Editorial note — Cow Week is a tongue-in-cheek look at risk analysis and why we fear the things we fear. It is inspired by the Discovery Channel's Shark Week, the popularity of which is largely driven by the public's fascination with and fear of sharks. Turns out, cows kill more people every year than sharks do. Each day, I will post about a cow-related death, and add to it some information about the bigger picture.
In 2009 and again in 2011, Welsh cattle joined forces to surround and kill women who were out walking their dogs on the outskirts of Cardiff. Apparently, cows really do not like it when you bring a dog around them. So, FYI on that. This story is from a survivor of the 2009 attack:
"I was slightly ahead when I saw the cows, they looked up and seemed curious and started to move towards us both," she said.
"They were coming in a semi-circular formation so I was heading towards the end so I could get away from them."
The next time she looked around Ms Hinchey appeared to be surrounded by the cows, she said.
One of things that made me post this particular story was the disconnect between the idealized image of a field full of docile cattle, happily grazing on grass … and the truly creepy and threatening image presented in the quote above. I mean, it's like something from a Stephen King novel. Of course, I also don't have a lot of experience with cows in my personal, daily life. So my idealized image isn't based so much on what I think cows are actually like, but what I want them to be like. That's what really makes this image creepy for me. The cows are behaving ways that I don't imagine cows should behave.
People who spend their careers thinking critically about risk say disconnects like this can play a role in determining what we fear. Craig Cormick is the manager of public awareness and community engagement for the Australian Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research. Part of his job is understanding what technologies the public finds really risky and why. Last year, he spoke at the University of Michigan's Risk Science Center. The discussion touched on the way people in Western countries often assign more risk to food issues—and obsess about the possible risks of food more—than they do with other areas of their lives.
… we've never lived at a time and society when people are so far divorced from agricultural production, most people never get to see a farm, they have no idea how livestock is produced, no idea how food is produced and have a perception that it should all be natural, and it should be great and that would – ideally that would be marvelous but reality is that's not how our food is produced. large agricultural production is the only way to feed the numbers of people we have and so there's a romantic idealized view of what is good natural food as opposed to food that's not and so when people perceive that you are tinkering with the food yes they have outrage and they have rage about this and when you have rage and fear together it's a very-very dominant cocktail of emotions it's very hard to turn around, very hard to turn around.
Read more about the two cow-related deaths near Cardiff.
Read a transcript of Craig Cormick's discussion
Watch the webcast of the discussion
READ ALL OF COW WEEK
• Cow Kills Irish Pensioner
• Bull Kills Man, Follows Him Until Certain He Is Dead
• Angry cows vs. angry mothers
Image: Hello u cutie Flickr Cows with – ATTITUDE, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from tir_na_nog's photostream