COWED by Denis Hayes


The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment
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A condemnatory look at the factory-farming model that has overpopulated the planet with too many cattle, to the detriment of all involved.

Indignant and sometimes with a holier-than-thou tone, the united Hayes, he an Earth Day pioneer and she an environmental lawyer, decry a system that “treats cows barbarously, even as it ruins some of the best soil on the planet, destroys irreplaceable aquifers, fills the air with warming gases, and creates enormous dead zones at the mouths of rivers.” Ground zero for that nefarious activity is Iowa, where the authors do a grim mathematical assessment of the cost in topsoil and corn to keep cows alive and fat long enough to make it to the nearest fast-food restaurant. Cows are necessary, of course; as the authors note, they’re essential to the dairy industry, especially inasmuch as “female bison don’t take kindly to humans handling their small teats.” Necessary or no, the authors attack the systematic mistreatment of cattle on feedlots and in holding pens, with the sentient animals reduced to cogs; cattle enrich us, but their lives are “cruelly diminished in the process.” But maybe they don’t enrich us after all. As the authors point out, pathogens can be killed by cooking beef thoroughly, but antibiotics can resist heat and can wreak havoc on the human ecosystem; if we are what we eat, then we are similarly diminished. Though their argument is sometimes preachy, and perhaps necessarily so, the authors don’t content themselves with jeremiad alone but instead offer positive things one can do. These include spending more on food to buy grass-fed and organic and homegrown, a luxury that of course not everyone can afford, and favoring bison meat over beef, to say nothing of eating less meat to begin with.

Provocative though unlikely to reach far beyond the choir box.

Pub Date: March 9th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0393239942
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2015


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