One of the most common questions I get, as a vegan, is this: What’s wrong with drinking milk, as long as the milk comes from cows that are raised humanely? What if they live on a nice family-owned farm, and are allowed to roam in a grassy green open pasture? If they live relatively happy and free lives, why is it so horrible to drink milk?
The main issue, in my opinion, is that we rarely reflect on where our milk comes from, and how it is obtained.
So for starters, let’s think about this in terms of humans. The first question we should consider is this: just who has the ability to make milk? Women. So, likewise, only female cows can make milk. You’d be surprised how many of my friends have been shocked to hear this.
Now, when exactly can they make milk? Are all female animals perpetually making milk? Obviously the answer is “no.” Female humans start lactating during the late stages of pregnancy, and produce milk shortly after giving birth. So yes, that’s right, cows have to give birth in order to make milk.
Here’s where the second problem comes in: very few people actually know what it is we do to cows in order to get the milk we drink.
The pregnancy usually results from forceful artificial insemination, which can also be known as rape—and hopefully the immorality of this act requires no explanation.
Here is the third problem, which we constantly, willfully ignore: the female cow cannot refuse. She is physically unable to articulate her consent to participate in this process. A popular mantra for many feminists is “my body, my choice.” So why do only humans have this luxury? Why not be consistent with this ideology, rather than simply applying it when it is convenient to your purpose?
Even if a bull (a male cow) is available, and the pregnancy occurs naturally, we must still ask, beyond the matter of the pregnancy itself, what will happen to the calf?
Will it be sold or torn away from its mother, so that her milk may be obtained unimpeded by her child trying to breastfeed? If the baby is sold, we know what its fate will likely be, and it certainly isn’t a humane one. Often times, male calves are used for veal, and female cows are often sent to separate farms where they are raised until they are old enough to become dairy cows themselves.
Or, will the baby calf be kept, and allowed to stay with its mother? This is almost never the case with large, industrialized dairy “farms,” but rather, we see this possibility with smaller family-owned farms. Now, indeed, a mother cow’s milk is meant for baby cows. But a baby cow can drink its mother’s milk for up to a year. Will the farmer be willing to wait a whole year to milk the mother for his own use and profit? Even in this case, milking the mother after her calf no longer needs her milk will force her body to keep producing milk—again, without her consent. And when her ability to produce milk is exhausted by greedy hands, then what? In the world of factory farming, she will be impregnated again.
Finally, in the worst case scenario, when a factory farmed dairy cow is considered “spent,” she will likely be slaughtered.
The final and most problem is that we don’t really see cows as living beings that feel pain and fear just like us.
Imagine the pain a mother would experience after giving birth, and having her child torn away from her. Now imagine the fear that child would experience.
To summarize: in the world of factory farming, a female cow is usually raped through forced artificial insemination, and then forced to give birth only to have her calf immediately torn away from her, and subsequently milked so that the company that “owns” her body can turn a profit from her misery, and so that you can have an ice-cream cone just because you like the taste of the frozen breast milk that was supposed to be for a baby cow.
Even in the best conditions, if the mother cow lives on a dairy farm, if she is impregnated naturally by a bull, if her child is not torn away from her after birth, and if she is not milked for human consumption until the calf has been weaned, we must consider this: someone would still be forcibly extracting milk that does not belong to us from a living being that cannot stand up for herself. Someone would still be profiting off the enslavement and exploitation of another living being,
And all of this is happening simply for the enjoyment of your taste buds, or simply because you may be too lazy to go vegan. If I had a nickel for every time someone said, “but CHEESE…” or “but ICE CREAM…”
You could drink soy milk or almond milk. You could have hazelnut milk or coconut milk ice-cream. You could have vegan cheeses (I eat vegan soy cheese pizza from Corrinado’s pizza at least once a week, and it’s heavenly). I promise, your taste buds will be just as happy with cruelty-free dairy alternatives–not to mention that your conscience will be even happier.
And physically, you’ll feel better than ever. If you’re worried about getting all the calcium you need to build strong bones, you can get calcium from countless plant-based sources: acai berries, alfalfa sprouts, almonds, apricots, avocados, beans, brazil nuts, broccoli, cabbage, carob, carrots, cauliflower, celery, chickpeas, coconut, cornmeal, dandelion greens, dulse, figs, filberts, grains, leafy green vegetables, hazelnuts, hemp, hijiki sea vegetable, kelp, lemon, lentils, lettuce, lucuma powder, maca powder, mango, mesquite powder, millet, miso, nuts, oats, onions, oranges, prunes, raisins, seaweed, sesame seeds, soy, spirulina, sprouts, sunflower seeds, watercress, wheatgrass, yams…
There are plenty of options. We are the only species on the planet to drink breast milk after infancy. You’re an adult. You don’t need to breastfeed from another animal. Start weaning, it’s about time.