On a recent trip to the US, I caught up with some old friends. As it often does, veganism came up in conversation with a number of them, as did The Great British Bake Off. Odd combination, but I cannot blame them. We just do not make the connection between the death and suffering involved in the dairy and egg industry like we do with the meat industry. Dairy and egg consumption are seen as perfectly victimless, harmless and good.
When I explained that making the connection between the suffering and death of dairy and egg production is what made me go vegan, they looked at me somewhat puzzled. After I explained, one friend in particular, said to me, “write about this.” So I am, Cari, and thank you.
I explained that like us, and all other mammals, cows must give birth to lactate. Our dairy industry forcibly impregnates cows (for the most part, some small farms let the bulls do the natural thing, which also can result in terrible injuries for the cows).
When their babies are born, three things happen: 1) their babies are either taken away immediately or within a few short hours (that is on the “happy” farms); 2) male babies are either killed immediately or get to live a bit, only to become veal on someone’s plate; 3) female babies follow their mothers into servitude.
When their babies are taken away, cows mourn. They emit long, lowing sounds for days and some attempt to escape to search for their baby. It is especially hard on first-time mothers. This is common knowledge to anyone who lives near a dairy farm. In fact, friends were house hunting in rural Lincolnshire. They found a lovely old home they liked. The estate agent told them all about the area and mentioned that the only thing they would need to get used to is hearing the cows mourn during calving season. It was something that happened every year. People had just gotten used to it. No, they did not buy the house.
Whilst lactating, machines milk cows. Among other conditions, they suffer mastitis, a painful inflammation of the udder, and from which women can also suffer. Pus from this condition, and others, gets into the milk that is in our glasses and in our cheese. Dairy cows are given all kinds of antibiotics and other drugs to stave off infections and diseases. And we then drink this milk or eat that cheese. It is astonishing that we accept this, while lactating women are advised to very seriously limit ingesting chemicals and even all types of foods lest they harm their human babies.
Dairy cows live approximately five years. The natural lifespan of a cow is between 10 and 20 years.
How about chickens? We all already know about their living conditions. Do not be fooled by the cage-free nonsense. Sure, those chickens may not be in a cage, but the massive hangars in which they do live are enormous, crowded, filthy and dark cages. But I want to concentrate on egg production.
All hens communicate with their eggs. And once beyond the embryonic stage, chicks communicate with their mothers from inside the egg. Yes. Really. A bond is formed even before hatching, much like a human baby in utero can hear her parents.
Once hatched, baby chicks are sexed. If female, they are handed over to join their mothers in servitude. If male, they are merely a “by-product,” so they are killed either by being ground up alive, gassed in a chamber or scooped up and suffocated in plastic bin liners.
When egg-laying hens are spent, they too are slaughtered at a very young age.
This is all quite gruesome and there is no getting around it. It happens on large and small farms and on cuddly, dreamy, happy, organic farms, or massive industrial farms. We do not need to drink milk, eat cheese or eggs to be happy and healthy or to have delicious meals. But, because we like how they taste, we exploit the most fundamental of relationships, the very first relationship each of us has, the relationship that generally all humans hold to be most sacred above all others: mother and child.
I know that when my friends mention The Great British Bake Off they mean well. They are attempting to connect to my living in London via a wildly popular Brit telly export. However, I cannot divorce what I know to be unrelenting exploitation, suffering and death from having fun with those products for tasty cakes and entertainment. That is grotesque and wrong. It cannot be otherwise.
Thanks to Ben MacEllen for opening my eyes to the relationship exploitation notion.