Unless youre in one of the many areas of the cattle business,
you just dont think about cows. To most Americans, cows are just
those big, slow moving hairy things that dot the countryside along
the interstate. Most folks these days have never touched a live
cow, and a lot of those folks dont even make the connection between
cows and cheeseburgers. So, until a bunch of new age environmental
cases and professional vegetarians started badmouthing ranchers
and cattle, all most of us needed to know about bovine issues
was that a T-bone is a great steak and leather makes the best
shoes. The cow is getting a bad rap.
Originally, cattle were domesticated for a couple of good
reasons food and labor. In addition to giving milk and meat, cows
and oxen pulled our ancestors plows and wagons. And because our
ancestors were mostly poor as dirt, they didnt like to waste
anything, especially something as big as an expired cow. Well,
it didnt take a bow-and-arrow scientist to figure out how to
make clothing, sandals and shelter out of cowhide. Then some other
guy discovered that boiled hooves tasted awful but made great
glue. His wife learned to make tools and domestic doo-dads from
bone and horn like those nifty horn cocktail cups so perfect for
slugging down mead. They lit their miserable hovel with tallow
candles and, every year or so, they washed up with some soap,
rendered from cow fat.
Some will argue that although cattle were important to the
survival of our dimwitted forebears, modern man is better off
without them (except, perhaps, as household pets).
But lets consider the bovine. Most of the world agrees that
beef tastes good?a lot better than tofu. And a piece of lean beef
is healthy food, full of protein and minerals (the fat has better
uses such as antifreeze, brake fluid, lubricants and other less
tasty stuff). We get dozens of household products from left-over
cow. The list includes handy things like soaps, detergents, and
deodorants. Granted, old hippie tree-huggers dont have much use
for those things, but the rest of us think theyre pretty necessary.
The cow is also an important ingredient in paints, plastics, textiles
Now consider that the cow is a ruminating drug factory, its
organs and glands producing dozens of chemicals, blood factors
and enzymes, like insulin, that improve and save human life.
Even the most strident anti-bovine activist will admit that
the cow has some value, but at a terrible cost to the planet and
its starving multitudes. For starters, the multitudes could do
with a helping of pot roast. But there are the cries that cattle
use too much of Americas land that should be used to grow crops
to feed the world. Fact is, about 40 percent of our agricultural
land isnt worth squat for squash, but cows do just fine, chomping
away on tough grass that very few other animals can digest. And
we get tender filet and double fudge chocolate ice cream. The
world gets medicines, powdered milk, tires and shoes. Thats a
good trade in any book. And while cows roam around grazing, they
aerate the soil with those pointy hooves, stomp grass seed down
where it can sprout and then fertilizes it all before moving on.
What about greenhouse gases, global warming and the end of
civilization? Doom-sayers blame cows for maybe two percent of
the bad gas in our atmosphere. Cows have been passing methane
longer than humans, and much longer than Chevy pickups, without
punching holes in the ozone. So if the polar ice cap melts and
Los Angeles is under 20 feet of surf, it wont be Bossies fault.
And if civilization goes all to hell, well need cows a lot more
than well need environmentalists.
So, when you take time to consider the cow, you realize its
a lot more than potential prime rib. Even if you never come face-to-face
with a real, live cow, it will still be an important part of your
everyday life, and a lot better life, at that.
* * *
John Bardwell is a gourmet cook who spent his summers on a California
dairy farm. He seldom prepares a dish without red meat?at least
when RANGEs editor shows up. He is this magazines design consultant.
NOTE The American National CattleWomen offer brochures and posters
which detail the many ways cattle enrich our lives and enhance
the planet, along with information on the many by-products that
come from cattle. RANGE appreciates their help with this story.
This years educational material is entitled, "Wow That Cow" and
stickers and buttons are available. For information and costs,