The Cow with Ear Tag #1389
by Kathryn Gillespie, PhD

Take a look at the packaging on a container of milk and you’re likely to see bucolic idylls of red barns, green pastures, and happy, well-treated cows. In truth, the distance from a living cow to a glass of milk is vast, and nearly impossible to grasp in a way that resonates with an average person ticking items off a grocery list. 

In contrast to the widely known truths of commercial meat manufacture, the dairy industry enjoys a relatively benign reputation, with most consumers unaware of this kitchen staple’s backstory. The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 explores how the seemingly nonthreatening practice of raising animals for milk is just one link in a chain that affects livestock across the agricultural spectrum. Gillespie takes readers to farms, auction yards, slaughterhouses, and even rendering plants to show how living cows are transformed into food. The result is an empathetic look at cows and our relationship with them, one that makes both their lives and their suffering real—in particular, the fleeting encounter with the cow of the title, just one animal whose story galvanized Gillespie to write this book.

The myriad ways that the commercial meat industry causes harm are at the forefront of numerous discussions today. The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 adds a crucial piece to these conversations by asking us to consider the individual animals whose lives we may take for granted. 

Order The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 via University of Chicago Press or Amazon

Special thanks to Jo-Anne McArthur for her generosity in the use of the image for the cover.




Publishers Weekly
“Positioning her work among such investigative classics as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation, Gillespie uses scholarly methods to bring to light the often hidden side of what it takes to produce such foods as cheese and ice cream. . . .Interviews with dairy farmers and 4-H participants give fascinating insight into the emotional toll sometimes exacted on humans. . .Gillespie also vividly describes the deleterious effects of long-term dairy production on the animals themselves, as demonstrated by the titular cow. . .She succeeds in ensuring her readers will never look at a glass of milk in quite the same way again.”
“What price a glass of milk? In this trenchant examination of the dairy industry, animal-studies researcher Kathryn Gillespie investigates its workings, wastefulness, and impacts on the environment. . .Gillespie’s central focus, however, is the effect on the cows, bulls and calves involved, before their inevitable slaughter. Her careful field research in auction yards and slaughterhouses shows how commodification of animals too often leads to severe, and disturbing, health and welfare issues.”

Times Literary Supplement
“Gillespie describes the cultural picture of dairy in the US by analyzing print and online resources from various points on dairy’s commodity chain: academic papers on animal agriculture, agricultural law, advertisements. These contextualize the book’s most immediately arresting passages . . .Gillespie also situates dairy against a backdrop of societal anxieties about domesticity, hygiene and safety. . .Her book draws from her discussions with dairy industry employees who did agree to speak to her but, at the same time, she is most keen to pay attention to animals’ biographies, arguing that these challenge capitalism’s depersonalizing logic.”

Best Books of 2018: Science and Nature | Open Letters Review
“Gillespie holds nothing back, taking readers through the nightmare of the industrial slaughter-industry with eloquent but unsparing prose. The particular cow in question survives to live untroubled on an animal sanctuary, but the book is harrowing about the millions and millions not so fortunate.”
“There is much to be learned from Gillespie’s book. . .She’s remarkably sensitive to the ethical, methodological, and existential questions that come up when doing this kind of research. She explores the difficulty of getting approval for research on animals that we readily kill. She works through the many ways that commodification gets in the way of understanding animals. She reflects on the gendered expectations that affect her ability to gain access to her research subjects, as well as the way that they affect what she feels pressured to witness. And she is highly sensitive to the transformative dimensions of research, making some kind of lived response — in her case, dietary change — feel entirely necessary. . . . Gillespie does the reader a remarkable service in making herself visible in the text, letting us appreciate the way that her experience of doing this work shapes the work itself. It’s rare to have such transparency, it’s a model for anyone concerned to avoid the illusion that scholars are impartial spectators. The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 is worth reading for many reasons, but it’s invaluable for this one.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
“How to help in a system that prizes profit over compassion is one of the main concerns in the book. . .We Americans have decided that some animals— .g., cats, dogs, hamsters, parrots—are companions and that others—e.g., cows, pigs, goats, lobsters—are dinner. We argue over the ethics of those choices, but Gillespie raises a more fundamental question: What do we owe any animal, including the ones from which we take milk? Her answer as implied in The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 is that we should not make them suffer.”
“I’m equal parts haunted and motivated by The Cow with Ear Tag #1389. . .This hard-hitting book explores, with thoughtful-yet-unapologetic precision, the life cycle of individual animals—such as ‘#1389’—transporting rapt readers to auction yards and slaughterhouses, and paving the way for vital new inroads to discuss what it means to be truly empathetic.”
Choice Magazine
“Based mainly on numerous interviews, this insightful book is as enlightening about the atrocities of the dairy industry as it is about the ethical and methodological difficulties of gaining undercover access to the situation of the incessantly impregnated cows who are the book’s commodified subjects. Gillespie (Wesleyan Univ.) introduces readers to both the wished-for benign public image of the dairy industry and the behind-the-scenes intricacies of large-scale milk production. Stamping every page with compassion and muted outrage, Gillespie addresses the whole chain of milk production: the auctions, electronic insemination, the sores and wounds (and yes, the ear tagging of her beloved #1389), castration, downed animals, death, taildocking, and even the emotional toll on slaughterhouse workers. Milk, anyone? Though Gillespie places this book in the Chicagoan investigative tradition of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) and, more recently, Dominic Pacyga’s Slaughterhouse (CH, Apr’16, 53-3663), it also nicely complements Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (2001) and Timothy Pachirat’s Every Twelve Seconds (CH, Apr’12, 49-4421). Gillespie’s book is well written, unstuffy, and largely free of jargon and contains much to recommend it to those in animal abuse studies and beyond. –P. Beirne, University of Southern Maine 
Summing Up: Highly recommended. All readers
Carol J. Adams | author of The Sexual Politics of Meat
“We have been waiting for a book like this. Gillespie grapples with how the dairy industry uses cows as well as the challenge of researching that very thing. Her writing is pitch perfect, richly detailed, and riveting. The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 vividly demonstrates the transformative power of scholarship to bear witness.”
Lori Gruen | author of Entangled Empathy
“In a gripping narrative, Gillespie weaves together an informative discussion of the complexities of the dairy industry with heart-wrenching reflections on the impact of this commodification process on animals. She reveals alternative relationships of care that can help us look more closely, see better, and hopefully work toward changing ourselves and other animals.”
pattrice jones | author of The Oxen at the Intersection
“Simultaneously engaging, provocative, rigorous, and heartfelt, The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 demystifies the doublethink that dazes decent people into complicity with callous cruelty. Let Gillespie be your tour guide to the dairy farm, state fair, and petting zoo, and you might find yourself exploring the backroads of your own mind.”
lauren Ornelas | founder and executive director of Food Empowerment Project
“Gillespie’s stories and writing bring this book to life. We can feel the cows breathe and smell the grass as she unlocks the intricate relationship we have with these gentle animals. Her ability to explain complex issues in simple terms makes this an important read—especially for those who want to help foster compassion and understanding.”
Yamini Narayanan | Deakin University
The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 addresses a critical issue whose time for discussion has not only come but is in fact long overdue. Gillespie deftly excavates and narrates the singular moments of the dairy animals she encounters, and a very real story of the personalized cows emerges.”

Kathryn Gillespie, PhD is a senior qualitative market researcher, with 15 years of combined market and academic qual research experience. She designs and owns new digital qual methodologies at the interface of technology and human insights; manages qual market/consumer insights research team in fast-paced client-focused startup; delivers results to clients in rapid-cycle qual studies, including brief, design, analysis, interpretation of data, presentation of research, and recommendations for strategic direction; manages global client projects from end-to-end, seeing projects through from brief to output delivery; collaborates with marketing agencies as well as end-client brands on delivery of research to inform brand positioning, brand tracking, competitive set, consumer journeys, personas & segmentation, and concept & creative testing; design ethics in research standards & DEI frameworks; creates content for marketing purposes and public-facing communications. She has category expertise in FMCG/CPG, Health & Wellness, Tech, and Media. 

Kathryn is also a writer, multispecies ethnographer, and feminist geographer. She is currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at the University of Kentucky in the Department of Geography and the Applied Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program. Her research and teaching interests focus on: ethnography and qualitative methods; feminist and multi-species theory and methods; food and agriculture; political economy; critical animal studies;  human-environment relations. She is the author of The Cow with Ear Tag #1389 [University of Chicago Press, 2018]. She has also published in numerous scholarly journals and has co-edited three books: Vulnerable Witness: The Politics of Grief in the Field [University of California Press, 2018, co-edited with Patricia J. Lopez]; Critical Animal Geographies: Politics, Intersections and Hierarchies in a Multispecies World [Routledge, 2015, co-edited with Rosemary-Claire Collard]; and Economies of Death: Economic Logics of Killable Life and Grievable Death [Routledge, 2015, co-edited with Patricia J. Lopez]. Gillespie was an Animal Studies Postdoctoral Fellow at Wesleyan University (2016-2018) and has taught various courses at the University of Washington. She has volunteered with Freedom Education Project Puget Sound (a Puget Sound, WA-based prison education organization), Food Empowerment Project (a food justice organization in Cotati, CA), and Pigs Peace Sanctuary (a sanctuary for pigs in Stanwood, WA). Get in touch: