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It’s heartening to see that the Occupy Wall Street protesters have included widespread industrial animal abuse in their list of atrocities perpetrated by the corporations that have taken over our governments:

  • “They have poisoned the food supply through negligence, and undermined the farming system through monopolization.
  • “They have profited off of the torture, confinement, and cruel treatment of countless animals, and actively hide these practices.” (www.nationofchange.org)

As we are awakening to the widespread corruption and inequity that are devastating our economic, governmental, environmental, and cultural well-being, I’ve found it to be highly illuminating to look deeply into our food system and its enormous repercussions that radiate into every aspect of our lives. As I discuss in The World Peace Diet, our unwillingness individually and collectively to recognize and take responsibility for the massive violence required by our food choices is our defining blind spot as a society. Sowing seeds of enslavement, cruelty, and terror in millions of animals who are confined and killed daily for food, we also sow the seeds, unfortunately, of our own oppression and demise. I believe that awakening from the socially imposed practice of eating meat and dairy products is the essential requirement for creating a new cultural foundation where equality, harmony, justice, and freedom are possible.

Paying for and eating animal-sourced foods is behavior that is profoundly antithetical to our interests on every level, and increasing numbers of us are realizing that besides damaging our physical health, eating meat and dairy is devastating our environmental, psychological, spiritual, and cultural health as well. However, as the Occupy Wall Street statement implies, animal agriculture serves well to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of elite corporate interests controlling the military-industrial-meat-medical-media complex that profit immensely from disease, environmental devastation, and war.

In this, our cultural situation parallels that of a typical dairy farm or beef feed-lot, and this is where the poignant riddle comes in: are cows really herbivores or omnivores? They sure seem to be herbivores! We all know that cows have a digestive system designed for eating grass. They evolved eating this way for millions of years in the grasslands of central Asia. Now, however, their diet is quite different! Their owners “enrich” their diet with corn, soy, wheat, and other grains in order to spur weight-gain, boost milk output, and increase profits. This diet is unnatural and causes the bovines to experience digestive distress, including the unnatural intestinal harboring of toxic E. Coli pathogens that sicken and kill hundreds of human consumers every year.

However, the riddle goes much farther than this! In addition to grain, agribusiness scientists long ago discovered that feeding cows animal protein, saturated fat, and cholesterol dramatically amplifies milk production, weight-gain, and consequent profits. The result is that for decades now, cows have been routinely fed diets not of grass, but of grain that is “enriched” with the rendered flesh and organs of fish, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and other animals, such as the millions of dogs and cats who are euthanized every year, and the road-kill and other carcasses collected by governmental agencies. Besides feeding the cows and steers all this meat from other species, they have been typically fed the ground-up slaughterhouse by-products of other cows (internal organs, nerves, brains, eyes, etc.), effectively turning them not just into carnivores, but into cannibals as well. This standard industry practice was supposedly stopped back in the 90s when it was discovered that it caused devastating mad-cow disease in human consumers of cow flesh. Nevertheless, we know that today, cows (as well as sheep, goats, pigs, and other obviously herbivorous animals) are eating huge amounts of meat because it boosts profits for the industry owners and operators, as well as the banks and financial institutions investing in the system.

Cows dutifully eat what they’re fed, even when it causes them digestive distress, cancerous tumors, and many other problems. Their owners feed bovines fishmeal, slaughterhouse waste, and other animal-sourced foods not because it is in the cows’ interests to do so, but because they exploit the cows and use them for their own purposes. They also force many types of drugs, chemicals, and antibiotics on the cows, again, not because doing so is in the interests of the cows themselves, but because it is in their interests as owners and investors to increase productivity and profits. Ironically, bovines all die very young: beef steers at about 18-24 months, and dairy cow slaves at about 4-5 years. Though they would naturally live at least 25 years, they die hanging upside down by one leg in slaughterhouses, stabbed in the neck and bleeding to death, killed for profit by their owners, and for their flesh and skins by obedient consumers.

Do cows ever suspect they’re being ruthlessly exploited, or that their meat diet is toxic and part of that exploitation? Do they suspect they’re fed meat only because doing so benefits their exploiters? After so many generations of being conditioned to eat meat, cows may think it’s their natural food. How would they know differently?

Now try re-reading the above paragraph, replacing the word “cows” with the word “people.”

The pharmaceutical-medical complex rakes in billions of dollars in profits from people eating diets high in meat, dairy products, and eggs, who suffer from and buy drugs to treat the diseases caused by eating these foods: heart disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, strokes, obesity, osteoporosis, kidney disease, liver disease, autoimmune diseases, and so forth. This same industry brings in even more profits from people who eat foods sourced from animals who suffer terribly from the terror, frustration, and agony of modern animal confinement operations. Eating food products embodying this depression, anxiety, and insomnia, people ironically spend billions for psychiatric drugs to combat the same illnesses forced on the animals they eat. Drugging animals and humans, the pharmaceutical complex gorges on suffering to amass huge profits that enable it to control governmental bodies, the media, and public awareness. The military-industrial complex similarly profits from wars and policies that feed on disconnected, frustrated people, and powerful financial corporations steal people’s homes and wealth like dairy operations steal babies and milk.

We can free ourselves when we awaken from the cultural food trance and its official story line—that meat and dairy are natural for us to eat—and switch to a plant-based way of eating that frees the animals, ecosystems, and people enslaved by this official story. Like cows, being fed meat and cheese is not in our interest, but is only in the interest of exploitive forces. By freeing others, we will attain freedom. By questioning the official food story and going vegetarian and then vegan, we open the door to discovering our purpose on this beautiful Earth, and to being able to create a new world of equality, freedom, and harmony.

May we contemplate deeply the riddle of the cows we dominate for food! Are they really the omnivores they’ve been forced into being? Are we?

Image Source: TwicePix/Flickr

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12 comments on “A Poignant Riddle: Are Cows Herbivores or Omnivores?”

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wyn williams
1 Years Ago

Cows have been known to hunt and kill sheep and chickens to eat btw.

6 Years Ago

play me a song, PianoMan. are you searching for a guilt-free utopia? it will never exist, not in this nation. our society will NEVER go vegan. only a comparative handful really care, hand-wringers all. every cause that comes along, hey, sign me up. get over yourself, will, try to affect something that can really make a difference. make sure all of your syncophants vote and try to save this nation, not the cows. like it or not, a cow can save an entire village, not just a basket of bean sprouts. apply your talents and energy to saving this country; it is dying...

Robin Easton
6 Years Ago

Wow, Will, this is beautiful. Being vegan, I really relate to it. Your writing is lovely and passionate. Your closing lines just really tugged at my heart and inspire me deeply. You wrote: "By freeing others, we will attain freedom." I know this to be SO true. And as you know so well, this applies to all life, not just human life. When we set "others" free we cannot do anything but set ourselves free. We uplifted to not merely greater health, but to greater clarity, wisdom, and compassion. As you say in the next lines: "By questioning the official food story and going vegetarian and then vegan, (((((((we open the door to discovering our purpose on this beautiful Earth))))))) (YES!), and to being able to create a new world of equality, freedom, and harmony." Thank you, Will, for "seeing", knowing, caring, and sharing it all. Beautiful. AND, I find your wife's art just MAGICAL!! Such a beautiful free spirit within her. :)

6 Years Ago

Will, thank you for being a voice of clarity and truth for the animal beings and human beings. You so accurately see and show us the relationship between what we do and what we become. Also, why we do what we do and where that came from.

Scott Newton
7 Years Ago

I agree, I was a vegetarian for 14 years before I finally became a Vegan, and will never ever go back to ingesting the pus and secretions of cows & goats, or eating the misery ridden eggs of captive, deprived chickens. We grow up in a society blinded by conveniences, and blind to our own institutions, their greed and fears. I'm personally upset with the self entitlement, and self centerness of the average consumer, upset that they have become a slave to their routine, and worse, found unending support for their disconnected lifestyle. Well, As Will said recently in San Diego, We must “become an army of one”! Live well, it is the best example we can set. Thanks for the inspiration.

7 Years Ago

An interesting article and I agree with 90% of it and I speak as a life vegetarian. But have you considered the effects on the human metabolism of a dependence on an animal diet for so many thousands of years? Some say that in many people the human body takes a couple of generations to be able to manufacture its own vitamin C complex, its own vitamins A, D and K2. Maybe we need to be wise and have good aims and ideals to which we travel carefully at a pace our health permits.. The other point I would make is that it turns out that, horrific and sickening though it is to feed animal protein, soya and corn to cows, it seems not to have been the cause - or the only cause - of "mad cow disease". We need to get our facts right. Experiments in Europe by an organic dairy farmer are worth noting. He sensed that the organophosphates that all dairy farmers had to apply to the spines of their cows may be to blame. So he applied these to a dead cow's brain and exposed it to UV light. He found that this produced the same prions that damage the central nervous system in cows with that disease. One has to ask oneself the terrible question as to whether that is why there is a movement to keep cows indoors all their lives. Needless to say, the dairy farmer who discovered this was hounded and persecuted by the big conglomerates you mention. His farm was burned to the ground, he developed cancer from all the stress and is now dead.

7 Years Ago

Great article Will. Humans are frugivores pure and simple. We are not omnivores. We don't have digestive systems and colons like cows, horses, sheep, etc., in order to digest all that cellulose in veggies. Try a fruit based diet (+80% fruit) and experience amazing healing, energy, well being, and raising of your conscientiousness. That is coming from a 54 year old male who used to be the atypical male...beer, sports, meat, women, aggression, etc. Freeing myself from that life was the most positive thing I have ever done. I still like sports & women though.

Barbara Lowell
7 Years Ago

Thank you Will for the purest of the pure and noble approach to this whole dilemma. On eating rabbit or any thing not plant based, you are doing neither your body nor your consciousness any favors, albeit it might "taste" exciting and pleasurable. Just like negative thoughts vibrate lower than inspired thoughts, all animal foods vibrate lower than plant based. The only solutions to our world problems will come from raising our consciousness because then we present to the world a more peaceful, elegant human. I beleive a new human is being birthed through reverence for all forms of Life, even the cockroach, even the so called sinner/criminal/deviant. We must move beyond our palate and appetites to what's possible when we get past our food and behavioral addictions promulgated by marketeers of "the good life". It feels pleasant and beautiful to raise one's vibration from predator/prey to brother/sister. It even feels good to be kind to your car, computer, and lawn mower! Aloha, Namaste, Peace. BarbaraL

7 Years Ago

Very poignant, v ery thought provoking. I have swapped to a plant based diet 5 months ago and found it very easy to do so... but I would find it harder if I was not part of the 1st world with enough money to by good food. Over the weekend, we had a party for my girl friends 40th... I cooked a big indian spread. I cooked almost all vegan dishes, but found a rabbit on the ropad with a squashed head, so I cooked it into rabbit madras... it was very very tasty, but I did feel a little strange eating it... I whole hartily agree that the dairy and meat industry is incorect, but have decided to take advantage of the odd piece of road kill... I don't think this a bad way to live... Let me know your thoughts... All the best and keep up the good articles, Charlie

17 Oct 2011

Charlie- just curious, would you eat a dog or cat which was killed by a car? what about if your dog or cat were killed by a car-would you eat them also?

Vasu Murti
7 Years Ago

Will, There are thriving vegan scenes in New York City, Washington DC, Chicago, Toronto, Vancouver BC, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and here in the San Francisco Bay Area as well. Five years ago, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said the city of St. Francis was one of the veg-friendliest cities in the United States - twenty vegetarian restaurants in the city alone, and fifteen of them were vegan! I love all you and Madeleine are doing on behalf of the creatures. You are quickly becoming the spiritual master for the vegan (and vegetarian!) community here in the SF Bay Area. But before you question whether we've erred in treating cows as "natural omnivores," remember: ...you'd go directly to the heart of the matter (and the cause of the numerous crises we're facing) if you'd first address if we've erred in mistaking *human beings* for "natural omnivores"!

28 Oct 2011

Yes, Vasu - well said - that is the heart of the matter - and treating cows as omnivores is a direct reflection of the error of mistaking ourselves as omnivores --- though as the article emphasizes, this "mistake" may in fact be deliberately promulgated for the benefit of the elite plutocracy that enriches itself on this "mistake."

Will Tuttle
28 Oct 2011

Yes, Vasu - well said - that is the heart of the matter - and treating cows as omnivores is a direct reflection of the error of mistaking ourselves as omnivores --- though as the article emphasizes, this "mistake" may in fact be deliberately promulgated for the benefit of the elite plutocracy that enriches itself on this "mistake."

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