Of Cows and Cabdrivers

The night train glided over the Mississippi River, from Wisconsin into Minnesota, and as usual it was running late. I hoped a cab was waiting for me for the final 40 miles of the journey, but when I had made my reservation the clerk told me the cab would not wait if the train was more than a little bit late. All fears dissolved in the rain when an older version of the Marlboro man greeted me with a smile. "I was afraid you wouldn't be here, this train is so late," I said. "Never would do that," he replied, "glad you made it to Minnesota, you betcha'."

The guy held the wheel on those wet roads as if he were driving a tractor across a field, and went about the same speed, which lowered my heartbeat. No one is a stranger at night in a cab in Minnesota, and I learned that this old farmer had just celebrated 50 years of marriage, owned and worked a 350 acre dairy farm that he was forced to sell to a conglomerate 12 years ago, and still had to drive 90 miles back to his little town in Wisconsin after he dropped me off at my destination. We passed one brightly lit place that, quite frankly, looked like a concentration camp for cows. You could see them in little open cells, many standing up, with lots of tubes and pipes nearby. The tough old fella was near tears as he told me the life of a cow in one of these places was one or two years--they live mostly on concrete and can't move around, so they develop severe arthritis and other infirmities. On a family farm, the working life of a cow spans a few years over a decade. They enjoy pasture, walks in the rain, and live as God meant them to be, in a herd. (I started to google the cow industry to check these facts and learn more. When I learned that many cows have their tails chopped off on large milking conglomerates, for a reason I can't bring mysef to describe, I couldn't keep reading.)

Advertisement

The loss of the family dairy farm in America is a metaphor for the move toward a centralized society, as James C. Bennet writes in the current issue of National Review:

For decades--at a minimum, since the beginning of the Progressive Era, and arguably earlier--America had been on a course toward a more centralized society, one in which individualism as it had been understood since before the Founding--a society built on independent families living on their own property, most of them farms--was being replaced by a different vision. The progressive vision was one of citizens as employees whose existence was mediated by negotiations among large corporations, unions, and government agencies. For such subjects, "rights" were to be a designated set of entitlements granted by these organizations.

In Central Minnesota and Southern Minnesota, the family doctor has gone the way of the family farm, but with a different result. About a century ago, Mayo Brothers founded their clinic in Rochester Minnesota, partnering with the Franciscan Sisters. The doctors developed an intense treatment team concept in medicine, and the good sisters provided a top quality hospital, St. Mary's of Rochester. In the past decade, the world-renowned medical center has developed clinics and satellite programs in communities as far as 100 miles away. They provide top care in an economically sensible way, generating goodwill in the community. The Obama Administration sees the Mayo Model of Healthcare as a paradigm for the rest of the country.

Centralization kills the cows but brings top quality healthcare to Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I believe these two activities underscore in base relief the conflict and dialectic we struggle with on many issues in society and in the church. Which is more effective: local or national governance? William Byron, from a classic article in America reminds of the position of the principle of subsidiarity in Catholic social teaching:

The principle of subsidiarity puts a proper limit on government by insisting that no higher level of organization should perform any function that can be handled efficiently and effectively at a lower level of organization by human persons who, individually or in groups, are closer to the problems and closer to the ground. Oppressive governments are always in violation of the principle of subsidiarity; overactive governments frequently violate this principle.

Cows and healthcare, church and state, small versus large. Please think of those cows in Minnesota and Wisconsin when the animals are blessed this month in churches across the USA. And think and pray for the farmer turned cab driver I mentioned, whose bride of 50 years is recovering after some top-notch medical care in Minnesota.

William Van Ornum 

 

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
J STANGLE
7 years 2 months ago
The Mayo System is a great medical system, mainly because the doctors are on a salary. Nevertheless, the ability to pay is part of the formula of healthcare there too. Not only because of the great care they receive, but also because they can pay do/have the heads of states around the world from Africa, South America, Iran,and Europe traveled to Mayo. Well enough that "within 100 miles" does Mayo have clinics and such, but check out who is eliminated for not being elgible for care. And, who should be responsible for health care costs - especially when the US government itself is responsible for so many of the ills of it's citizens. The government? Yes, the government. Who else is to blame for the hundreds of thousands and even millions and tens of millions of citizens who have contacted cancer, for instance, as a result of the mining, manufacturing, and industralization and testing of nuclear bombs and nuclear energy plants. When the US and Russia exploded atomic and multimegaton thermonuclear bombs they contaminated the world. The effects of these cancer causing radiations are still with us, slowly doing what radiation does to cells - cause cancer. So, not only citizens, but all of humanity has suffered and by governments not taking responsibility for what they have done. All of us can site other government promoted health disasters from tobacco subsidies to lead in gasoline exhausts to... Abortion rights! So, how is it that healthcare is not a right but a privilege not only within 100 miles of Mayo, but world-wide. Isn't this the real work of 'evil' - a government that has virtually killed millions and tens of millions invades and ruins other countries for the ill deeds of a few dozen terrorists, the money and energy spent which could of have of gone to the welfare of the world! And don't think the cows arn't eating the concentrated-in-the-feed radioactive materials that fell on Minnesota and the rest of the world. Government subsidized radioactive milk and food, anyone? Welcome to the continual Original Sin!
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
John,

I think we are in agreement that-somehow-the kind of quality MAYO provides is a goal for the country. Much to his credit, President Obama realizes this when citing them as a model of healthcare. Realistically, one wonders if this can occur in our lifetime, and we both share our doubts about this. MAYO is also rated as one of the best employers in the USA, with very little staff turnover. I don't think this is due to just their admittedly genrous sources of funding-there are other university medical centers which I'm confident (but haven't researched the stats) have similar funding and much more employer turnover. There's an intangible and immeasurable sense of caring/compassion and helpfulness. I'd like to think whatever brilliance and partnershhip occured between the MAYO Brothers and Sisters of Saint Francis many years ago still lives on. I was saddened seeing the cows in the cow concentration camp; your mention of the kinds of stuff falling on them in the rain increases this sadness. Thanks for writing and have a good weekend. best, bill
7 years 2 months ago
I've been reading about factory farms  lately too.   I'm a vegetarian but I still drink milk and eat chesses and wanted to do it as humanely as possible.  There's a page  ... http://www.cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html  ... that rates how organic dairy farms treat their cows, which helped me choose what milk/chheese to buy.

Sort of off subject, but here's a link also to a lecture  by Anglican priest, philosophy prfessor, and fellow of the Oxford Center for Animal Ethics,  Steven Shakespeare, which I really liked ... http://www.aswa.org.uk/Articles/deadmeatwhyhuman.html
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Crystal,

Your link from across the pond is dead-center and right on the money. It explains in more detail what I call the cow concentration camps:


Dairy cattle in a constant cycle of being made pregnant in order to produce excess milk, their calves removed often within 24 hours of birth. Many dairy herds are kept in concrete cubicles over winter, lameness and mastitis are commonplace. Some are subjected to zero grazing – the equivalent of the battery farm, in which cows are constantly kept in indoor sheds in metal barred stalls, moved only to automated milking machines. Male calves, being largely expendable are rapidly killed. Chickens bred for meat and turkeys crammed into sheds, their legs deformed, dead birds littering the feeding bins. Male chicks thrown into vats and then gassed or minced.
All of this is done for one simple reason: economy of scale. Animals are units of production. For all the argument is made that animal welfare can be maintained in these conditions – arguments I think are frankly incredible – there can be no pretence that the wellbeing of animals is in any way a primary motivation for them. Farmers, I should say cannot be asked to take the blame for all of this. They are subjected the demands of economic necessity. They are part of a system involving buyers and retailers and us the consumers, which relies upon exploitation and alienation to work. Farmers have to do the dirty work, endure the stress and the vanishing profit margins - and at the same time are expected to act as custodians of our unspoiled countryside! The one thing the system needs to do is stop us asking questions. So meat appears on our shelves, prepackaged, already dead, and more than dead – without us ever seeing the link between the living, sentient , suffering animals, without us wondering about its spirit, its relationship to the world. And something in us is caged, locked down and processed into dead meat.
 
Maybe the cornucopia link will help some of us when we go shopping....
 
Thanks for your very helpful elaborations and magnification of the theme of the article.
 
Have a good weekend, bill
 
 
7 years 2 months ago
For several years I've been following the life and career of a most extraordinary person, who can shed some light on the subject of animal welfare.  Temple Grandin is a person with autism who has a Ph.D. in animal science and is an advocate both for persons with autism and the humane treatment of animals.  She derives her understanding of the experience and needs of animals from her own experiences as an autistic person.  Early on she devised an apparatus that would calm cattle who were being led to slaughter based on the "hug machine" she used to calm her hypersensitivity.  She designed sweeping curved corrals to reduce the stress  of cattle and a numbe of other inventions and proceedures that can be read about on her "Dr. Temple Grandin's official Autism website.

In one of her essays:  "Animals are Not Things" she said:  "Animals are technically property in our society but the law ultimately gives them ethical protections or rights.  We cannot legally torture any animal."

Dr. Grandin also discussed the human element when she said that the single most important factor which affects animal welfare is the attitude of management.  People who handle hundreds of animals each day can become desensitized.  They need a strong manager to serve as their conscience,  (So we are discussing human as well as animal welfare!)              

As a non-vegetarian, I was glad to read that Dr. G. believes that using animals for food is an ethical thing to do but we have got to do it right.  We have to give them a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death.

The horrible treatment of the animals at the livestock plant in Minnesota is sickening especially so when you learn that there exist humane ways to treat animals,

The cabdriver and his wife could be any one of the friends and relatives I have in Minnesota.  You betcha!!  I daresay there isn't anyone in the state who doesn't know the reputation of the Mayo Clinic and some, like my father, were fortunate to be patients there.
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Janet,

Dr. Grandin must have a rare compassion and sensitivity as well as a balance outlook to the relationaship vis a vis people and animals. I can imagine the desensitization of managers of the herd, crude humor, etc. etc. Now here we go again but if we treat animals more humanely-how will this be done in terms of economics? Is there a way to do this so that it will factor into the the growth of the economy? JR Cosgrove, I hope you will read this and can answer. As I am learning, changes to large industries may have unintended consequences.

I observed that everyone was gettin' by okay in Minnesota. You betcha! Thanks, Janice. bill
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Stanely,

Before my recent trip to Minnesota I had in the back of my mind the intellectual knowledge about the conditions on some of the large farms, but like much information that is read it didn't really sink in until I saw those cows crammed in with pipes, siphones and concrete while I talked with the wise old farmer in the taxi in the rain. Travel makes you vividly aware of things. In Europe-they don't have the vast tracts of land like we do in the Midwest. Wonder if this geography limits establishment of megacorporations? Thanks, bill
7 years 2 months ago
I grew up in the Philadelphia area and recently had dinner a month ago with some friends who live outside Philadelphia.  I was asking about their children.  One is a doctor that practices ob/gyn in the Minneapolis area.  She had gotten her medical degree at U. Minnesota but then moved back to a practice in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  After a couple years she and her husband moved back to Minnesota to practice.


My friend said that she got a $60,000 + raise when she did.  That was the difference in mal practice insurance between Pennsylvania and Minnesota.  Now I do not know how much that allows the doctors in Minnesota to practice better medicine but it certainly enables them to charge less.
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
Well, I've never personally caused an abortion and I never intend to.  I also don't want animals tortured for my sake, either.  There are those of us who don't want either and don't see a reason to pit one against the other.

Why would many people feel more strongly about animal cruelty than abortion?  Perhaps because pain seems to be the discriminator today to many people.  The first trimester human probably feels no pain so anti-abortion is a hard sell to most people.  A full grown animal definitely feels pain but if raised humanely and quickly dispatched, feels none.  Euthanasia has support in this country because it is seen as avoidance of pain.  I believe to most people it's about pain, not life.  However, if there is respect and reverence, that is something else.  Then it assumes there is some intrinsic value to life and then one must think differently.  All things deserve some level of respect and reverence, even the things we eat.
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
John,

At times I am overwhelmed by the amount of evil in the world, evil that is chosen, but many, many times there are also the imperfect actions of imperfect human beings, and sadly the consequences of many of our actions bring us even more trouble as well as personal, societal, and global corruption. This is the world we live is, and it's world in need of redemption. You are able to perceive many things with sensitivity, and put them into words for the rest of us to think about. best on a sunday morning, bill
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
JR Cosgrove,

I'm going to answer this one based on my personal experience traveling, as well as knowing some folks out there, so I'm not gonna base this on any formal research. (But maybe we need less research and more clear thinking? Did Aristotle use numbers?)

Many people in Minnesota have lived on farms, and in helping animals give birth, they know all of the accidental deaths and other problems that occur in a natural birth. So they're well aware of of what the work is like for someone in the OB/Gyn specialty. People who have llived on farms know nature's beautfy but also her terror: crops wiped out in an instant, houses leveled by tornadoes, floods. There's no one to blame when these occur, you pull together and "get by." There's even a strong undercurrent of Lutheranism and acceptance of grace, which is something out of our control.

So that's my broad-brush thinking, aware of many exceptions and explanations.
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Good morning David,

Well, you've pushed one of my buttons and I'm gong to have to stand up for the family farmers. Many have been models for the rest of us in terms of frugality and living within our means. They faithfully say grace at meals and offer special thanks for the Bounty of the harvest. There are no sick days for farmers. There has been an especially high suicide rate for owners of family farms in the Midwest when they have been forced into bankruptcy. Please, I hope we don't have to judge factory farmers, either, as "killers." This term bring in such extra meaning and we're speaking of folks we don't even know.

I like your comment on "needing" in reference to meat eating, obviously a cross-reference to the thoughts on automobiles. As the earth's population increases, this is going to become more of a concern. Will there be enough protein from other sources? best, bill
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Stanley,

Good point. "Avoidance of pain" is becoming or has become a "summum bonum" in our society. Your comment, "There are those of us who don't want either and don't see a reason to pit one against the other." Thoughts of wisdom. hope you have a good sunday, bill
7 years 2 months ago
Dr. Van Ornum,

Pennsylvania has two very big urban areas at either end of the state.  In between there is nothing but farms.  Obviously a big exaggeration but when we went on car trips up state when I was little, my sister and I used to count the cows on either side of the road to past time.  Pennsylvania is the fourth largest state in the US for milk production and Minnesota is the sixth. 

 
http://www.statemaster.com/graph/ind_mil_pro-industry-milk-production 

Statemaster is a fun site with tons of interesting statistics by state 
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Dear JR Cosgrove:

Ah, so much for my speculating, it will be relegated to the land of forgotten ephemera. Have a good weekend! bill
J STANGLE
7 years 2 months ago
I suddenly remembered that my father's favorite soup was "ox tail soup". This was rather exotic to me as a kid. Not until middle age did I learn that "ox tail" was a cow's tail. Why it is $5/lb for mostly bone in the supermarket today is beyond me. I'm sure my father learned to like it when they were poor as a church mouse and my grandfather made $1 a day in the 1920's. I bet the, "ox tail" were given free by the butcher. So, not everyone has the luxury of getting protein from "organic farms". Heck, I would venture to say that at least half the world doesn't eat as well as the average American pussycat. In later life, my father favored prime rib. However, that was once or twice a year - like at Christmas. Still, even at this moderate rate, imagine if how the whole US population of 300 million wanted prime rib twice a year. Let's say 40 prime rib dinners can come off a cow. That's still 8 million cows to slaughter. I don't think McDonald's brags anymore about how many billion hamburgers they have served. Large populations require large things. Like now Obama admin. is going to give huge billions of dollars of loans for new nuclear plants - according to the Gabelli Utilities funds brochure. I remember the eminent nuclear scientist stating (I was there)that Chernobyl  wasn't a disaster, as only 35 people were killed. Well, GreenPeace or others says that 50,000 thyroid cancers are still to happen and 200,000 more people will still die as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear plant meltdown. And, Three Mile Island? One can always read the Wickipedia whitewash of the ill effects. And all that contaminated ground, grass, milk, where do you think it went? Into all our cells. Zap. And just think, we don't have universal health care in this country. Still, there are those eminent (and sponsored and granted and salaried)scientists that deny the ill effects of radiation in low levels. Wouldn't one think that a hundred years after Roentgen this issue could be settled? Just the will is lacking. 
7 years 2 months ago
Speaking of food production, there's  a really  interesting Fors-tv video  by journalist <a href = "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Roberts_%28author%29">Paul Roberts</a> about his book, The End of Food, here ... http://fora.tv/2008/06/18/Paul_Roberts_The_End_of_Food#fullprogram
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
John,

I hope you and others won't begrudge me an occasional prime rib or steak. Really hits the spot. I understand your concern about all the Roentgen stuff; this stuff is kinda like rocket science to me so it's hard for me to have any opinion. I will leave that discussion to you and others who are better informed and smarter-seems like lots of advanced math, physics, and organic chemistry are involved., these were not my best subject. Barely made it through calculus and quantitative analysis.  Thanks again for your detailed and thorough observations. best, bill
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Crystal,

I checked out your link on the books by Paul Roberts and did a bit more searching. It appears he offers evidence-based rather than ideological arguments about the oil and food topics; that is a good thing. I got into about ten seconds of the television program with Roberts and my computer froze up, saying I don't have enough bandwtih. At least I got to see Roberts wearing that great green tie! How symbolic! thanks again, bill
Marie Rehbein
7 years 2 months ago
The comments drawing a comparison between Pennsylvania and Minnesota have caused me to wonder how it is that the Amish can sustain themselves on farms while other farmers cannot.
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Marie,

The community support (division of labor and sharing)? Cohesivensss? Do they own so much land together that they can fend off the conglomerates? I wish I knew! Anyone have info beyond speculations? bvo
Stanley Kopacz
7 years 2 months ago
"Food. Inc." is a documentary that covers much of what is talked about here.  Where Purdue and Tyson once controlled 20% of the chicken market, they now control 80%.  THe chicken farmers are contractors to these corporations and don't even own the chickens.  They must follow the cruel rules of the megacorporations.  The chickens now are not even allowed light.

I'm a meat eater.  But meat is so nutritious, you don't need a lot of it, not as much as we normally get.  The organic and free range alternatives are more expensive, but if eaten in the proper portions, affordable.

There is so much wrong with the centralized, industrialized food systems.  One alternative is to grow your own food.   ANd chickens in your yard is a good way to control grubs in your grass so you don't have to poison your lawn with herbicides.  We have to get back to working with nature.

Go to Europe.  They still seem to have the food situation right.
J STANGLE
7 years 2 months ago
Well, Bill et al, I suppose we can all agree that cutting off cow's tails is cruel; why do I think that maybe the same applies to boxer dogs and others that get their tails and ears cut off - just for looks, maybe. Of course this hardly even compares to the evils of third semester abortions where the to be child gets his head punctured and sucked off. Or, first trimester where the whole future child gets macerated and sucked through a pipe. And, just think, medical doctors trained in the best institutions do this macabre ill deed! But why be surprised when the top physicists trained at the top universities have helped to basically poison the whole world with radioactive fallout? Hey, it's just a job to them. Maybe even a patriotic job sponsored by a government! So, the fact that the former Soviets and the present US have killed tens of millions of people - slowly and methodically - not shockingly like the few terrorists did at 9/11 - is hardly a blip on the radar for most. In fact, it doesn't show up. I notice there was no response to this intimation in my first post. Hey, read Andrei Sakharove or Dr. John Goffman, or Alice Stewart, or Sr. Rosalie Bertell and their warnings about the ill effects of even low level radiation. Instead, we worry about well-fed cows crowded into pen. I suppose that is a function of human empathy of some sort, for the innocent cows.  Hey, how about Palestinians - real people, not cows, confined in a pen? Have they a place in our hearts. Meanwhile, guess what, we humans are all in the feed pen - victims and perpetrators all of our own defective humanity. Who can save us from ourselves? Save us - salvation- hope. Whence issues such an idea anyway? And, apart from us, how about me - what/who can save me? For sure it won't be that same defective humanity or any government or association. Still, we must struggle against the evil, and even to know it or know where it is. Maybe and surely, too,  where it is in ourselves, in our unknowing as well as in our knowing. Yes, the idyllic pastoral scene is comforting but past; contented cows a thing of our youth for the most part. Probably in the future we won't even need the cow, just a test tube of milk-producing cells and another of muscle producers making prime rib steak in a petri dish. If there is a zoo, there will be the cow, tail and all. Hopefully there will be a few.  
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
Hi David,

Langauage is important. For me I'm not comfortable with the use of the word "killer" in the sense you decribe, although I understand how you and many others desire to use the word in that context. Guess it would make all the rest of us accomplices, co-conspirators, etc-a view I don't share, but know that others do. So I'll have to just sy IMHO ("in my humble opinion"), knowing others will be at at variance. Regarding the Shakers-thanks for your ideas. best, bill
Marie Rehbein
7 years 2 months ago
David,

I would agree that lifestyle differences make a difference.  However, as Bill points out, it is also the community support of the modest lifestyle.  It would seem rather odd for us to expect the farmer to live modestly while the rest of us don't.  Therefore, would our version of community not require us to provide better for our farmers instead of developing ways to farm more efficiently that cause us to lose sight of our place in God's creation as good stewards?
we vnornm
7 years 2 months ago
David,

Fear not being sanctimonious, you have come to the right place and will find many kindred spirits, myself included. What, then, are psychologists?

Candide is very wise.

bill
Marie Rehbein
7 years 2 months ago
Well, David, I wasn't really thinking of regimenting everyone.  What about covering the cost of higher education for the children of farmers, so that they don't have to worry about that? 

On the other hand, we should not anthropomorphise the experience of animals unnecessarily.  Probably they experience more emotion than we think when we are eating them, but, honestly, what else are they for, particularly those who have been born for that purpose (as opposed to those we hunt)?  They would not exist except that they were born to be food, and killing any of them is not sinful in itself. 

If the cows are suffering from arthritis because of how they are housed and raised, then from a meat or milk consumer's view I would question whether the product I am consuming might be contaminated by stress hormones or other biological by-products of their being in that environment. 

It's sad, but it's not our sadness that should be our primary concern.  I live in the desert, and all of us, animals and humans, live without grass and trees for the most part.  Some cattle roam the range, but there they are subject to attacks from coyotes.  Nothing and no one is immune from suffering or from danger in this world 
we vnornm
7 years 1 month ago
Hi Marie,

As an angler myself and friend of many hunters, there is a rich cultural tradition surrounding these activities, and anyone who advocates cultural diversity would, I think, have to support these endeavors. A very wise explanation occurs in the Lion King movie: the circle of life.
The desert has a rare beauty, especially after those infrequent rainfalls, yes? bill

Advertisement

Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

People celebrate Nov. 21 outside parliament after hearing that President Robert Mugabe resigned in Harare, Zimbabwe. All Zimbabweans should have a voice in the country's governance following Mugabe's 37-year presidency, and the new government should embrace diversity, Zimbabwe's bishops said. (CNS photo/Kim Ludbrook, EPA)
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference issued a statement urging calm, restraint and patience during what they called “most delicate times.”
Anthony EganDecember 11, 2017
A reflection for the second Monday of Advent
Elizabeth Kirkland CahillDecember 11, 2017
Sources in the Vatican say they cannot understand how President Trump’s decision to recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel can be in the best interests of the United States.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 10, 2017
Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) holds two paper cranes in Oslo on Dec. 9. (AP Photo/David Keyton)
The pope was lauded at the presentation of the Nobel Peace Prize for condemning the “false sense of security” of nuclear weapons.
Gerard O’ConnellDecember 10, 2017