I grew up, like almost everyone else I know, never questioning what my parents and friends’ parents fed us. And when I eventually went off on my own to college, it still never occurred to me to question the glaring ethical implications of a diet heavy in dairy products. And even after I became a vegetarian in my 30s which I attributed to my deepening connection with yoga, I still never thought to question or connect the lives of countless dairy cows and their young with my food choices.
Not until my mid-40s did I finally wake up to the many appalling facts behind dairy farming, most notably, the inherently cruel and forceful separation of a mother cow and her newborn — an unavoidable consequence of dairy farming in countries across the world. It is no wonder to me now why society hid and continues to hide this ugly truth behind caricatures of happy cows designed to protect children and even mature adults from the truth. This vortex of denial is not only a tragedy for the animals involved; it exposes a cognitive dissonance, an unhealthy disconnect from our most fundamental values of kindness, respect, justice and equal consideration that we hold very dear.
The first step in breaking the power of this denial is to witness the truth from the animal’s point of view. This French video clip (an excerpt form a new documentary by French filmmaker Beatrice Limare called “Adieu, veau, vache, cochon, couvée“) depicts that breaking of the bond between a dairy cow and her newborn calf. There is no physical violence, blood or gore here. Just something perhaps far worse: the psychological anguish of the deepest bond imaginable in the mammalian world: the bond of a mother and child.
The studies I came across recently in Psychology Today from bioethicist and writer Jessica Pierce, Ph.D indicate that humans and non human animals choose physical pain over psychological pain when forced to choose, suggesting that emotional pain is far more difficult to deal with. But what some learn from scientific study, we can just as easily observe for ourselves by watching this 2-minute video. The facial expressions; the mother cow running after the truck carrying her stolen baby; the confused and frightened calf, peering out the truck window at his mother. These all clearly confirm the scientific findings that measure chemicals in the brain. Did we ever really believe that maternal affection was unique to human mothers? Probably not, but the propaganda was powerful while the reality was stifled.
And yet the most important question for me is what we do with this knowledge once we have it. Do we go back and hide in that closet of denial or do we act on the new knowledge?
When we think of dairy products, the most poignant symbol behind them should be this breaking of a family bond. We’ll know that we’ve moved beyond our collective denial when this truth is present in our minds and replaces the shallow experience of our taste buds. The latter is that infantile, caricature-like side of our brain talking, the one scripted by a lifetime of marketing, manipulating us into believing the lie that cows are happy and their milk makes us strong.
And ultimately the higher faculties of our brain that foster our respect for that bond will conquer the mundane and mechanical cravings that imprison our taste buds. The moral reasoning that makes us uniquely human is our call to action to protect those more vulnerable than us and leave them unharmed. The process begins by looking closely at how we fill our plates.
Check out our Guide to Going Dairy Free for tips, recipes and some remarkable plant-based dairy alternatives (milks, cheeses, yogurts and more) that will make your transition to dairy-free easier, happier, and more delicious.
Learn more about the cruelty inherent in all dairy production, even on small and so-called humane farms.