If you’ve ever driven on Interstate 5 North from Los Angeles towards San Francisco you surely passed something you could neither miss with your eyes nor your nose. As you approach the town of Coalinga you will be hard pressed to miss the thousands of cattle right off the freeway. Cows and cows, as far as the eye can see. I always thought this sight deserved a photograph (being the avid photographer that I am) and while I’ve stopped on the side of the highway to take photos before, I always meant to that that ‘exit’ to take a closer look but never did. I either missed it, or forgot about it, or didn’t have the camera…
This past year I had to take this drive 7 times either taking my son to Stanford or to Camp, and just this past week, on January 19th, as I was driving up again, Nicky asked me to get him the pillow, put his seat down and get him something to drink. In the past I would just stop on the side of the highway, but on the last trip two weeks prior, when I did just that, a Highway Patrolman warned me to take the ‘exit’ next time to do whatever I needed to do because of how dangerous it is to do so. Hence… I told Nicky I would take the next exit. Imagine my surprise when, as I got over the hump, I see the sea of cattle. Oh goody, I have the camera with me! I stopped to get Nicky situated but that was not a good spot to take photos. There was all kinds of barb-wire that obstructed the view so I decided to drive around the ranch to see if I could find a better area. As I was driving up the road there seemed to be a very welcoming driveway to the ranch so I decided to go in… only to realize that was not a good idea. This was not a public place, let’s just say that. The sign said ‘Harris Ranch’ and as I was trying to make a u-turn a security officer prevented me from doing so and as he approached me he wrote down my licence plate number. Really? What’s going on here? As he approached my car I told him that Nicky, sitting next to me covered in bandages as usual, wanted to see the cows a little closer on our way to the hospital. He seemed gracious enough, told us these were not cows but ‘steers’ (A cow is a female ‘bovine’. A steer is a neutered male.). He was pleasant enough and let us go.
Driving out of the driveway I noticed a small opening between the main entrance and the beginning of the barbed wire so I figured I could stop for a few minutes, take a couple of photos and get back on the highway. I was literally stopped for what could not have been more than 2 minutes when I hear a knock on my window. It was another security officer, but this one was far from pleasant. As a matter of fact he started harping so loudly and continuously that for the next couple of minutes I was unable to get in a word wedge-wise and kept talking even after he left! I don’t think I can remember anytime in recent history when someone was so rude and threatened me like this, and for what? Taking a couple of pictures of their precious steers? What?
Even though the sign ‘no stopping at anytime’ was only in front of me and not behind me (meaning I was not in the ‘no stopping’ zone), he told me that he could give me a steep fine, yapped about terrorists and Animal Rights groups, yada yada yada, on and on and on. I was actually done taking photos already (here is one BTW), put my camera away and off we went. Good Lord!!
When we got to the Hotel later that evening I called my husband to let him know we were safe and I told him about the incident. He reminded me of the movie Food Inc and how this was probably one of those ‘feed lots’ we were shown in the movie, and how these people were probably paranoid and possibly embarrassed at what they do so perhaps in their mind it was perfectly okay to harass a mom with an obvious sick child in her car immediately coming to conclusions at the reason why I was taking pictures.
I will say, I am not a huge animal activist and the reason I was taking photos that day was because of the sheer amount of cattle on this land (anywhere between 100,000 to 250,000 depending on the source) and for no other reason, but if the movie Food Inc taught me anything is how unsafe this kind of meat is. Greg and I haven’t eaten any beef that isn’t organic/grass fed since we saw it a few years ago and I cannot even remember the last time I had a hamburger from a fast food establishment. Here’s a clip from Food Inc that explains it well:
Interestingly enough, this past trip I actually stopped to take photos of other cattle, free to roam, so I know these were ‘happy cows’, ha ha.
I found other blogs of people that were harassed by Harris Ranch security, or simply had something to say about this place and here’s the link to their stories:
A Tail of Harris Ranch, Harris Ranch Feedlot, Meet your Food, Meet your Meat, Feedlot vs. Free Range (my favorite one).
OK, so, apparently the Ranch had been under attack the week prior of me stopping from Animal activists, and that’s fine and I understand the heightened security and paranoia, but that is no excuse to harrass everyone that stops for crying out loud, taking down licence plate numbers etc. Did I REALLY look like a terrorist?
I have just one more thing to say, and I would have said this to the officer had he given me a chance to speak. If your ‘Ranch’ is this paranoid and this sensitive about publicity to the extent of harassing the general public about it, how about moving such ranch AWAY from one of the busiest Interstates in this country, where thousands of people drive by every single day? I would have never known this place existed if it would not be adjacent to the freeway, and I most certainly would not have gone looking for it.
Food for thought.