A Feminist Case Against Dairy
TW: sexual assault
It sounds silly to say this out loud, since I myself have the capacity to lactate – though fortunately not at the current moment – but it was only a few months ago that I realized that a cow has to be pregnant to produce milk. I really and truly had never thought about this before. I suppose I believed that Happy Cows Come From California and magically produce unlimited quantities of milk whilst frolicking in the rolling hills of my home state.
Normally, lactation goes like this: mammalian mama gets pregnant, ideally after gettin’ it on in a pleasurable manner; her body starts producing milk; baby is born; baby drinks mama’s milk. Except for dairy cows, the process looks a little different: mama is artificially inseminated (read: raped); her body starts producing milk; baby is born; baby is taken away within 24 hours (sometimes within one hour); humans drink mama’s milk. Et voila, the dairy industry. Anyone see anything wrong with this picture? Not only are we the only species to drink another species’ milk, we’re also the only species who drinks a mother’s milk beyond our first few years of life. “Milk does a body good”? How about, milk is not designed for our adult bodies and will seriously fuck you up?
Really, though – cow’s milk does not get on well with our human bodies, no matter how good that brie wheel or chocolate ice cream tastes on our tongues. First of all, the notion that we need to drink milk for bone health is a myth. Milk consumption does not promote bone integrity in children, and people who drink milk actually have a higher rate of hip fracture. Furthermore, dairy products are high in dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, which are known contributors to the good ole US of A’s number one killer, heart disease. There are a number of delicious and nutritious plant-based sources of calcium that don’t slowly stop your heart, and they can be obtained without the sexist commodification of reproductive systems.
If the bizarre logic and health risks of consuming milk aren’t enough to put you off dairy, consider this: the dairy industry is inherently cruel and, for that matter, totally sexist. Think about it. The industry depends on the exploitation of mothers’ bodies. First, we rape cows in order to artificially inseminate them. For those of you who might claim that this isn’t rape, consider that sexual penetration without consent is, by definition, rape, and cows can’t communicate sufficiently to give consent. And mind you, the boy cows don’t get a better deal – semen is forcibly collected from them in order to impregnate the would-be mamas. Once mama cows give birth, we separate them from their babies immediately (see lactation process above) because otherwise the calf will drink the milk, and that stuff’s for us, dammit. Mama cows are devastated by the loss of their calves, who normally nurse for at least 6-12 months, often longer. They will wail and grieve for days on end after the separation, only to then be raped and impregnated again to repeat the process. These animals are understandably traumatized; one particular cow arrived pregnant at a farm sanctuary and later hid her baby repeatedly in different locations to make sure she wouldn’t be taken away. It doesn’t take a critical feminist scholar to know that this process, in which we commodify and mechanize ovulation, childbirth, and motherhood, is twisted.
Once lady cows are “spent,” meaning they can no longer efficiently produce milk, they’re shipped off for slaughter. The cheese and the patty on your burger could have come from the same cow. And this, dear reader, is why I am no longer a vegetarian.
For two years, I was a cheese-loving, ice-cream-eating, cream-in-my-coffee-drinking vegetarian for before realizing that 1) there is no such thing as humane dairy, since every time I drink milk, a calf does not and 2) the meat and dairy industries are inextricably linked. If you drink milk, you may as well eat veal, since veal consists of the baby-boy rejects of the dairy industry. If you eat cheese, you may as well kill and eat the dairy cow, since her psychological trauma and physical abuse are worse than death and last a great deal longer. If you are eating dairy – and I get it, cheese is delicious, but that’s beside the point – I invite you to think about whose milk you’re consuming, and what had to happen to get that dairy to your fridge.