Some Cows On The Beach

I don't know what these cows are doing. They don't know what I'm doing. We're all doing our thing.

It's a bovine spa day, really, the crows perch atop them and peck out any stray bugs or grubs. The calves huddle together in a bundle of legs and ears, their mothers languid but watching.

In the evening the cows walk back along this beach and in the morning they just sit there, basking. It quickly gets too hot, but when the sun is just rising through the palm trees it's light enough for a lie down, and so they do.

People say 'lazy cow', but we're the ones surrounding them with plastic bottles; all the waste of our haste. What we call convenience is just incovenience deferred, washing up on some other beach. Out of sight, out of mind, and we are truly out of our minds. These cows seem to have got it together better.

I don't know what they do during the day. You see them grazing next door, walking down the road, crossing the rail tracks, sometimes they go on the main road and block traffic.

In Colombo, one local Bessie used to do rounds around all the houses in my neighborhood, collecting buckets of vegetable scraps. I don't know who these roaming cattle 'belong to' or if they belong to anyone at all. Whatever they are, they're not being optimized into some capitalist productivity machines. They're just cows.

I stopped eating most meat years ago, though I still scavenge bits of chicken or pork from my children's food. If you asked me my dietary preferences I'd say vegan scavenger. I still eat meat from other people's plates (and fish, occasionally, which is used as a spice here) but I don't order my own. Like the Buddha I'll generally eat whatever I'm given, which was generally leftovers for him as well.

The one thing I simply won't touch is beef. Beef was the first thing I started avoiding because of the environmental impacts, but now I just find it repulsive. I still like chicken (and am ambivalent towards chickens) but I like cows and avoid beef.

Is that why we gave the meat-form of mammals different names? Chicken is just chicken, but cows are beef, pigs are pork, and mutton could refer to any ruminant on the subcontinent. Do we avoid using their names to avoid thinking about the lifeform, which we generally like?

My parents generation grew up raising animals and has some concept that we are what we eat. My father had a beloved pig named Tito, until he was taken away on the butcher's truck, them both squealing. My father-in-law would periodically slaughter a goat to make biriyani, which his daughters refused to eat.

My wife grew up with the concept that chicken was all breast, and I grew up with meat as just another undifferentiated product in a supermarket aisle. In America, even in Ohio, I rarely saw cows, even though beef was everywhere. Out of sight, out of mind, and so factory farming has become completely deranged.

Today it's too easy to raise children with no concept that their dinner was raised as well, to have them grow up reading about cute little animals and eating their tortured bodies for lunch.

But there's no factory here, on the beach. Do these cows even have jobs? Who's going to chase this family down and milk them? Their milk is for their children. Who's going to kill the belligerent bull for meat? If I get to close he chases me. Once he chased me and the dog all the way home.

I'm not saying that these cows aren't used (and abused) by humans in some way, but we certainly haven't made an industry of it. Consultants would surely come and say we need to develop, optimize, and increase yields, which is surely happening somewhere else, but not here. People say Sri Lankans are lazy, but I think this is our greatest feature. We do less harm.

Hence the fishermen, finished hauling in their meagre catch, sit on a tree stump near the cows. No one is especially productive, but it works out somehow. Or maybe it doesn't work. Maybe creatures don't need to work at all.

These are just some cows, lying on the beach, walking around all day, then coming back to sleep on the beach at night. I don't understand them, and they barely think about me at all. Such is the life of a beach cow.