While driving on vacation on Interstate 5 in California, my wife, Sabrina, and I decided to stop and shoot some photos of cows. Both native Californians, we had viewed the Harris Ranch many times while traveling this particular stretch of highway (usually smelling it miles before actually seeing it).
We came over a hill at the off-ramp, and I was struck by the sheer numbers of cattle there. It's hard to imagine what 250,000 cows shoulder to shoulder looks like -- it's cattle as far as you can see, off into the horizon.
The other thing I was struck by was the sound -- not sounds of moo-ing or other cattle sounds I've heard many times before -- but coughing, sounding like human coughs. Harris Ranch is a sea of miserable cattle scrambling around on manure piles the size of a house, and coughing noises emanating in stereo from all directions .
No sooner had I stepped out of our mini-van to snap a shot then a black security car pulled up behind us, driven by an enormous man, holding a walkie talkie and clipboard. I realized he was writing down my license plate number -- VEGVAN -- and probably our license plate frame, which reads VEGSOURCE.COM - "Health without the Hype" (we weren't exactly traveling incognito).
Though I waved to the guard, and he waved back, he didn't get out of his car to come talk to me. I took a few steps toward the penned cattle on the other side of two fences, when a couple dozen of them bolted away frantically, obviously terrified of a person approaching, even from afar.
After taking a few pictures, we got onto the freeway, where the guard continued following us for a while.
Two days later, I got a telephone call at my home from Special Detective Asselin of the Fresno County Sheriff's office.
Detective Asselin told me Harris Ranch had reported me for "suspicious activity," and he said that on viewing my website, he noticed I was somehow associated with an organization called Earthsave. After questioning me about Vegsource, Earthsave and why I was taking photographs of what must be the single largest taxpayer in the county of Fresno (i.e. someone the Fresno County Sheriff's office obviously feels it must keep happy), I guess Detective Asselin was satisfied that I wasn't planning to try to liberate any animals or blow something up.
It appears that the cattle business is one American industry with enough clout to get the police to interrogate journalists who stand on public roads, to grill them about the nature of any story the journalist might be considering writing about that cattle business. I felt as I have sometimes in foreign countries, where the police work for monied interests and powerful people, to whom the police are available to intimidate the wealthy company's critics.