Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Holy cow! Bovines give us perspective on humanity

  • Print

Cow

A Bovine Biography

By Florian Werner

Greystone Books, 240 pages, $20

 

Humans gained much from domesticating cattle, but so did the cow. In return for providing labour, milk and meat, cattle have received protection and a steady source of food. This mutually beneficial relationship has spread to the far corners of the globe.

In Cow: A Bovine Biography, German musician and author Florian Werner delivers an in-depth and surprisingly thoughtful piece of non-fiction, apparently inspired by the modus operandi of American Mark Kurlansky who enjoyed success with such titles as Cod and Salt.

Werner starts with the domestication of the auroch, the now-extinct proto-cow in the Middle East soon after the end of the last ice age 10,000 years ago.

Cows have inspired poetry and art. In some cultures, they are sacred; in others, they are linked to the devil.

Werner focuses on more peaceable female cows rather than bulls or oxen. Female cattle are more familiar, he argues, more approachable and gentle.

The simplicity of cows behaviour even extends to their captivity. Despite their size, Werner notes, "they endure their bondage mostly without complaint or resistance."

This symbiotic relationship has, in fact, afforded the cow protection and safety from other predators, allowing it to spread across the globe in great numbers.

This book was originally published in Germany. Werner has previously published books there on such diverse subjects as hip-hop lyrics and human excrement.

Vancouver-based translator Doris Ecker has succeeded in creating a smooth English version of Cow that is simple, modern and expressive.

Some less-familiar examples of German words and idioms are used (such as the Kuhhandel or "cow trade," meaning a transaction where one party is cheated), but these are balanced by French or more familiar English and American idioms.

Even the placid, peaceful cow can be controversial, as Werner explains in his chapter on bovine sexuality. Mentions of the clothing of Clarabelle the Cow in Disney films and the sexualization of cows in advertising leads into a longer discussion of human zoophilia (or bestiality).

Werner makes well-thought-out points that create a different perspective. After all, most people rarely give the importance of the cow a second thought (if they even give it a first thought).

From capitalism, economic freedom and the commoditization of cattle to the environmental dangers they cause with the methane produced by their multiple stomachs, the influence of cattle on human society becomes readily apparent.

The global perspective he brings doesn't extend to Canada, although he does reference the emergence of factory-style farms in the United States, the sacred protection afforded to cattle in India and the causes and repercussions of mad cow and hoof and mouth diseases in the U.K. and continental Europe.

Werner has studied German, American and British literature, and he references a wide range of literary sources, from classical ones such as Shakespeare to the photographs of Annie Leibovitz, the Douglas Adams novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the TV sitcom The Simpsons.

Werner has a mischievous sense of fun. In describing the various uses for leather, he lists "shoes, jackets, belts, saddles, sofas, sandals, transmission belts, tepees, exercise balls, S&M costumes, and fine bindings of books."

Werner reminds us that bovines are inextricably linked to humans, and that thinking more deeply about our relationship with them can give us a new perspective on our own humanity.

 

Winnipeg writer Julie Kentner grew up in southwestern Manitoba on a cattle farm with about 30 cows.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 24, 2011 J9

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Preview: RMTC's Armstrong's War

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Water lilys are reflected in the pond at the Leo Mol Sculpture Garden Tuesday afternoon. Standup photo. Sept 11,  2012 (Ruth Bonneville/Winnipeg Free Press)
  • A golfer looks for his ball in a water trap at John Blumberg Golf Course Friday afternoon as geese and goslings run for safety- See Joe Bryksa’s 30 day goose challenge- Day 24– June 15, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

What's your favourite Halloween treat to hand out?

View Results

Ads by Google