I'm a proud feminist, as anyone who cares about the plight of women on our planet should be. In many parts of the world, women are still treated as property. They have few, if any, rights and are subject to exploitation, indignities, and violence on a daily basis. As we feminists struggle for an end to female oppression, we must also consider the females that we, ourselves, unknowingly oppress. Dairy cows, though not human, are perhaps the most horribly abused females on the planet. As we fight for human equality, should we not also concern ourselves with how humans exploit the very thing that makes an animal female, that makes an animal a mother?
If you think that statement sounds crazy, it's likely because you, like most Americans, know little about what goes on in our nation's dairy farms. (PETA recently released shocking undercover footage from a Land O'Lakes dairy supplier). You may think it's silly, even offensive, to compare the plight of female humans with that of another species, but keep an open mind as you read further. You may just be surprised.
Let's first begin with this: all dairy cows are female and have to be pregnant to produce milk. When stated, that fact may seem obvious, but it never occurs to most people that cows produce milk for the same reason all mammals do, to feed their babies. A cow's gestation period is actually the same as a human being's, nine months.
Since dairy cows are not afforded the natural act of mating with a bull, they are sent to an area of the farm called "the rape rack." No joke. There, a metal pipe is shoved inside their vaginas to deposit sperm. Once impregnated, a dairy cow lives in a stall where she can barely turn around. As her fetus grows, she starts producing milk. At this point, a cold mechanical pump is hooked to her udders several times a day to take the milk. On most farms, hormones are given to the cows to make them produce unnatural amounts. More milk = more money for the dairy farmer. This makes the cows' udders swell enormously, causing horrible pain and infection.
When a dairy cow gives birth, she is only allowed 24 hours with her newborn calf. After that, her baby is taken from her. If the baby is a female, she will most likely become a dairy cow. If the baby is a male, he is sold to become veal. Yes, behind every carton of milk, and every pint of ice cream, is a veal calf. If you're buying dairy products, you're directly supporting the veal industry. Indeed, the veal industry couldn't exist without dairy cows.
Now, just in case you're unfamiliar with the practices of veal farms, here's a quick overview. Once veal calves are sold, at just a day or two old, they are chained inside a crate so small they can hardly move. And that's exactly the point, because the less they can move, the more tender their "meat" will be when they are slaughtered (between 8 and 14 weeks old). Veal calves are also fed an iron-deficient diet so their flesh will be white instead of red or pink. They are often seen licking the metal bars of their crates in search of the iron that would be abundant in their mother's milk.
Back on the dairy farm, mother cows cry, moan, and bellow for days, sometimes weeks, after their newborns are taken from them. Some have literally broken their necks trying to run after their children. One can only imagine the depression and distress of losing your baby. Since the cow is still producing milk for her calf, the dairy farmer continues to milk her. She will never know what it's like to nurse the child that lived in her womb for nine months. Instead, her milk will become butter, cheese, cream, and of course milk sold in markets. And when the dairy cow becomes too "spent" after four years of pregnancy after pregnancy to produce milk at sufficient quantities, she is rewarded with a trip to the slaughterhouse, where she will become hamburger. That's right, between almost all hamburger buns are the remains of America's spent dairy cows.
Again, I know some may have a problem with comparisons between the suffering of animals and people. But what exclusive right do humans have to the mother-child bond? There is no sure way for us to know what a cow may feel for her newborn, but certainly we can all agree on something called a mother's instinct. We recognize it in all animals. If a cow's love is anything close to what a human mother feels for her baby, we can only imagine the emotional pain we are inflicting, and the injustice we are committing.
As feminists, should we not stand up for all females? Should we not cry out in protest when mothers, human or not, are so blatantly exploited?
Or should we remain silent in denial?
And for what good reason? There is no human dietary requirement for cow's milk. In fact, when you start to think about it, consuming cow's milk seems downright unnatural. Humans are the only mammals that drink milk past childhood, and we're the only species that drinks the milk of another species. Many recent studies now also show that milk may be detrimental to our health. For not only are a substantial number of Americans either lactose intolerant or allergic to milk, but what's worse is that casein, an animal protein abundant in milk, has been proven to be a powerful carcinogen.
And remember all that talk about calcium and how milk is good for your bones? Well, it's true that milk does contain around 300 milligrams of calcium per glass, but that's only because dairy farmers nowadays administer calcium supplements to their cows. You see, cows would naturally eat grass, which contains calcium (as do all green leafy vegetables), but since dairy cows are now primarily fed corn, farmers have to add calcium to their feed, fortifying it, so their milk contains adequate amounts. It should be noted that for all the calcium hype, a cup of collard greens contains even more calcium than a glass of cow's milk and a glass of fortified rice or soy milk matches the calcium content of cow's milk exactly.
Today there are amazing alternatives to cow's milk: almond milk, soy milk, hazelnut milk, oat milk, hemp milk, rice milk, etc. And there are numerous butter and cheese substitutes. Many luminaries through the ages, from Pythagoras to da Vinci to Tolstoy, have reflected on how our treatment of animals influences our treatment of our fellow human beings. Is it just a coincidence that a world that blindly exploits the female in animals also often turns a blind eye to the exploitation, suffering, and oppression of women? Isn't it time we show compassion to all females, to all mothers, even outside our species?