with us. Some animals have certain privileges other animals don’t, and even more than this decision is strange, it’s randomness is shocking.
We arrived to the next barn, and while Ori was hoping to see female, milking cows, this barn held male calves that waited for their slaughter as well. Nevertheless, we did not move on and instead began once again the long process of winning their trust and giving attention and love to these bulls who were sorted out from the young bulls who will be sent to death camps very soon, to young, too young babies. Before writing about the baby calves I will ask you to keep in mind that these calves and young bulls are coughing as well, their noses are running and they live inside an ever growing pile of shit and piss as well. The most amazing thing for me, who never before saw a cow from such short distance, that this is in fact a beautiful, graceful being, and as I look at this being sitting inside a pile of shit and piss, some of which probably belongs to bulls that were already murdered, I see the despair of this creature, and how hard our specie has crushed him. We have spread despair among ourselves, so envy and jealousy forces us to demand other species around us to fall in line with destruction, which is our primary, if not only export as human beings.
When Ori and Omry went to see the baby calves I did not come along at first. I thought that maybe an interaction with these babies who were forcibly separated from their mothers and locked as well in a pile of shit will be too much for me. Eventually I surrendered and came closer. With the babies you do not need to work so hard on gaining trust. A black calf ran towards me and started sucking on the finger I sent towards him. His eyes were staring at mine and I found myself apologizing that I do not have any milk for him. Instead of milk there was a tin barrel with some yellow powder in it. I know that nowadays they feed cows not only with processed plants, but with processed fish as well, and I wondered what the hell is this yellow crap that they feed these babies with, babies that only want to suck their mother’s milk , which is making its way as we speak into ice creams, yogurts and cheeses for so many people who do not need it. Soon I am going to leave, and who knows when is this calf going to meet someone who can function, even if poorly, as a loving mother for him again.
We were on our way to leave this barn, when Omry suddenly realized he has lost Pixel’s leash. Earlier he had put it next to the barn, and now we found it lying in the middle of it, surrounded by half a circle of young bulls who were curiously examining the blue leash, so outstanding within their poor world which consists only of shit, rust and doom. There is nothing that can interest them visually, no game, only endless sitting and looking forward their coming execution. The minute we introduce a visual or other sensual stimulus to these lovely creatures whom we think of as brainless idiots, you can notice intelligence. You can notice feelings. You can notice warmth.
We made it to the milking barn. The cows in here, like the bulls we saw earlier, are all coughing, their noses are running and their feet are rotting from the endless touch of wet shit. They too are eager for a loving touch and while we touch them Ori think that they might smell the calves we touched not long ago. I do not know if this is good or bad. Omry then shows us a different field, still covered with shit, but much drier, and tells us that they usually are led to that place each night. When they do, they are so happy that they collide with each other by mistake from joy.
In one year from now, not one of the male calves we have seen today will remain alive. If any remain from them is going to survive, it will be found in the piles of shit and piss that will stick to the legs of the future children who will be locked within these barns. On our way back home we pondered on who’s life is better. Is the life of the milking cow, who turns into a breeding and milking machine better than the life of a bull, who is more quickly murdered? By the beginning of the next Jewish year some of the female cows will probably be murdered as well, joining the unimaginable list of sixty billion land animals that will be killed worldwide for their meat, 365 days from today.
Have a happy new year.
You must not deny what is happening beyond your view.
(Photos by Ori Shavit, Omry Revach and myself. More can be seen here)