Everything you wanted to know about cows but were afraid to ask.
The domestication of the aurochs and its kin and conversion of its various body parts into calories and tools is an interesting—and oft-told—story. Science writer Rimas and University of Leeds agriculture lecturer Fraser cover the usual bases, then throw in bits and pieces of what they have learned about bovines, a sort of literary analog to the processing practices that gave us mad-cow disease. Sometimes those oddments are of interest, such as the tale of how Jersey cows came to flood the British market in the days of the French Revolution, though they were just fronts for French, Dutch and Frisian breeds and in all events “were both unattractive and unevenly generous at the teat.” It is of international import that the present cow economy is environmentally destructive, producing lots of methane and clearing much rainforest and other ecosystems for pasturage, since “there are only so many fourteen-hundred-pound cows that you can fit on an acre of grass.” Cooks and connoisseurs, too, will take interest in the authors’ contention that meat today simply doesn’t taste as good as it did a generation ago. A little of this kitchen-sink approach goes a long way, however, and when the authors are not discussing bovine bloodlines and spinning out vignettes of bullfights, ethology and butchery, they serve up dry recitations of cribbed fact larded with a few instances of spectacularly grist-clotted, inept prose.
Of some interest, but literate cow enthusiasts would do better to consult the anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard or even Laurie Carlson’s inadequate, but better, Cattle: An Informal Social History (2001).