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.
Special thanks to Jo-Anne McArthur for her generosity in the use of the image for the cover.
REVIEWS OF THE COW WITH EAR TAG #1389
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.”
“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
Kathryn Gillespie, PhD is 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: firstname.lastname@example.org