This is not meant to be some secular, vegan sermon from the mount. I get little pleasure in alienating myself from well-intentioned, goodhearted individuals, but some stuff just needs to be said.
I’d been vegetarian for years before I went vegan. I was never any good at watching those PETA videos, or reading in detail all the horrors endured by farmed animals at the merciless hands of fellow human beings. I thought no further than that consuming the flesh of a murdered animal was wrong.
Prior to my veganism, I was participating in what most call the ‘alternative’ (read: elite) food economy, happily paying the premiums associated with organic milk, free run eggs, etc. As far as I understood, so long as the animal products that I consumed were produced in this alternative way, there was no real moral dilemma. While I now fight feelings of guilt over believing this for so long, I also believe this misperception to be the intention of the animal agriculture industry whose hegemonic influence controls and shapes so much of the dialogue and discourse on food systems.
As bought into and morally comfortable as I was with supporting alternative animal agriculture, there were many critical truths hidden from me, and five in particular I want to share today. I say ‘hidden’ because they were in the truest sense of the word. I was one of those individuals who even visited the farms where my food came from, and I assure you if any of the following critical truths had been made even a smidgen clear to me, I’d have become vegan a lot sooner. It is my sincerest intention that this piece may potentially save you the time and heartache of finding out why vegetarianism, though a great start, isn’t enough.
Critical truth #1: The male calves
I never once as a vegetarian thought about what happened to all the calves born to pregnant cows. I never thought about this because I’d never cognitively processed that cows need to be kept impregnated in order to produce milk (and don’t feel foolish if you didn’t either!). While I was living in the fantasy world of no-meat = no-cruelty, I had no idea that the male calves born to pregnant dairy cows end up as the veal on the plate of some person whose face I want to kick in. I’ll never forget the moment I learned this– I felt duped, betrayed by all the promises made by the dairy companies I’d supported about welfare being the highest priority. If intentionally impregnating female animals and slaughtering their baby animals can be described as taking animal suffering seriously, then by that same standard John Wayne Gacy would have been a great babysitter. And the same goes for all dairy. When we consume a cow, sheep or goat’s milk, we are actively participating in the deaths of these baby animals.
Critical truth #2: The male chicks
Because farmed animals are seen as commodities (no different than say, car parts), when particular animals are seen as purposeless, they are discarded in ways that a psychologist would say must reflect some committed hatred for these little beings. Male chicks who are born onto farms serve no economic ‘function’ and are therefore disposed of in heinous ways. As though spawned from the imagination of some sociopath on steroids, chicks are thrown into grinders, manure pits, etc. When we consume eggs (regardless of whether the carton says ‘free-range’, ‘free-run’, ‘organic’) we are actively participating in this barbarism.
Critical truth #3: The ‘spent’ dairy cows
In my world, when someone retires there is generally a store-bought cake served on party napkins, greeting cards rife with bland jokes about what retirement life will entail, and one of the higher ups gives you a fancy watch. What does a dairy cow get after a life of service (a job she never applied for)? She gets ground into hamburger, that’s what. Despite having life expectancies of 20 years or more, most dairy cows are sent to slaughter as soon as their production decreases (at about 3 or 4 years of age). So by supporting dairy, we are participating in and supporting the meat industry, as it is ‘spent’ dairy cows who end up as the ‘lower quality’ meat in your grocery store.
Critical truth #4: Dairy is a feminist issue
Despite calling myself a feminist since I was a kid (which cost me big time on the playground), and despite having a rich understanding of feminist theory, it had somehow escaped my worldview that the mass, institutionalized control of female farmed animals is the entire basis of the dairy industry (and the meat industry too for that matter). The same dominionistic, patriarchal energy that has siloed men and women (‘us’ versus ‘them’), is responsible for the mammoth sized schism between humans and non-humans. Female cows have their babies stolen from them (sometimes at only a few hours old) and killed for food. Female pigs are confined and constrained in gestation and farrowing crates, and all female farmed animals have their reproductive systems controlled by a profit-thirsty, industrial system designed and perpetuated by a worldview that sees them as mere units, commodities, or capital (instead of as thinking, feeling, individuals). I now understand dairy to be the feminist issue.
Critical truth #5: Sneaky buggers
One thing I learned through my graduate work, is that so long as citizens shift their dollars to alternatively produced animal products (i.e.: ones with stated ‘welfare standards’; ‘organic’; ’antibiotic free’, etc.) animal-use industries will find a way to co-opt the jargon, the packaging, the colour schemes and the narratives that come with them. Take for example the carton that paints a picture of quaint rurality that communicates several things: a) Old MacDonald lives here b) the cows are free to roam the pasture and appear healthy/happy c) this is an environmentally sustainable, ‘natural’ product. While this sort of packaging may have once been reserved for the organic, alternative (elite) supply markets– today’s eater (hopefully due to their empathetic nature) expects more, and industry is cleverly responding. So long as we settle or concede that the consumption of animals (in any way) is acceptable, we also create massive, lucrative opportunities for industry (with their gargantuan budgets) to convince people that their products pass some arbitrary ‘checklist’ for animal welfare, environment sustainability, etc.
I hope, dear vegetarians, that you’ll consider confronting the hypocrisy of abstaining from flesh while consuming dairy and eggs (which support and result in the same suffering and death one seeks to avoid as a vegetarian). May all the beautiful, empathetic reasons you decided to become vegetarian be the same reasons you decide to go vegan!
PS: I have been working on a straightforward visual representation of some of the major issues associated with consuming dairy. It can be found here, please share it far and wide!