Dairy: thoughts on motherhood and cultural conditioning

Jo-Anne McArthur / Animal Equality A new mother warily watches the humans while defensively standing over her newborn.

When we are not vegan and we hear the word ‘dairy’, what do we think of?  We think of milk and cream, of yogurt and crème frais, of butter and cheeses, and of ice cream and chocolate. We think of ingredients and commodities, divorced from their source, vaguely but cosily wrapped in feel-good ideas like ‘harmless’ and ‘humane’, ‘free range’, ‘grass fed’ and ‘organic’.

We are encouraged to think of dairy as a harmless substance and millions of pounds, millions of dollars are spent by a heavily subsidised industry every year on the most skilled marketers money can buy, who use high-profile advertising to keep us thinking that way. Once we become sensitised to the prevalence of the advertising promoting and normalising dairy use, it is truly breathtaking to note how widespread it is.  The advertising is carefully crafted with cheerful cartoon animals alongside bucolic depictions suggesting a ‘natural’, ‘healthy’ commodity, never mentioning that it is unnecessary for health, seemingly unperturbed by any trace of conscience regarding the disturbing and ever-increasing weight of medical science that tells a completely different tale.

Motherhood corrupted and sold

The irony is that none of the substances in the first sentence that we associate with the idea of ‘dairy’, are what dairy actually IS, and simply understanding that one piece of information has made so many of us turn away from the very concept in revulsion. So what’s dairy?  In a word, ‘motherhood’.

Many of us are mothers ourselves, and most of those who aren’t, belong to a culture where the status of motherhood is valued, and mothers deeply respected. Which makes it almost unbelievable that ‘dairy’, this commodity that so many of us use with casual disregard for its source, is nothing other than motherhood, exploited, corrupted and sold for profit.

Dairy is the impregnation of female mammals followed by the removal of their infants so that the breast milk their bodies produce for these infants may be pumped out and sold for use by humans.

That is the fundamental principle of dairy. All the feel-good words in the world can’t and don’t change that fact, they can only cover it up or cloak it in apparent benevolence. We can set the practice in a factory farm, a ‘family’ farm, an organic, free range feel-good farm; it can take place in barns or in feedlots or rolling pastures. We can feed our victims grass or any substance that keeps them alive until we’re ready to send them to the slaughter house that will be their only escape, but the fundamental principle remains. That is what dairy IS.

When as consumers we pick up that carton of milk, butter or cheese, we have been taught from childhood to see only a faceless commodity. However, if we consciously look past the ‘product’ we might see in our mind’s eye, a mother and her newborn; two pairs of despairing eyes whose grief, terror and traumatic separation was the unseen and unavoidable cost of the pristine package in our hand.

Every single mother, every single newborn, is being condemned to death by the contents of our shopping trolleys. For so many of us, the remorse and revulsion we feel when we acknowledge that truth is more than sufficient to override any desire for taste. No taste will ever be worth the monstrous reality of the ‘dairy’ industry.

No matter how those with vested interests seek to justify their actions, it is anything but ‘natural’ and the truth goes against everything that most of us already believe in. Yet every one of us has, at one time, been keen to accept the ‘justifications’, no matter how contradictory they are, in order to make us feel comfortable with our own status as consumers generating demand for ‘products’ that we want to buy and use without feeling guilt.

The justification of vested interest

A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.

~ Thomas Paine

Those who make their living from harming animals for us to consume as a completely unnecessary ‘food’, even if they are aware of it, are not in any way motivated to acknowledge the sentience of our victims, the injustice of what we are paying them to do and the very real risks they pose to our health. Just as consumers have been raised to be oblivious to the moral implications of their choices, it seems clear that the majority of those who supply these consumer choices are similarly oblivious. Livelihoods depend on everyone remaining that way.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

~ Upton Sinclair

By those who perpetrate the interventions, there is a soothing ‘explanation’ for every single practice that is carried out. There is likewise a swiftness to dismiss and close down any probing, accusing the enquirers of being ‘out of touch’, ‘unrealistic’, ‘ignorant’ and so on, the forcefulness of the retaliation depending on the insistence of the enquirer.

The justifications are many and varied, and just like the arguments against veganism, it would really be impossible to list every one.  However it is not necessary for any one of us to know them all, just as it is not necessary or even desirable for anyone to provide us with details of what to think about any given subject. One of the greatest gifts that any of us can give to another, is to point out the mechanisms by which their views are being manipulated and then stand back and let their own thoughts unfold and untangle, freed from the restrictions placed on them by marketers, cultural conditioning and commercial interests.

Whilst the separation of mothers used for dairy and their infants (cows, goats, sheep and others) is a fact that is never broadcast by those who make their living by participating in the industries that meet consumer demand for substances predicated upon this process, there are a number of standard responses that I’ve seen wheeled out to quickly shut down any who seek to question the reasons for it. I’ve heard many of these in my sixty years, and to my shame as a former consumer, I not only used to find them reassuring , but they used to be effective in switching off my concern. Now that doesn’t work. Once we know something it becomes impossible to un-know it. From a variety of sources, I’ve heard and read things like:

Cows are terrible mothers /they don’t even notice they’ve had a baby / they might stand on the calves/they are separated for hygiene
Except that statistically, a cow defending her calf is amongst the most dangerous of farmed animals. Except that in keeping with all the other species that we habitually use for unnecessary ‘food’, the circumstances of existence as a commercial resource whose rights as a living, sentient individual are not even acknowledged, necessitates conditions that are completely unnatural, and that – not surprisingly – place them all at high risk of disease and injury. Drug use to counter risks and boost production in all areas of nonhuman use, is increasingly well known and documented, as are the grave risks posed to human health by antibiotic resistance and cross species transmission of disease.

It should also be noted that research confirms that separation is deeply traumatic for both mother and infant, and in the case of cows is greater the longer they are together, due to their strengthening bond. Terrible mothers. Clearly.

Cows want to be impregnated, they mimic mating behaviour
Except that in keeping with all other female mammals, mothers used in the dairy industry experience cycles affecting their reproductive systems. Unlike humans who participate in recreational sex, every few weeks a female mammal of many other species will experience a short period when she may be responsive to the mating advances of a male of her species. The notion that these biological cycles indicate that she ‘wants to be impregnated’, is completely anthropomorphic and there is no evidence to suggest that any ‘wanting’ takes place. Neither is it morally justifiable to inseminate her for the commercial use of her reproductive process, either by introducing her to a male or by the more common method of restraining in order to use arms and implements in her vaginal and rectal passages to inject semen obtained by an equally interventional procedure** from a male.

The infants are given special/individual care /they are loved like family.
You know, it always amazed me that so many calves were orphaned at birth – which is what I used to think long ago when I saw the images of bottle feeding. Such naivety was so much more comfortable than the truth.  If we were talking about kittens or puppies, our ‘favourite’ species, being taken from their mothers at a mere *24 hours of age instead of the recommended  8 – 12 weeks, we would be incredulous.

And on the other point, well, they say you always hurt the ones you love, but I do make a point never to eat them.

Talking about ‘natural’

As someone who has actually given birth, I know about the process at first hand and it’s a messy business, but it’s also a time when primal instincts that I was unaware of possessing, seemed very close to the surface. Supported by hospital staff, I was glad for their help, but also aware that at a deep level, my body already knew what to do.

Dismissing the competence of nonhuman animals to mother their own infants now seems to me to be an extreme arrogance for a species that first began to domesticate other animals a mere moment in time ago, from an evolutionary perspective. 12,000 years of gradually increasing exploitation has built to a crescendo in recent decades, an unholy orgy of bloodshed, brutalising other species, laying waste to the planet we share with them, and killing ourselves with the diseases caused by inappropriate ‘food’.  It beggars belief that our species now postulates that many other species, despite managing absolutely fine in the eons that their ancestors lived wild and free without our aid, are now so hopelessly inept that they allegedly require our midwifery and childcare for their very existence. We’re told it’s about ‘welfare’ and ‘compassion’, but when we really stop and consider it, all we need to do is follow the money and apply common sense.

Once again in the case of our dairy victims we have the benevolent midwife scenario. Following the money and applying common sense leads inescapably to the realisation that both mother and infant are commercial assets (the mother more so than the infant who was in fact just a tool to induce lactation); they are business resources being used to make money and generate profit. Medical treatment is costly and undesirable as it reduces potential profit.  Any and every business will risk assess and maintain the assets required to optimise their financial gains. No one would claim to ‘love like family’ a fleet of vans, machinery on a factory floor or the contents of a warehouse. To those with interests in making money from their use, ‘livestock‘ (there’s a clue in the name) are in this same category and while ‘caring’ talk undoubtedly softens up some uncritical consumers, ‘love’, from the perspective of the helpless victims, is in very short supply.

To quote the late Tom Regan, in his work The Case for Animal Rights,

The fundamental wrong is the system that allows us to view animals as our resources, here for us — to be eaten, or surgically manipulated, or exploited for sport or money. Once we accept this view of animals – as our resources – the rest is as predictable as it is regrettable.

Believing what we want to believe

Why is it that we are so quick to accept without challenge or critical thought, almost anything we are told about those species that we wish to continue to harm, to exploit, to kill and consume for no reason other than self interest? Why is it that if we were told the same thing about humans or any species that we consider to be ‘pets’, we would immediately spot the self-serving inconsistencies?

The truth is that not one of us actually likes to think of ourselves as inflicting devastating and gratuitous violence and death on innocent and defenceless creatures and we strongly resist any suggestion that we are.  What we are on the look-out for is reassurance that appears to legitimise and excuse the actions we currently take. Reassurance makes us feel good about ourselves, and means we don’t face any moral conflict that might render us obliged to face the trivial inconvenience of changing our behaviour. When we find that reassurance, no matter how unlikely it is, no matter how inconsistent or illogical it is, many will grasp it with relief. It’s a phenomenon called ‘confirmation bias’. For many, the finding of confirmation that apparently supports our own opinions, ends our search. We reinforce our personal barriers to truth, self-congratulate and carry on with our past support of use and harm. The only difference is that now we are reassured and convinced that what we’re supporting is ethical.

Are we worth it?

For our defenceless victims, hope comes in the form of campaigns such as Go Vegan World.  In posters and words, with links to a comprehensive website, this particular campaign in the UK and Ireland is presenting the unpalatable truth to consumers in those venues and media that were previously the unrivalled domain of those with something to sell, but here we are witnessing the advent of a new era.

Social media is awash with information, ***with a number of excellent sites and pages providing links to superb quality information, explaining in detail why, and indeed how, we can all be vegan. In the age of Google, it has never been easier to seek out and find information.

With nothing to sell and nothing personal to gain except justice for humanity’s victims, vegan advocacy is setting new precedents. Unflinchingly calling for an end to our needless use of other individuals, such advocacy in the form of campaigns, pages and websites offer everyone they can reach, the opportunity to inform themselves about the heartbreaking reality that underpins their nonvegan consumer choices, offering the chance to make informed decisions about how our shared values are reflected in the way we live. We are invited to consider whether our new awareness of a twilight world of nonhuman misery fits with the vision that most of us have of ourselves as people who stand against oppression, who believe in justice, and who are strongly opposed to anything that inflicts needless harm on the defenceless.

In the end of the day, the question we must each ask of ourselves is, ‘Am I worth the terrible and inevitable consequences of my nonvegan choices?’

My answer to that question made me become vegan. Let yours do the same.

Be vegan.



Links for further interest:

*In the UK separation 12 – 24 hours after birth is the time upheld by industry’s highest ‘welfare’ standards for cows (other species have different standards, as in fact do other countries where in some cases immediate separation is the norm, before a mother may even lick her infant).

**Interspecies Sexual Assault, a superb analysis by Karen Davis  of the exploitation of other animals on which all use of them is predicated https://www.animalliberationcurrents.com/interspecies-sexual-assault/

***Suggested sites to check out
Go Vegan Scotland
South Florida Vegan Education Group
Vegan Starter Kit
How To Go Vegan

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9 Responses to Dairy: thoughts on motherhood and cultural conditioning

  1. Pingback: Vegan advocacy and the appeal to emotions | There's an Elephant in the Room blog

  2. Pingback: Living in a land of make-believe | There's an Elephant in the Room blog

  3. Great post, something that needs repeating and repeating because people still bury thier heads in the sand and convince themselves that dairy isn’t cruel, because they don’t want to ‘give it up’. It is so indoctrinated it is something people just will not question and refuse to look at, so we have to keep ‘banging on’ about it. Great words!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah Maddux says:

    Beautifully articulated, thank you for your dedication. I wish I could get everyone to read this.


  5. Reblogged this on 57billiondotorg and commented:
    This excellent post from https://theresanelephantintheroomblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/dairy-thoughts-on-motherhood-cultural-conditioning-and-hope coincides with my thinking about how to address the ‘why lacto- vegetarianism isn’t enough’ issue on 57billion. Not only is this an excellent article, but it also offers me a lead-in for a brief piece to begin to address these issues on this blog. With thanks to the author of the original Elephant in the Room blog.


  6. Pingback: Dairy: thoughts on motherhood, cultural conditioning and hope | 57billiondotorg

  7. Thank you. Again. And I think you’d be OK with my reblogging this to 57billion, crediting you?

    Liked by 1 person

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