California restricts billboards along rural freeways, but there's a spot on Interstate 5 near Coalinga that's a better advertisement for vegetarianism than any Madison Avenue genius could ever devise. It is Harris Ranch, an 800-acre feedlot and meat-processing operation whose smell assaults passersby long before the panorama of thousands of cattle packed atop layers of their own manure appears. Some critics have dubbed the place "Cowschwitz."
Author Michael Pollan, whose 2006 bestseller, "The Omnivore's Dilemma," holds a high place amid a growing body of popular literature and scientific research critical of industrial agriculture, told an interviewer last year that the sight of Harris Ranch was one of the things that caused him to change the way he ate. This week, Harris Ranch Beef Co. Chairman David E. Wood got his revenge. After Pollan was booked to give a lecture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Wood expressed outrage in a letter to university President Warren Baker and threatened to rethink his "continued financial support of the university." The end result: Instead of a solo lecture, Pollan was asked to appear in a panel discussion Thursday along with professor Gary Smith of Colorado State University, who is well liked by cattlemen's groups, and Myra Goodman, an organic farmer.