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 Post subject: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 8:11 am 
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Baking In The Flavor
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OK, so I'm writing a paper for an academic conference, and it's the most vegan thing I've ever written. My awesome vegan life is finally converging with my scholarly interests, and it's making me very happy. The title alone is pretty pleasing: "“Got Milk? Lactation, Violence, and the Servant’s Voice in Three Old English Riddles," and it's in a session called "Food and Violence in the Middle Ages" at a huge medievalist conference in Kalamazoo MI next week.

I'm writing about a group of haunting and beautiful riddle poems (some in Latin, some in Old English) from roughly 700-900 CE. They're classic riddles that tell you what this person/animal/thing does, then make you guess what it is. These are all either bullocks, oxen, or cows, and the story they tell (or have told about them) is not a very happy one! They remember drinking their mother's milk, having it taken away, being bound under a plow, and even being made into leather after they're dead. I wrote a haiku that kind of synthesizes them all:

When I was a youth,
I drank from four bright fountains,
murmured with delight.

As my years increased,
I lost those drinks to others;
I toiled, was used up.

Living, I broke earth;
in death, I bind the living.
Say what I am called.

Here's a PDF of my handout with all the texts if you're interested. I find them incredibly moving.

I've also got some cool visual material, including pictures of St Luke's evangelist symbol/mascot (an ox or calf), Anglo-Saxon burials (a wealthy woman buried with a cow, discovered last year, and another one with a wealthy couple buried with a side of beef), a cartoonish reconstruction of a cremation (there are many cremation sites with humans and various animals, including cows, horses, chickens, fox, beaver, badgers, pigs, sheep, and others), and some present-era "happy cow" advertisements.

That's where I could use a little advice. Last night, after a couple of gin and tonics, I started making some tenuous connections between the evangelist symbols (most of whom are very happy-looking bovines) and modern advertising cows who are eager to give you their milk. Here's what I wrote:

"In the modern era of industrial dairy production, when most consumers of dairy are far removed from their original producers (the cows), and the conditions of mass production are something most people would rather not contemplate, the imperative to paint a picture of cows willing, even eager, to produce milk for human consumption has produced cartoonish representations of happy cows in advertising campaigns; in these we might detect a whiff of Luke’s evangelist calf, beatifically representing, by implicit consent, a central facet of a religious narrative, in these cheerful pitchcows, pure representations of a secular sacrifice giving heft to a cultural narrative sustaining an economic enterprise. At any rate, they are without a doubt the exact opposite of the sad oxen and cows of Aldhelm, Eusebius, Pseudo-Bede, and the anonymous riddlers of the Exeter Book and the Lorsch riddle collection, lamenting their youthful milk, breaking the earth under a plow, and serving, always serving, whether as cheerfully quotidian cups and shoes, or as the material of bondage on the darker side of the Anglo-Saxon political economy."

In the sober morning light, I'm wondering if this might be a bit much. Basically, I think it's cool (though admittedly very speculative, maybe even random) and kind of provocative, but I'm not sure it's good enough to risk the rest of my paper being written off as the ravings of a zealous loon. Part 2 of your help is that if you don't think it's a bit much, send me pictures of cows who are super-eager to give you their milk! I've looked at Suicide Food's "Dairy Digressions" section and Google Image so far, and am feeling pretty queasy as a result. Basically, I want pictures of actual advertisements (rather than stock photos) that feature, not just happy/contented cows (there are thousands of those), but cows that are actually anxious/eager to have their milk consumed by humans (along the lines of the ones on my PowerPoint). Thanks you guys - I'm super-excited for this!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 8:22 am 
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This is easily the best thing I have read in the last year. god i miss this field and the poetry!
it may be pushing it [but plenty of academic presentations are], but your images are so right! i immediately envisioned the ox on Cuthbert's coffin with its horribly sad eyes...
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and then contrast with any of the happy cows you're thinking of.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 9:03 am 
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Baking In The Flavor
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Yes, the coffin lid is awesome! Thanks for the reminder torque - I had that on my list to put on the PP.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 2:39 pm 
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I have no idea what kind of reception you could expect to receive, but what you wrote sounds, to me, true. And it's said in a lovely way.

(I used to have a blog.)

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 2:48 pm 
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That really doesn't sound like too much to me, but then, I'm a zealous vegan and perhaps a bit of a loon.


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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 5:27 pm 
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FootFace wrote:
(I used to have a blog.)


You were so interesting!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 5:39 pm 
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A. I love and am incredibly proud of my boyfriend for the supercool work he is doing.

B. I think this thread would get more traffic in the Foyer. Mods??

So ordered.—some mod.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 6:07 pm 
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I appreciate the connections you're making in your work and think they're relevant and sound.

What was notable (to me) about the riddles was that although from seemingly different sources (though some under similar names but different numbered riddles), they say pretty much the same thing in all cases and are expressed in the same/very similar ways. It's clear that their livestock's lifespan was determined entirely by their usefulness which still holds true today in the industry (actually I don't study the factory farming industry much as it's too heartbreaking for me to have too close a look at, but in the broadest strokes in which I can bear to consider it--I see these parallels.)

This also reminded me of (I think it was Desdemona's) thread in the Parlor about medieval animal trials that sort of implied a lesser remove from livestock by farmers that we see today and their *caretakers were more attuned to the animal's...cognizance (I think cognizance is the right word for what I'm getting at--but if it's not, you know what I mean...something like cognizance). They were closer to the animals in their taking care of them, had a greater connection to their psyche, perhaps a greater attunement to their sentinence (sp?) is what I mean than what you would see today by clock-punchers in a factory who have a lesser committment to their welfare than a medieval farmer would.

*Actually, this point is borne out by the idea that the poems were written to begin with. The poet sees something in the animal beyond the "workhorse" aspect, has sympathy for them, says "look at what's happening here. This is their life," and makes them a subject of their poetry which demands a deeper look than just a passing thought about a creature which is more easily dismissed.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 6:52 pm 
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Also, I should add how much I would appreciate hearing this lecture as a listener! I think sometimes in my little vegan bubble I sort of forget that not everyone thinks the way some vegans do, in being sensitive to the plight of animals and not just thinking of them as unfeeling, unthinking, emotionless objects from which we derive food/nourishment (like one of my relatives recently said something about a cow being "too dumb" to run...and I was like...what?! That's what you think? You don't consider that their physique doesn't really encourage pantheresque speed?! And I mean...how is any creature's body habitus a qualification for intelligence in this line of thinking--in any line of thinking? But I digress!)

I really appreciate presentation and think it will be refreshing to any listener who hasn't thought of things in quite this way before. Enlightenment, insight, different ways of thinking: This is why I learn, so I don't get stuck in my own ignorant points of view and I think what you present here delivers all that in clear, compelling and moving terms. <3

Lastly, I do not think your gin-and-tonic fueled paragraph was too much or overwrought or the like. I think it's well written and ties everything together nicely.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Fri May 03, 2013 8:45 pm 
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Thanks so much (fellow Canadian) seitanicverses, and you've absolutely put your finger on what I'm trying to get at with this. I'm still finishing up the paper, but the point I want to try to make about the poems is just what you say. The dudes who were writing the poems were major monastic guys who spent most of their lives in monasteries that raised livestock for dairy and meat (as a means of income for the establishment). Even though they weren't the people who were raising, milking, and slaughtering the animals (although lay brothers were), there was a minimal distance between them and them. I'm trying to distinguish that from the Christian symbolism of cattle: the ox/calf was a symbol of St Luke the Evangelist because he supposedly emphasized the sacrificial (cuz cows and calves were even then assumed to be sacrificing themselves for human religious reasons) and sacerdotal aspects of Christ (because pre-Christian animal sacrifices were retrofitted to be precursors of the passion of Christ and his sacrifice for mankind's redemption). So the reason I brought the modern happycow stuff in there was to distinguish distance (I'm the human, you're the animal, you symbolize something and that's also the economic system that allows me to use you) from closeness (I see the system at work, and it benefits me, but I also see the pain and exploitation). One final irony: the texts I'm reading (and most other medieval texts) are written on vellum = calf-skin (sometimes fetal). One of the major medieval manuscripts (like the Lindisfarne Gospels) involved the death of several hundred calves. That in turn meant that there was more milk/cream/cheese (valuable/saleable), which brings me to a level of irony I can barely even stand!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 6:39 am 
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the only thing i could think of is that for us as vegans, we can look at this and immediately understand the notion of sacrifice involved in milk and cheese, say. but i think the average non-vegan isn't cognizant of even the basics of dairy production [how often have you heard a "no, really?" when you say that cows have to be pregnant to lactate?] and that kind of info may need to be clarified for those in your audience who don't know, though i'm sure you've already worked it in there somewhere.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 11:24 am 
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No help to offer, but I just wanted to say that you just blew my mind, and I'm grateful.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 1:06 pm 
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Thanks ndpittman. The damn thing is well out of control now, and I'm trying to figure out how I can possibly squeeze it into 20 minutes, but it's part of a book called something like Animal Voices in Anglo-Saxon England, and I'll keep you posted!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Sat May 04, 2013 6:19 pm 
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voiceofraisin wrote:
One final irony: the texts I'm reading (and most other medieval texts) are written on vellum = calf-skin (sometimes fetal). One of the major medieval manuscripts (like the Lindisfarne Gospels) involved the death of several hundred calves. That in turn meant that there was more milk/cream/cheese (valuable/saleable), which brings me to a level of irony I can barely even stand!

It's like serving burgers and steaks at a fundraiser for Be Kind to Animals Week! Which happens offhandedly and ironically ALL THE TIME, I'm sure.

VoR, the material looks great so far and twenty minutes is not long for a presentation. You'll do it and it'll be awesome! I like the book idea, too. It's definitely a topic to be explored at book length. Please keep us posted with everything. <3

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 4:28 am 
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Update: I'll be giving this paper via Skype because I managed to fall and break one ankle and sprain the other and can't travel. Grr! Glad I'll be able to Skype it anyway...

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:05 am 
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Oh no!! Holy crepe, hope you're not in too much pain. Heal up quick... on the bright side, you can give the presentation with no pants?

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:22 am 
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torque wrote:
Oh no!! Holy crepe, hope you're not in too much pain. Heal up quick... on the bright side, you can give the presentation with no pants?
This is an excellent point, and an unexpected upside to an otherwise deplorable situation.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 7:43 am 
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Exactly. Knowing that my audience won't know whether I'm wearing pants or not will bring me a rare pleasure.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 8:44 am 
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Oh, bummer! Good luck with your ankles and the skyping.


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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 9:11 am 
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Oh man! I hope you heal quickly.

I don't have too much to add but I do think the connection and contrast to modern day cow portrayals is important to making your point hit home for people. I think otherwise it becomes too easy for people to say "oh, it was just how awful things were then, they are certainly better now! Look how far we've come; our cows don't suffer like that!" Which seems to bea surprisingly common idea...I mean, how often do you hear about people saying they only eat humanely killed animal products?

Really cool topic, though.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Tue May 07, 2013 9:51 am 
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Such a bummer about the ankles! Ack! But a no pants presentation is an acceptable comfort in this time of peril. Also, I think that what you're writing is super rad. Rock on.

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 12:25 pm 
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Just about to Skype my paper. Wicked nervous!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 12:37 pm 
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Good luck!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 12:45 pm 
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Good luck!!

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 Post subject: Re: Help me with my homework please
PostPosted: Thu May 09, 2013 2:02 pm 
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Thanks you guys. It went pretty well - no video, but the audio worked OK and I got a couple of questions. I think it's probably going to up on a blog - I'll post the link if it does.

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