A diet is defined as follows: –
1. the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. “a vegetarian diet”
2. a special course of food to which a person restricts themselves, either to lose weight or for medical reasons. “I’m going on a diet”
Vegetarianism is one of many types of diet; its definition by The Vegetarian Society reads:
Someone who lives on a diet of grains, pulses, nuts, seeds, vegetables and fruits with, or without, the use of dairy products and eggs. A vegetarian does not eat any meat, poultry, game, fish, shellfish or by-products of slaughter.
I know many people who adopted this way of eating because they did not wish to contribute to the suffering of nonhuman animals. In general these are honest, decent, animal-loving, ethical people who genuinely believed that this course would lighten their footprint upon our planet. And most of them now deeply regret their decision. Let’s consider why this is.
First of all, it is easy to associate ‘meat’ with suffering. It is relatively easy to imagine that obtaining sliced off pieces of veined and muscled flesh, dismembered limbs, heads and feet, tails, ears, tongues, kidneys, livers, bones, stomach linings, hearts, lungs, intestines, glands such as the thymus and pancreas etc. was done only through the killing of their rightful owners. I am sure that it is because people make the connection that these body parts, belonging as they do to sentient beings, are fundamentally the same as our own, which motivates them to make the ethical decision to reject participating in their consumption.
What about dairy ‘products’, eggs etc.?
Continuing to examine substances that people consume, it is perhaps stating the obvious that dairy products and eggs are NOT vegetables (i.e. plants), seeing as they are derived from the bodies of animals. Nevertheless, I know that very many people rationalise continued consumption of these by telling themselves that as milk (which forms the basis of all dairy products such as cheese, butter, yoghurt, cream etc.) and eggs do not require the death of the creature that produced them, then with a bit of care about sourcing, then the consumption of these items is doing no harm.
Where’s the flaw?
I know for a fact that this line of thinking is true because I thought this myself at one time. So is there a flaw in that reasoning, and if so, where? To explain this, we must do two things. Firstly, we must review our knowledge of basic biology, and secondly we must examine our childhoods.
Biology for beginners
I am certainly no expert but all of us know the rudiments of biology. I am of the species homo sapiens, a mammal, as well as being a mother of two adult sons. As a staunch supporter of breastfeeding (‘breast’ being the word for what is technically the mammary gland in a human), before they were born I made it my mission to become knowledgeable about how perfect a mother’s milk is for her babies, providing nutrition, protection from disease and a range of species-specific benefits.
I fed both my children, and my ability to do this was triggered by my pregnancy and the subsequent births. Human milk differs from the milk of other species depending on a variety of species related factors such as size, growth rate, environment etc. How unsurpassed nature is in tailoring the perfect substance for a mammalian mother of any species to provide for her children!
See links for information:
Ok so what’s my point? My point is that to be able to lactate, I had to first become pregnant and then give birth and this is common to all mammals. Lactation continued until each infant was weaned and then it stopped. Lactation is controlled by a combination of maternal hormones and the demand of the feeding (nursing) infant. I know very well that on any occasion when my feeding routine was disrupted, I experienced discomfort because my body was accustomed to providing the required quantity of milk that it knew my baby would need. Nature is truly wonderful, providing a demand-led system. I had to do it this way, and in this I was absolutely no different to a mother cow, a mother goat, a mother sheep or any other mammalian mother.
A look back to childhood
So having looked briefly at the biology, let’s consider our childhoods. When I was a child, I was given cows’ milk to drink frequently. I was told I needed it to be healthy. I was told it would give me strong bones. I was also told that cows were ‘meant’ to provide milk and that they would suffer terrible pain (or even burst (!)) if humans didn’t milk them. I was also told that if I was a bad girl, Santa Claus (who visited every house in the entire world in a single night) would not bring me any presents, and that when one of my baby teeth came out I should put it under my pillow for the Tooth Fairy who would leave me a coin. There were other nursery myths as I recall, one about a grumpy face staying like that if the wind changed, and several others. On reflection these were all parental tools employed to induce compliance with approved behaviour while minimising confrontation and engaging our natural sense of wonder. I employed some of the ploys myself as a parent.
That’s all probably similar to what you were told. The ‘milk’ story is the standard one based, then and now, not on facts from health or medical authorities but rather on propaganda by dairy marketing bodies who rely on continued consumption for revenue and profit.
Being a child and loving all the animals I heard about in my story books, I naturally did not want to be the cause of pain to mummy cows or goats or sheep, so I dutifully drank the milk, put my teeth under my pillow and tried to please my parents so they would tell Santa I’d been good. I look back and wonder how on earth it could possibly have happened that I sorted out Santa, the Tooth Fairy and the rest in my mind, but never challenged my consumption of dairy. The ‘exploding cows’ idea beggars belief but when we are small we mostly have complete trust in the adults who raise us, their word is not questioned. Once I grew up, I rejected ‘meat’ consumption but make no mistake – I loved milk, butter and yoghurt and I absolutely adored the taste of cheese. And the years rolled by.
Fast forward 55 years when Facebook arrived in my life with its intoxicating mix of rubbish and fascination.
And one day, incredulously, heartbreakingly, horrifyingly the penny dropped for me. The only way that adult humans can possibly obtain milk is by forcibly impregnating females of other species and then promptly removing their children so humans can take the milk instead. Forcibly? Yes. Cows do not choose to become pregnant and in fact the vast majority are forcibly restrained and have semen (that has been collected using an artificial vagina or by electro-stimulation from bulls), injected into their bodies by humans by the expedient of an arm in their rectum to guide the insemination device being simultaneously inserted into their vagina. Please bear with me, I am truly attempting to use the least emotive and the most factual terminology possible. http://www.ehow.com/about_5064325_artificial-insemination-cattle.html.
To state the facts is, however, a necessary part of reaching an understanding of just exactly how unnatural and brutal is the bizarre human concept of consuming the lactation fluid from other beings long after they themselves have been weaned. Not only that, but we continue into adulthood seldom questioning the ingrained nursery myth that what we are doing is ‘natural’ and ‘harmless’ – if we consider it at all.
These mothers of different species are essentially the same as we are in every morally relevant way. They are sentient. They are self aware and they have needs, desires and preferences. They have the same body parts that function in the same way as any human mother; they experience the same process of conception and pregnancy. (In fact in the case of cows, the gestation period is even very similar – http://graphs.net/gestational-duration-by-species.html) If you happen to be a mother, you will no doubt remember this as a highly significant time in your life.
We are not the only mothers to go through labour and give birth. Mothers of all sentient species are renowned for the strong devotion and fierce protectiveness they exhibit towards their infants, bonding with them, cleaning and comforting them, teaching them and feeding them nature’s perfectly tailored nutrition from their mammary glands.
And as far as dairy ‘products’ are concerned, this is the flaw in our reasoning that so many of us have missed. By taking the milk, we are causing harm. In fact we are doing to other mothers the worst thing any mother could ever imagine; something so horrifying that it brings tears to our eyes and induces panic for us to even contemplate it.
In the case of nonhuman mothers, we cannot allow them to nurture their infants – after all, the only reason they have been forcibly impregnated in the first place was to make them lactate so we could have milk for drinking, for cheese and butter, yogurt and ice cream. The infants have served their purpose and are now superfluous. So what happens?
Calves – the truth
It varies. All are removed from their frantic, anguished mothers; most at birth, distraught, still wet with amniotic fluid and with umbilical cords dangling from their trembling bellies, some are removed shortly after. Some wind up in veal crates, chained and held virtually immobile so their muscles do not develop and ‘toughen the meat’, others are raised in slightly less confined circumstances. In whatever way they are reared however, the males will die before the age of 35 weeks. Females may be fed synthetic ‘milk replacer’ and may be kept until old enough at 13 months to be ‘calved’ whereupon they will become dairy cows like their mothers. http://www.aphis.usda.gov/animal_health/nahms/dairy/downloads/bamn/BAMN08_GuideMilkRepl.pdf
Dairy cows are impregnated approximately annually, are milked throughout their pregnancy and to their immense distress have their babies taken from them each time. This happens approximately 4 – 6 times before their bodies are exhausted and depleted, their spirits defeated and broken. Then they face the horrors of the slaughterhouse – stunned if fortunate but frequently not – as they are suspended by one leg with throats sliced open to bleed to death. Their natural lifespan is 20 – 25 years.
So if not vegetarian, what should we do?
All this information is easily verified in this age of Google. It illustrates, I hope, just why I believe that dairy is every bit as barbaric, if not more so, than the consumption of body parts. This is information that those who have become vegetarian for ethical reasons are frequently unaware of, partly because of misunderstandings about the nature of veganism which is commonly misrepresented by the uninformed as an extreme form of diet.
This is the reason why almost every former vegetarian that I know deeply regrets their time as a vegetarian. The majority – including myself – would give anything to have been provided with this information long ago so that they could have rejected their part in humanity’s thoughtless violence and become vegan so much sooner.
Veganism is anything but extreme. It is not complicated. It has only one main aim, and that is to live nonviolently and with respect, causing as little harm to other sentient beings as possible, given the fact that humans have no need for anything at all that is derived from the body of another creature. If we truly care, then veganism is what we’re looking for. Find out about it here http://vegankit.com/
Further episodes of this blog will deal with eggs and other aspects of animal use.