It’s world milk day today. In honour of our fellow earthlings, the dairy cows, I’ve decided to share a more informative post instead of a recipe today.
Here’s a few things I’ve learned about the dairy industry in the past 3 and a half years of being vegan.
I’m an avid reader of British writer and environmentalist George Monbiot, which is why you’ll find lots of quotes from his articles in this post. He studied zoology and knows much more about this topic than I do, plus he’s quite eloquent, so that’s that!
There are two main reasons I don’t drink milk or eat dairy products: the animal suffering and the environmental impact it has on the planet. The first one is a much more emotional subject for me, so let’s start with the latter.
The number of vegans is growing exponentially and posters, campaigns and online articles about animal farming are becoming more and more common. Which is why on the one hand, people are more aware of the issues but on the other hand it’s becoming a very emotionally charged and divisive topic to talk about. But whether we like it or not, if we care about our environment, we have to talk about it.
“Climate change, water use, forest destruction, river pollution, floods, dead zones in the sea: the impacts of animal farming are massive and global; in many cases greater than those of anything else we do. Farming is now, by a long way, the nation’s leading cause of severe water pollution. And of all kinds of farming, dairy production causes the greatest number of serious incidents. But we don’t want to know.”
And that’s understandable. Eating animal products is the norm, it’s deeply embedded in our culture and identity. Even I have to admit that just a few years ago I could have never imagined a Christmas dinner, Easter breakfast or a summer BBQ without animal products.
Ditching meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce our environmental impact on this planet. “A new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.” Plus, “86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans” which is pretty damn depressing if you ask me. The study also found that even the lowest impact meat and dairy products cause much more harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal crops.
And if that wasn’t reason enough to question our dairy consumption, lets move on to the ethical side of things.
We all know the pictures on milk and cheese packaging of happy cows on lush green rolling hills. The truth is that in reality dairy farming is inherently and systematically oppressive and violent.
Just like human mothers, a cow only produces milk when she has a baby to feed. Starting from the age of 15 months a cow will usually be forced into a narrow trap, known as a “cattle crush” in order to be artificially inseminated. Once she has given birth, her calf will be taken away, often within the first 36 hours. The mother usually screams for days, upset at the loss of her baby.
If her baby is male it tends to either be killed straight away or will be sold off for veal, which is a topic for another day. If the calf is female then the cycle of being impregnated and then separated from her baby so we can drink her milk will go on.
A lot of farms have a “zero-grazing” system which means the cows spend their entire lives trapped indoors. A mother cow usually has up to 2 litres of milk in her udders at a time but can carry over 20 litres in intensive farming environments. It’s unsurprising that even though a cow can live up to 25 years, a factory farmed dairy cow gets slaughtered or drops dead after an average of 5 years. Which I think says quite a lot.
It’s easy to be wilfully ignorant about the suffering the dairy industry causes and how it affects our planet. It’s also (unfortunately for us vegans) very easy to question the vegan values and belief system and think of it as weird or extreme.
Social psychologist Professor Melanie Joy studies the psychology behind eating animal products and explains that there is an “invisible belief system or ideology that teaches us, from the moment we’re weaned, not to feel disgusted when it comes to eating the animals our culture has classified as “edible.” Carnism is essentially the opposite of veganism. When eating animals isn’t a necessity, it’s a choice – and choices always stem from beliefs. The invisibility of carnism, however, makes eating animals and animal products appear instead to be a given, as though it’s only vegans who bring their beliefs to the dinner table.”
The good news is: There are lots of great non-dairy options to choose from now! Soy, oat or hemp milk in your bowl of cereal in the morning. Or have you ever tried a hazelnut milk iced coffee? You should!
And then there’s coconut milk, cashews or even tofu for creamy, dreamy desserts like this vegan baked lemon blueberry cheesecake!
You might think: Hey, but crops like soy aren’t great for the planet either. To quote George Monbiot one last time in this post: “Of course, these choices also have impacts, but they are generally far lower than those of meat, dairy and eggs. Paradoxically, if you want to eat less soya, eat soya directly: eating animal products tends to mean consuming far more of this crop, albeit indirectly. Almost all the soya grown where rainforests once stood is used to feed animals. Replacing meat with soya reduces the clearance of natural vegetation, per kilogram of protein, by 96%.”
That’s it from me today! Are you thinking about reducing your dairy intake or even making the switch to non-dairy products all together?
Here are a few articles I quoted in this post or that I was inspired by: