A recent comment on a post read, ‘What do you think cows are for?’ The writer was raging against the facts relating to dairy use and consumption. It was clear that they saw nothing wrong with their question as a line of reasoning.
My first thought when I read the question was to smile and think, ‘well what is anyone for?’ but a mental shake brought me back to earth. This was a serious question, asked by an apparent adult who seemed utterly oblivious to having asked the sort of question that would be at home in a child’s board or cloth book.
I have often considered that such comments are meant simply to attract attention and/or provoke argument for whatever ‘enjoyment’ trolling gives the instigator. However on this particular occasion a different scenario came to mind. Although I must call the scenario ‘imagined’, it rings so true that it may in fact be a long-buried memory. And in that scenario is a small child, asking their mother the questions that bubble and overflow from the fertile and insatiably curious minds of small children everywhere;
‘But why? Why do I have to drink milk from cows? I don’t want to drink milk from mummy cows. I’m not a baby, I’m big now.’
And the mother’s reply?
‘That’s what cows are for. Now just drink up your milk.’
That’s what cows are for
For several years my thoughts have kept returning to the phenomenon of our unquestioning participation in the global atrocity of animal use, an atrocity that sits in stark contrast to the popular perception of ourselves as ‘animal lovers’. This particular comment asking what cows are for is a typical one and is by no means unique or original. Examining the thoughts that preceded my own awakening to veganism, I recall a similar and unquestioning acceptance of childhood dietary coercion, preserved whole and unexamined from a time of my earliest memories. I recall being taught about a world centred round me as a child, a not-yet-understood world of resources for my use and my wellbeing. As a child, I had only the information given to me by my carers and I didn’t question it. ‘That’s what cows are for. That’s what chickens are for. That’s what sheep are for. That’s what pigs are for…’
All this came to mind again today when reading of someone who rescued four goats from a shelter. She is frequently asked why on earth she would want to rescue goats unless she is using them for their breast milk. The same question arises when vegans rescue chickens, with the assumption being that it’s clearly naive and foolish to look after hens without helping oneself to the eggs that our genetic meddling has caused them to self destruct by producing. The rescuing of other ‘farmed’ species provokes the same incredulous response. It seems that so many just can’t get their heads round the idea that anyone could want to rescue and care for members of those species that are habitually ‘farmed’ unless there are ‘benefits’ involved that continue the very practices from which they have been rescued; ‘benefits’ that so frequently involve the unconsenting reproductive exploitation of vulnerable family members.
What are dogs and cats for?
Yet clearly, if the question was to be turned around and addressed to those same enquirers, most or many of whom have cat or dog family members, it would be met with incomprehension. ‘What are dogs for?’ or ‘What are cats for?’ ‘What sort of question is that?’
Because we don’t need a reason for rescuing, for caring for, for loving these species. We would never think to ask what they’re for. They give us pleasure with their grace and their beauty. They engage us with their huge personalities, their sense of fun and their companionship. We delight in their unconditional devotion to us; in the warmth and affection they bestow on us so readily and joyfully.
So there we have the jarring contrast; those species from whom we expect nothing but shared love and companionship, and those species that we cannot conceive of sharing time with unless we are using them in some way; species we have been brainwashed into seeing only in terms of ‘what’s in it for me’. Yet are these two groups of species inherently different in some way? Not at all, and science provides more evidence of this every day.
Quite frankly, any difference is in our perception. As one species of sentient creature, all other sentient species of creature have so much in common with us that it beggars belief, not only that we arbitrarily compartmentalise them so that we can brutalise some while adoring others, but that we cling to childhood tales in our efforts to ignore the bloodbath that we are directly demanding as consumers, while sincerely claiming that we ‘love animals’.
Who belongs to whom?
As human animals, the only individual that truly belongs to each of us, is the one we see when we look in a mirror. Other individuals, whatever their species, do not ‘belong’ to us other than by some humanocentric system of ‘ownership’ that we forcibly impose and to which they most definitely do not consent.
It is unspeakable that a single species should assume such self-importance that our convenience and unnecessary preference casts every other species in terms of their usefulness (and financial profitability) for us. Despite our fond notions of ourselves as ‘animal lovers’, it is only through acts of violence and depravity that we bring others into the world to be used for our interests at the expense of their own. The truth is that others are not ‘for’ anything to do with us.
Only veganism recognises that cows are not ‘for’ anything that needs to concern us. Be vegan.