In February 2016 (wow it was more than a year ago now!!), I decided to give up dairy. I made this decision immediately following a video I saw on Facebook about dairy farming and how it directly affects the cows. Initially, I wanted to share the video with you here, but I can’t find the exact one I watched. However, if you type dairy cows into YouTube, you’ll get plenty of similar videos. They'll show you the treatment and the quality of life for a dairy cow.
Before I get into that though, let me set the scene a bit. Don’t think I’m one of those super impressionable people who just believes everything I see on Facebook. I love animals, as most people will claim to, and hate to think of animals being harmed purely for our benefit. As a teenager, I was vegetarian for 2 years for this purpose. I have many vegetarian friends and several who have developed into vegans more recently.
The idea of veganism appeals to me for many reasons. One, obviously, being the welfare of the animals. Another is the environmental impact eating meat has. Did you know that if people gave up just beef, that would actually reduce carbon emissions more than if we stopped using cars? Also, the amount of fertile land being used to crow grain just to feed cows could be used to grow crops to feed starving people.
So to give up dairy was really the first step back onto the path that’s more in line with my values.
The Dairy Industry
Ok, back to the dairy cows. I’ll summarise video I saw for you. Basically, in order for cows to produce milk, they’re forced to become pregnant. This is usually done by artificial insemination. It then goes through pregnancy and birth and gets a calf that it makes milk for. After a very short time, sometimes just 48 hours, the calf is taken away from the mother.
Now, this is something that you can read here and think, ‘oh, that’s sad’. Watching this video of farmers removing the calves from the cows was much more impactful. Sometimes the farmer grabbed the calf by the back legs, yanked it off its feet and dragged it away! In other situations, the mother and calf were in the field and the farmer came and took the calf into a truck and drove off with it. You then saw the mother cow chasing after the truck, screaming at it and the baby crying back. Clearly, this is very emotionally distressing for both mother and baby. And me. Watching this poor mother cow chasing after the men who stole her baby was heartbreaking.
After about a year, milk production starts to slow. The way to make the cow more productive and valuable again is to re-impregnate her with another calf to stimulate milk production. Then the whole cycle starts again and again and again, until the cow reaches a point in her life where she gets lame (this is apparently very common in dairy cows). She’s then sent to a slaughter house because she’s no longer useful. This usually takes about 4 years.
Mastitis (udder infections) is one of the highest causes of cow fatalities after lameness. Once the udders are infected, they start making neutrophils. These are cells involved in the inflammatory pathway of the immune system and produce pus, which then gets into the milk. In U.S. milk, there’s an average of 1.12 million of these cells in every spoonful of milk. In 2003, a litre of milk in Florida contained 548 million pus cells. And even then, it’s below the acceptable 750 million allowed into consumable milk.
My Dairy Free Venture
From that video and the information I found after some research, I decided to give up dairy. For more than a year now, I haven’t had milk or yoghurt. Some exceptions have been when I’ve been at a bed and breakfast and there hasn’t been an alternative available. However, I very quickly found that I no longer liked the taste of it. After I had a dairy yoghurts on my cereal a couple of times, I decided that I would rather go without. It just tasted bad to me.
My downfall, though, has been cheese. I have not been even mildly successful at giving up cheese as I haven’t been able to find a suitable alternative. For milk, I just swapped in hazelnut of coconut milk. With yoghurt, I have coconut yoghurt and Alrpo soya yoghurt and it tastes just like regular yoghurt (except nicer now). Cheese is a problem. There aren’t many vegan cheeses that taste and behave like cheese. The few that there are, you can only find in specialty shops and are pretty expensive. Hopefully this will change.
While I am not vegan right now, and have no real plan to become vegan, I can feel it sneaking up on me. I have some vegan friends who are constantly introducing me to vegan versions of things and have even given me a vegan cookbook for my last birthday. This was a good ploy. I’ve now made several recipes from it and really enjoyed them. I’ve also found myself making vegetarian choices when eating out, again with no actual conscious decision to do so. It’s just been what I’ve wanted when I’ve looked at the menu.
I think that the reason I wouldn’t go full vegan yet is that it’s difficult when I go out. At work, there are literally no vegan options available if I forget my lunch one day. I’ve gone and looked for them and I couldn’t find anything. In restaurants as well, I don’t want to have to ask about all of the ingredients in my food. If I’ve gone out for dinner, it’s a treat and I want it to be easy. My vegan friends missed my birthday party because the place we went to for dinner had no vegan options available. I also don’t want to make things difficult if I’m staying with other people or travelling.
I understand that “it’s hard” is not exactly the best reason for not doing something that is morally right. I’m only doing it part way, but that's more than nothing. My current eating habits have developed to have me eating vegan at home. I've been choosing vegan or vegetarian when I can when I'm out. I'm just not being so strict that I would have to starve if the only food available had butter on it. If everyone made this small step, it would make a huge impact on the environment and also on the farming industry. There would be a much smaller demand for meat and dairy as people only had it sometimes.
Maybe one day, full vegan will come for me and I’ll surrender. For now though, I feel good about taking this step towards it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on veganism and why you do or don’t embrace it. Leave me your comments below and tell me what you think.